Confidence, clarity of direction, and a heightened sense of purpose. These promises are exemplified in Noah LaClair, a senior from a little town in upstate New York, who found his passion through the education and opportunities he experienced at Niagara.
Noah came to Niagara from Philadelphia, N.Y., with the dream of performing on Broadway. But his role as a community advisor in O’Shea Hall led him on a different path.
“That job made me realize I like helping people, and I get so much joy out of creating programs to help people,” he said.
Noah declared a social work major and began participating in the opportunities available through that program. Among them was an internship at Youth Focus, Inc., where he assisted in providing services to the youth in the Greensboro, N.C., emergency crisis shelter. He lived in a dorm at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, surviving on a modest stipend and depending on public transportation to get to and from the facility. The experience, he said, “gave me the opportunity to empathize more with the population I was working with. I was able to walk in their shoes and see the barriers they are facing. And it made me want to pursue working with youth more.”
Noah has worked with children in grades 2-3 as a volunteer with an after-school program offered by the Francis Center in Niagara Falls, and with high school students as an intern with Niagara University’s Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission. In addition to leading a voter registration drive that targeted people of color, Noah has been involved with the center’s REACH (Race, Education, Advocacy, College Credit Courses in High School) program and coordinated its third annual youth, race, and equality conference. This event brought approximately 200 students from eight high schools throughout Western New York to the NU campus to engage in dialogue and discuss how to create change through advocacy and collective action.
“After the youth conference, and seeing my work have such a strong impact,” he said, “it made me feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Noah also participated in outreach to sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in Niagara Falls in partnership with the Homeless Alliance of Western New York through Niagara's Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement. He was among a group of students who distributed needed supplies at local “hot spots” and connected with the individuals in preparation for the national Point-In-time count of people experiencing homelessness.
“It was a really amazing experience to actually be out there doing really important work,” he said.
Because of the skills and knowledge he gained through his education and experiences like these, Noah is confident he will be able to create change, he said. In September, he’ll apply what he learned to a two-year assignment in Morocco with the Peace Corps. There, he will help to create programs for students and youth based on an assessment of their needs. He hopes these programs will allow him to combine his passion for social justice and his love of theatre, which he continued to pursue with a minor.
“I’m excited to be able to create programs that are going to tie in theatre elements,” he said. “I’m going to do what I love, and I’m going to be able to help people and help youth and engage them in practices and programs that are going to be beneficial to them.”
In addition to the academic aspect of his Niagara experience, Noah said that the university’s Vincentian mission also helped to shape his future, which he anticipates will put him on the front lines of social change.
“It made me a more empathetic person and gave me the skills and knowledge to become the change maker I want to be in society,” he said. “Niagara University has made me who I was meant to be.”