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Niagara Homecoming kicks off tonight with picnic, movie in park

An annual homecoming event designed to attract current and former city residents will feature a benefit gala, career fair, Niagara Falls High School reunion and concert by a national country artist.

The third annual Niagara Homecoming will run today through Sunday and is organized by Niagara Rises, a grass-roots group of about 150 concerned residents who banded together in 2008 to create ideas for the region's improvement.

The organization kicked off its first homecoming event in 2009, which grew out of the similar Citybration event in Buffalo. The festival was created to show off the region to current and former city residents, and to draw back those who have moved.

"The idea is to hopefully entice some of them to make the move back a permanent one," said Frank T. Croisdale, president of Niagara Rises.

The weekend will start with the "Old-Fashioned Family Picnic" and movie night from 6 to 9 p.m. today at the 91st Street Park in LaSalle.

Friday's events, at Conference Center Niagara Falls, 101 Old Falls St., include:

* A business awards luncheon from noon to 1:30 p.m., aimed at highlighting the region's job opportunities and successful business leaders.

"There's been kind of a malaise over the Niagara County community, and I feel like businesses haven't been showcased for what they're achieving," said Andrea Todaro, co-chairwoman of the Career Fair Resource Expo. "There are a lot of small companies that are coming back. We want to showcase and champion some of those companies."

Guest speakers will include Dan Hanssel, a marketing executive with expertise in social media; Joan Graci, a hiring and retention specialist; and Todaro, the keynote speaker.

* The free Career Fair Resource Expo, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., will include area employers and resource specialists. Job candidates should bring their resumes to exchange and also to use at a resume clinic. Last year's career fair brought in more than 1,700 people and 90 vendors, organizers said.

The fair will also focus on health and wellness. Health educators, massage therapists, volunteers measuring blood pressure and representatives from the Buffalo Athletic Club also will be on hand.

* After the career fair, a social will be held from 4:45 to 6:30 p.m. at Wine on Third, 501 Third St. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres will be served, and a cash bar will be available. Music will be provided by the G. Scott Jazz Ensemble.

* A nature walk at 6 p.m. on Goat Island. The walk will be followed by fireworks.

* A Niagara Power minor league baseball game at 7 p.m. at Sal Maglie Stadium.

Saturday's events include:

* A benefit and awards gala from 6 to 10 p.m. in the Cascades Ballroom of the conference center, with dancing and performances by the 18-piece George Scott Big Band with vocalist Melissa Kate. Cocktail attire is recommended. A 5 0/5 0 raffle and door prizes will be awarded. A cash bar and wine tasting will be available.

Students from Niagara County Community College's culinary program will provide a dinner buffet with meat-carving, pasta, salad and dessert stations. Individual tickets are $25, and corporate and group discounts are available. Call 870-2391 for tickets.

"I don't know where else you can get a value like that," Croisdale said.

The gala will benefit the NCCC Scholarship Foundation and Niagara Rises.

* A Niagara Falls High School all-classes reunion from noon to 6 p.m. at the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center, 1201 Pine Ave. The reunion is open to all graduates, including those from the former LaSalle High and Trott Vocational schools.

A recording of oral histories, and a food and beverage reception, will be included.

Sunday's events include:

* A free concert by Nashville recording artist Ricky Lee, currently on his "Made in America" Freedom Tour, from 1 to 6 p.m. on Old Falls Street near the conference center. Music, food, prizes and dancing will be included. The event will benefit the WNY Heroes veterans assistance center.

Saturday's and Sunday's events will coincide with the Main Street Music & Art Festival from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. It includes artisans, a classic car show, culinary samplings, wine tasting and concerts.

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com

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