Jobs and city parks were on the minds of more than 75 people who gathered Tuesday night in New Hope Baptist Church to pray for change and to press elected leaders for action.
Leaders from 15 Niagara County congregations and nonprofit organizations that constitute the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope took stock of their efforts during the last year to get local hiring laws passed in Wheatfield and North Tonawanda and up for votes in Niagara Falls and Lockport.
NOAH leaders also sharpened their focus on two of their next initiatives: replacing two neighborhood parks in Niagara Falls that the city sold to a private firm and creating a planning commission that would give religious leaders a voice in the city's future.
"We've made some progress this year," said Rev. Rex Taylor Stewart, the alliance's co-president and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Youngstown. "We're not done."
The organization has operated under the strategy of publicly asking elected leaders to sign on to its efforts. A portion of the meeting focused on giving out "gold stars" to entities that have passed local hiring laws and publicly admonishing those, like the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, that have not.
The proposed hiring policy, which will be considered in coming weeks by officials in Niagara Falls and Lockport, requires that at least 30 percent of jobs on large public works projects go to Niagara County residents.
The alliance is one of six organizations in upstate New York, including VOICE Buffalo, that focuses on such issues a health care, local hiring and youth. It works under two national faith-based networking organizations, People Improving Communities through Organizing and the Gamaliel Foundation, Stewart said.
Thursday's meeting also focused on replacing two city recreational facilities on 10th and 13th streets that were sold to Niagara Falls Redevelopment, a private firm.
"It seems as though the issues that pertain to our children are not as important as they used to be," said Bishop Stephan Booze, co-president of NOAH and pastor of Potter's House Christian Community Church.
NFR did not send a representative to the meeting, and representatives were not available afterward for comment.
Members of the organization plan to go to Niagara Falls Redevelopment's offices this afternoon to request the company's help in replacing the parks.
Stewart said the organization is concerned that properties in poor neighborhoods of Niagara Falls are being purchased and vacated.
He asked Mayor-elect Paul A. Dyster to establish a joint planning commission that would include community leaders and elected officials.