Niagara Gazette

September 24, 2012

HIGGS: Niagara University: An active ingredient

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Last week I introduced you to some of the members of “Higher Education and Their Community Involvement” who received recognition from the Niagara Beautification Commission at its annual Awards Luncheon. This week we meet the active members of the faculty and staff at Niagara University who were also recognized.

Fran Boltz is the director of the NU Learn and Serve program. The purpose of this program at Niagara is “to promote among all members of the university community, the knowledge, values and skills necessary for lifelong engagement in the pursuit of social justice.” Fran’s role is to put this purpose into action and I have known her for several years due to our mutual involvement in the NBC Beautify Niagara citywide cleanup campaign. She works her magic on the student body and many have volunteered a portion of their Saturday to come and help out over the years. Hats off to Fran for all the extra effort she puts into this annual event and others. (She also joins them in their physical labors).

Tom Lowe is the program coordinator of Niagara’s ReNU Niagara community outreach program to assist in neighborhood development, utilizing what is available to improve the quality of life for its residents. Tom coordinates the projects associated with this task and has shown his leadership abilities through their success. Tom also write grants to fund these programs and volunteers during his off hours with Main Street Business Association and the NBC as he serves on both boards: NBC recognized that Tom, although still a young man, is well trained and dedicated to “go places” in the future.

Valerie Haseley is the Niagara County coordinator of services provided by the Border Community SERVICE another outreach program sponsored by Niagara University. Its purpose is to “provide emergency preparedness training to citizens and to encourage their participation in opportunities that enhance regional emergency readiness.” Valerie’s goal is to train the County population in such skills as CERT, neighborhood mapping, creating family emergency plans and drills and basic first aid. She takes her work a step further and often assists outside agencies in these endeavors such as organizing and taking part with volunteers at community events such as the Niagara Air Show.

Monica Saltarelli is a campus minister at Niagara where the goal is “to assist all students as they grow in their own faith.” These efforts are accomplished not only during campus life but reaches out into the community to bring student awareness, understanding and service to those living with less. Monica and the students help stock local food pantries and soup kitchens. The adopt families at Christmas; work with the Magdalene Project and St. Vincent de Paul Society and others. There are apparently no walls at Niagara University and Monica serves our community well.

Speaking of no walls at Niagara, the University recently created the Institute for Civic Engagement and my good friend, Dr. David Taylor was asked to lead this effort. The Institute oversees all of the above efforts (with the exception of the Campus Ministry) within the University’s goal to be a good neighbor and a partner with the City of Niagara Falls and others. Dave is always on the go, creating projects for the students and staff to be involved in within the community. The Sustainable Sandals Project, the work with the Niagara Falls Block Club Council in neighborhood graffiti removal and clean up efforts of this organization as well as the NBC, are just samples of the good work performed within our community. He also works with the Youthworks church groups who travel to our city each summer to make small but needed home repairs for resident homeowners who could not otherwise accomplish them. Dave is also a community volunteer outside of his regular duties serving as moderator of Candidates Night forums and other events.

At the top of any organizational chart is the leader and in this case it is the Rev. Joseph Levesque, C.M. He certainly needs no introduction in this column but he certainly needs to be recognized by those of us who reap the benefits of the good works performed by those under his direction at Niagara University. Whether it is vacant lot initiatives, help with a neighborhood playground, Grassroots Leadership Development, CERT and emergency preparedness training, and day to day assistance to those who need it, I have come to find out it is his leadership and sometimes his idea that sets these efforts in motion. So, it is not just about classrooms, lectures and grades. It’s also about community living and giving that is part of the everyday curriculum at Niagara University.

And it seems to be catching as one of the staff members at the new Culinary Institute on Old Falls Street under the auspices of our own Niagara County Community College asked me how the culinary students could “get involved in the community.” You can bet I will contact her when she is settled in her position.

The college doors will be “officially” opened this week and this shuttered building left empty for years will be finally occupied again. When people work together — see what progress can be accomplished? Now if we could just get the state and the Seneca Nation to work together to reach a speedy solution to the dilemma that has been created for us, that would be real progress.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.