Working to Revitalize our Community
Instituted in 2006 as a Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded Community Outreach Partnership Center, Niagara University established the ReNU Niagara office in the City of Niagara Falls. ReNU Niagara’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Niagara Falls residents by initiating and supporting asset-based target activities in partnership with community leadership. ReNU Niagara programming engages, empowers and educates diverse community stakeholders to work together to improve Niagara Falls and the surrounding areas. The activities are based on a collaborative vision that is consistent with the mission and core values of Niagara University.
Working in partnership with the United Way agencies serving the Niagara region, ReNU Niagara completed an assessment of health and human service agencies in Niagara County and Tonawanda to determine how the location of existing programs and services corresponded to the needs of the population. Relevant demographic data about Niagara area residents including age, gender, income, poverty status, employment, education and race were mapped using geographic information system software. Likewise, information about existing health and human service agencies was also mapped. This effort produced a visual expression of community needs and is expected to enable agencies to more easily identify where services may overlap as well as where gaps may exist and must be addressed.
Organizing volunteers and coordinating resources for the improvement of our community are among the goals established for the ReNU program. Success in this “capacity building” function is evident in the community gardens that have been established in Niagara Falls. Partnering with organizations such as the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club, the Highland Community Revitalization Committee Inc., the East Hill Foundation and WNY AmeriCorps, ReNU Niagara has worked with hundreds of community volunteers, many of whom are youths, to establish community vegetable gardens in Niagara Falls neighborhoods. These volunteers learn how to plant, care for, and eventually harvest the vegetables, which are then sold at a low cost to area residents.
In partnership with the City of Niagara Falls Department of Economic Development, ReNU Niagara administered an Entrepreneurial Training Program to assist city residents with opening a new business or enhancing the productivity of an existing operation. Workshops were offered on topics such as launching a business, keeping records, banking for small business, financing your business, how to use credit wisely, promotional strategies, insurance and taxes, business law, technology and government funding.
Restoring the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store
Recognizing the potentially serious impact on residents of the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara University staff and students worked together to preserve an important community resource that was in jeopardy of closing — the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. The store is an important source of items such as appliances, dishes, furniture and clothing that are sold at very modest prices. Niagara staff and students from all areas of the campus helped re-establish management of the shop after the condition of the building, limited hours of operation, insufficient staffing and other concerns threatened to close it. Niagara volunteers cleaned the store, removed debris, made needed repairs, and solicited donations of new and usable merchandise. The thrift store is now thriving, and students and campus ministry staff remain involved with its continued operation and growth. Plans for the future include using the store as a site for College of Business Administration students to provide basic fiscal education and financial literacy assistance to community residents.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
Niagara students annually participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, providing free tax services to low-income and elderly taxpayers in the Niagara Falls community. In 2009, 54 student volunteers prepared 640 tax returns and provided $641,472 in federal tax refunds to taxpayers in our community. In recognition of their efforts, they received two national honors from Beta Alpha Psi, a national honorary organization: one for preparing the most federal income tax returns on behalf of the community and another for involving the greatest number of student volunteers in the program.