LEWISTON — A little known fact about St. Valentine was offered up at the opening of an event Tuesday celebrating a major gift to area children."St. Valentine was the patron saint of young people.

That's why we are here today," said Tom Burns, an associate vice president for public relations at Niagara University, during a Valentine's Day press conference to announce a $1.8 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation that will fortify early childhood development efforts for children in Erie and Niagara counties. 

Several pre-schoolers from Ready to Grow Childcare Center on Hyde Park Boulevard attended the event and were tasked with taking the hand of each main speaker and walking them to the podium, a visual reminder of the impact the grant could have on small ones throughout the region.

The grant was presented to the Help Me Grow Western New York, an organization launched in 2011 by the Health Foundation of Western New York with more than 40 partner agencies, including the university's College of Education, to create an umbrella of access to the multitude of child development information and resources in Erie and Niagara counties.

"This is a great day for families and children of Western New York," said the Rev. James Maher, president of the university. 

The grant, which will be administered by the Levesque Institute at the college, will help to fortify a 211 telephone line, which parents can call 24-hours a day to speak with counselors about developmental services available for their children. 

Among other services, the money will also help to expand the college's Early Childhood Quality Improvement Program, which provides training to 30 childcare providers in the Niagara region and other services including early developmental testing for hundreds of area infants and toddlers. 

"We've heard a lot about making America great lately," said Lynn Pullano, director of the Help Me Grow WNY. "The fact is that America will only be great if we make our children great, if we make them a priority. 

"We make our children great by nurturing the unique potential each one has, one child at a time. That's what the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation's generous gift will help us do," she added. 

For more information about Help Me Grow WNY, visit online at www.helpmegrowny.org.

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