"Niagara Rises" aims to "save the city of Niagara Falls."
NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.- Amidst empty storefronts and vacant homes, there is a group of about a hundred determined professionals in Niagara Falls with one thing in common.
"We were almost all people who grew up here, moved away and came back," said Frank Croisdale, President of the non-profit, "Niagara Rises." "And I think when people do come back, they lived somewhere else, they come back with a sense of purpose, I can change my community."
Croisdale has spent the past five years working towards one goal: "Simply to save the city of Niagara Falls."
"I think we're at that critical mass where people are starting to go, 'Oh wow, look at what you guys are accomplishing. I want to be part of that'," said Colleen Kulikowski, Chairwoman of the group.
One of those things is Niagara Homecoming. The four-day event encourages the Falls' ex-pats to come home, celebrate the city, visit the career fair-- and maybe even stay.
"We actually get people jobs," said Kulikowski. "And that's a problem in this community, people are starving for work."
Despite the career fair's success, though, the area is still in need of high-paying jobs. Jobs that could keep students from Niagara University from leaving as soon as they get their diploma. Croisdale compares it to the old "what came first" dilemma- the chicken or the egg?
"We looked at is as, let's create the egg," said Croisdale. "And the egg in this scenario will be a house."
The group is working on a partnership with the city and the University to have students rehab some of the city's vacant homes themselves. They describe it as a "Habitat for Humanity-style" program in which the students would ultimately become the owners of the homes.
"We'll put a time frame on it, maybe five or seven years, and if they stayed that long, they won't even have to worry about a mortgage," said Croisdale.
And they're planting the seed in students' minds early. This fall will be the second-annual "Niagara 4 You" program, designed to show all 800 incoming freshman what the Cataract City offers beyond the university. But there's at least one asset here that cant be seen.
"The sense of community, the way we band together, and support each other," said Kulikowski. "The energy that we all have to make things better."