A renewed effort to revitalize the community
On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Niagara University’s new Institute for Civic Engagement had its grand opening. The institute’s purpose is to form a connection between NU and the Western New York region, specifically Niagara Falls.
“We’re trying to strengthen the partnerships that the university has with the community and build some new ones. The institute will now be the primary point of contact for community members who want to partner with the university, and the university people who want to partner with the community,” said David Taylor, ICE director.
Taylor said his role, “is serving as a liaison to the community. That’s my job, is to link the resources of the university to the needs of the community.”
The institute encompasses both ReNU Niagara and the Border Community SERVICE.
Jill Shuey, executive director of ReNU Niagara, said ICE focuses on projects that “support residents and different non-profits in Niagara Falls (centered) around projects that would help revitalize the neighborhoods of the city.”
One of the main components of ReNU Niagara is “a grassroots-run leadership training program. We call it ‘GreenRoots.’ That’s a program we have for youth and adults to try to help them identify issues in their community regarding the environment and then give them skills to take on community improvement projects,” she said.
NU students who want to get involved in revitalizing the community or who just want to do some community service can participate in “Learn and Serve” through ReNU Niagara (everything from one-day projects such as winterizing community vegetable gardens to designing curriculum for the semester-long GreenRoots leadership development program).
Shuey also encourages students to bring their ideas about improving the community to ReNU Niagara because “we’re in the community; we’re right in Niagara Falls, in the city. ReNU can really be a place that if they (the students) have ideas – maybe to help revitalize the community with – that we can be a place where they can bring ... their ideas and we can help them see how they can get their projects off the ground.”
Taylor said ReNU Niagara is located in “the heart of a distressed neighborhood in Niagara Falls ... on Michigan Ave,” and has “completed projects ... including the establishment of a vacant lot coalition, community vegetable gardens, tax preparation assistance, resident and organizational training, and GIS asset mapping.”
The Border Community SERVICE element “is a regional preparedness training center, and our mission is to educate people on emergency preparedness – things they can do in their own homes and in their communities to better be prepared for any sort of emergency we have, whether it be natural or man-made,” said Executive Director Dana Estrada.
Estrada explained how the program helps the communities around NU.
“Any place where people meet, we can go and give presentations on the Ready America Model, which is: get a kit, make a plan, be informed and get involved. We follow the FEMA model of preparedness education,” Estrada said.
One of the Border Community SERVICE’s primary functions is to offer Community Emergency Response Team training. Estrada said CERT training teaches “modules in disaster preparedness, disaster psychology, fire safety, search and rescue, emergency medical operations and disaster terrorism, and it culminates in a disaster simulation where people can test their skills and their readiness.”
CERT training is available in both Erie and Niagara counties.
Taylor appreciated any support for the new institute. “Today is a celebration, and it’s the sharing of a vision,” he said. “It’s a commitment on the part of the university, both to me, but also to the importance of this work, because, obviously, whenever you have to put resources behind something like this, you want to be prudent about doing so. So I think anybody who’s here today is saying ‘We believe that this makes a difference.’ ”
Shuey expects positive things from the Institute for Civic Engagement.
“We focus a lot on having good communication with our community members, but sometimes it’s hard for us to engage more with faculty and students,” she said. “The role I see the institute helping is by being an advocate and more of a facilitator in getting more students and faculty involved.”
ICE is located in the Roosevelt House, near the intersection of University and Sophomore drives, and across University Drive. The building used to be the hospitality training and resource center. That department was relocated to lower level O’Shea.