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Bridging the gap to reinvent The Falls

In 2006, Kristin Meyer needed a job so badly that even though she had no idea what was on the other side of the bridges that led here, she agreed to take an entry-level post that paid $10 an hour for 10 hours a week.

As she drove 45 minutes from her parents' house in West Seneca, she knew gas money was eating into her slim profits.

Six years have gone by since then, her job as a financial adviser is full time, the commute is shorter from her apartment in Buffalo, and she's been inspired to launch a new effort to make things in this old city even more interesting:

About six months ago, she and a friend founded HYDRO, which stands for "Happening Youthful & Driven Reinventing Our Niagara Falls." It is a group of about 10 people who have been meeting monthly since January to develop event ideas.

They are now working on two projects: a summer drumming circle once a month on Fridays at Heritage Park by the rapids and a plan to have Niagara County schools paint barrels to be auctioned off. It is similar to what Buffalo did years ago with decorated buffalos still posted in spots around the city as outdoor sculpture.

The HYDRO mission includes creating "a buzz and getting those with ideas in touch with those who can get them accomplished."

"It's primarily a group to promote and preserve Niagara Falls," said Meyer, 29, who works on retirement planning at ATT Financial Group. "There's a lot of energy that we still need around here. We didn't want to be another business group."

>You planned this with another newcomer, Jeff Deming, the general manager of the Giacomo Hotel. Being outsiders helped you both see a need and come up with the idea for HYDRO?

I met him at a networking event. He and I seem to connect. This is such a great area There is stuff going on, and we just need to do a little digging and promote it. It's not just the darn casino.

>What is a drumming circle?

It's basically just kind of a freelance type of thing. People come up in no particular rhythm. Tiny bit of structure but not much.

The energy's unbelievable, if you've never been to one. Hippies, hula hoop dancers, musicians. They just bring all types of drums. It's an unlimited number of musicians that can join in. It's just the way that people come together. You have people that are strangers to each other, and next thing you know they'll create these unbelievable sounds.

I hope to attract all different types of people. If you're a musician, come in and jump on the bus.

>And then you want to have kids from different schools paint themed barrels in the fall?

"Barrels through the Falls." We want to do a citywide project. We want to do it with wine barrels. With people. Instead of them going over the falls, we want them to go through the Falls.

[It's] to raise money for kids' college scholarships. We're in the process of meeting with somebody from NU. Promoting it to all the principals in the area.

>You'd like to include Buffalo native and Rolling Stone caricature artist Philip Burke?

Somehow I wanted to incorporate him. If we could get him to do one that would be a nice motivation to the younger kids We could even class it up to do some wine tours in the fall.

>Your next meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at the Giacomo Hotel on First Street. What are the meetings like?

Lately we've been focusing more on planning these events I usually try to have live music or food. Something to make it casual so there's networking as well.

>What has working in Niagara Falls done for you?

It's definitely different. I had no idea what was over on this side of those bridges. It took me awhile to adjust. This is really where I've been able to grow my career. Once I come over those bridges I'm like, "Nobody knows me over here." I'm free to share my goals and ideas with anybody. Over here in Niagara Falls, I've met the right people to be able to be comfortable and be who I want to be

I've been really blessed with the people I've been connected to. It's allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. It made me stronger.

>But you're not ready to live here full time?

I've thought about it. I wish I could. If I could make enough money, I'd have a place in Buffalo and a place out here.

>Living in Buffalo helps?

I go home and get new ideas and have some privacy out there as well.

>The energy and interest people have in HYDRO has been surprising?

I think they want to give something, and nobody knows where to start. Because there's so much negative energy people have been afraid I was starting to feel kind of bogged down.

>The Aquarium on Whirlpool Street is one of your favorite local places?

Everybody should just go there. It's a little outdated, but it's got a lot of character. They do quite a bit with the seals out there.

I adopted a penguin. For me, penguins are awesome. It's really cute. You just pay money and you get to adopt her for a year. $40. Her name is Bobbi. If you went there tomorrow you could also adopt Bobbi. She's not just mine. Hopefully every kid will be wanting to go adopt them.

>People can email you at kmeyer@americanportfolios.com, but you're not on Facebook?

With things like Facebook that are really big, I go the other way. I feel more deep-rooted in picking up the phone and calling you.

Know a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Bruce Andriatch, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.