If there's any chance for Niagara Falls to be reborn economically, it may be up to people like 19-year-old Laura L. Allen.
A 2006 Niagara Falls High School graduate and honor student, Allen has the dream, the patience, the gumption and, most importantly, the unselfish dedication to help.
Allen loves her city. She's grateful for all the things the Niagara Falls City School District has done for her -- and she has every intention to help her community thrive once again.
Though just a freshman at Spelman College in Atlanta, Allen has set her sights, even in her choice of school, on helping to better the lives of others, especially in Niagara Falls.
Spelman's a traditional liberal arts college for black women. Why did you choose to go there?
Because I really love what Spelman stands for. Our motto is: 'Women Who Enter to Learn and Exit to Serve.' They always tell us at Spelman, 'When much is given, much is required.' It teaches us how to give back to our communities. I plan on doing that.
How does going away to Spelman relate to your desire to give back to Niagara Falls?
I've left Niagara Falls for school, but I will never leave Niagara Falls. This is where my family is. This is where my little nieces and nephews are going to grow up. I'll do whatever I can to take what I've learned in college and help build up my community because that's very important to me.
Do you have plans for the future?
Right now I'm an English major and am looking at working in public relations after I finish school. But that could change. I plan to come back to New York State for graduate school, and I have a lot of goals for Niagara Falls, goals to make this city better for everyone. I'm just not sure exactly how to put them into action yet.
Are you doing any giving back in Atlanta?
I'm in a volunteer group called The Cool Girls at the Drew Charter School. It's like a mentoring program where we do all kinds of things with the [elementary school] girls. We do physical activities, play games, help them with their homework. It's all about being role models for those girls because a lot of them don't have anyone to look up to, and they need to be inspired to do well.
You organized and held a college preparation seminar for juniors and senior at Niagara Falls High School on Jan. 8. How did you come up with the idea?
I was talking to my friend [and fellow Niagara Falls High School graduate] Earl Bass about how some things were a shock to us when we got to college. We felt the transition from high school to college could have been easier if we were aware of certain things, or if some of the things we were told by our teachers and administrators were stressed a little bit more. We felt if somebody closer to our own age would have told us a few things, we would have paid a lot more attention. So we said we should go back and talk to the juniors and seniors and let them know what they need to be doing and what college is like. How did you organize it?
I contacted a lot of people from the Class of 2006 through the Internet. We had about 19 kids come back. They came from all over the place. I'm from Spelman, Earl from Penn State. We had kids there from Virginia, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse . . . from NCCC. I did that because I wanted the juniors and seniors to get a different feel for things because the college experience can be a little different from one school to the next. Was it well attended?
Over 50 Niagara Falls High School kids showed up. What did you talk about?
Practical things like financial aid, following the syllabus you get for your college classes, the importance of reading, keeping on top of class assignments and not overextending yourself when it comes to extracurricular activities.
What did you say about financial aid?
We told them where to look for it, where to get it. We talked about how to deal with financial aid with your parents because a lot of parents think they know all about it when they don't. We told them to get their parents to come to Niagara Falls High School for its college financial aid session because their parents need to know this stuff. We also told them you get a lot more financial aid when you stay in New York State.
Why is a class syllabus so important?
We told them when you get your syllabus on the first day of class, that becomes your academic bible. If you don't pay serious attention to it, you'll come in to class one day and face a quiz you're not ready for. But you should have been. It was on the syllabus.
Why did you stress reading?
It's the most important thing to me because the more you read, the more you know and the more you understand. It gives you more background to draw from, and it makes you sound so much more intelligent when you write essays. It opens up a world of ideas to you and gives you different perspectives, which help you to shape your own thoughts about things. I wish I had read more on my own when I was in high school because it would have given me a lot of knowledge that I'd have found useful today. I'm reading a lot more now, but I feel I have so much catching up to do.
You seem to hold your high school in high regard. How much did you like high school?
I loved my high school. I loved my class. I liked it because it seemed like everybody was against us. They always had these negative things about us in the newspaper. It gave the school a bad reputation that it didn't deserve at all. Because if you were in school every single day and you saw how motivated a lot of those kids were and how hard they worked, you'd come away with a totally different opinion. Everybody was just awesome. The teachers, the counselors and the administrators were great. They were always there to help you. You couldn't ask for anything better. I loved my experience there. That's another reason why I want to give back and help them out. If I could go back and do everything over again, I wouldn't go to another school.
Why do you feel it was so special?
It was just amazing how everybody there got along [no matter his or her race]. Of course you're going to have the bad apple here and there. It's that way anywhere you go. But everybody at Niagara Falls High School gelled together. Everybody just learned how to get along. It was truly amazing.
How do you like Spelman?
I love it. The women there are so professional and very classy. The deans are wonderful. They do whatever they can to help you. When I needed a letter of recommendation for scholarships after my first semester, I went to one of my English professors, and she wrote me the best letter. . . . They give you so much of their time and support.