Eleven seniors participating in the Levesque Institute's Building Community Developers program offered several solutions to what they considered three of their city’s most pressing issues during a presentation to Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino May 13, 2022.

The young people of Niagara Falls have vision and determination. And they exhibited both during a presentation to Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino at City Hall on May 13.

The 11 seniors from Niagara Falls High School offered several solutions to what they considered three of their city’s most pressing issues during the presentation. They are among the 20 participants in the Building Community Developers program, a collaborative initiative between Niagara University’s Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement and the Niagara Falls City School District.

“The Building Community Developers program is intended to instill civic pride, build agents of change, and develop leaders who can shape the future of their hometown,” said Dr. Karen Kwandrans, executive director of the Levesque Institute. “The students attend programming addressing civic engagement, leadership development, and social justice as it pertains to today’s youth.”

The students met with local stakeholders, conducted research, and drew from their own experience to identify three areas of improvement for the city. Then they divided into three groups to come up with several recommendations for each area.

The first group, Ny'asia Rafter, Demitira Fountain, and Rayanna Mozell, focused on the way potholes, pollution, inadequate street lighting, and abandoned buildings negatively impacted the city’s attractive setting and natural environment, which they called “a key indicator of a healthy city.”

Their recommendations included providing funding to fix the potholes and improve street lighting, enforcing littering laws, and renovating abandoned buildings so that they are attractive to new businesses.

Group two, Alexa Jakobi, My’asia Vega, Lenajah Ravenelle, and Andre Stokes, were concerned that crime, drugs, and homelessness created dangerous areas within the city.

“Safe neighborhoods and streets are prime variables for a thriving community,” they said.

Their recommendations included increasing the number of rehabilitation centers and homeless shelters and removing barriers that keep people from getting into the shelters. They also suggested that adding more places like The Connection, a free center for teens on Main Street in Niagara Falls, would provide safe places for young people to gather.

The final group, Michaela Calvello, Jesiere Carter, A'layha Carter, and DaVonte Paige, wanted to expand the range of entertainment opportunities available in the community. Giving both young people and other residents reason to stay in their own city rather than traveling to other areas for entertainment would provide job opportunities and “a mental and social outlet to relieve stress,” “give community members a reason feel welcome and proud to be a resident in Niagara Falls,” and keep the youth from “finding trouble,” they said.

Their recommendations included establishing a recreation center, bringing in an arcade like a Dave & Busters, and organizing cultural diversity fairs that could foster unity and understanding among area residents.

Following the presentations, Mayor Restaino thanked the students for their ideas and addressed each of their suggestions, explaining what steps would need to be taken to implement them. He also encouraged them to continue their interest and involvement in helping to improve their hometown.

“We’ve all got to roll up our sleeves,” he said. “We’ve got work to do.”

The Building Community Developers program, which was funded by a grant from the Niagara Area Foundation, ended with a field trip to the Underground Railroad Museum/Mural Project and the Maid of the Mist, and lunch at the Hard Rock Café.