NIAGARA FALLS – How many people sit around and complain about their city or their neighbors? How many have stopped complaining and are trying to make these changes?
For those who want to be part of the change, “Pints for Progress” might provide an answer. It offers a chance to sit together over music, food and a pint or two and raise cash for those who are not just sitting around complaining, but getting out there and making changes in the City of Niagara Falls.
The premise is simple. Get some positive folks together to hear presentations about projects in the city, share, discuss and then award the proceeds collected at the door to the best idea.
Seth Piccirillo, the city’s community development director, said the effort is set to celebrate its third anniversary in June. It has grown from 20 or 30 people at each event to regularly attracting 100 people. Pints For Progress meets about every other month in different locations in the city.
Past project winners have included a vineyard in LaSalle, love letters to Niagara Falls posted in area businesses, a video project about hidden gems in the city and the first Niagara Falls beautification project.
“The best part is the Q&A,” said Tom Lowe director of ReNU Niagara, which co-sponsors the event. “People ask some great questions.”
Lana Perlman, director of visitor services for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center, came up with the ideas for the love letters project in 2014. She said they raised about $400 from donations at the door. The cash was used to buy supplies for the public art project and about 30 businesses participated.
“We kind of fly under the radar,” Perlman said of Pints for Progress. “What’s great is that we all own a piece of every project.”
Details about upcoming parties are spread by social media on the Pints for Progress Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Pintsforprogress/.
The last event, held April 7 at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, featured Niagara Falls’ own Grammy-nominated Christina Custode, as well as a taco bar and a blue cooler with beer on tap provided by Third on Tap. The $10 admission got attendees food and one beer.
Custode, a Niagara Falls native, fit the mood of Pints for Progress XVI perfectly, telling those gathered how proud she is to tell people she is from Niagara Falls.
Usually about three to four presenters compete for the prize, but on that night there were six, including a compelling presentation from attorney Jason Cafarella; Pat Proctor, owner of Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours; and Shawn Weber, owner of Wine on Third restaurant.
Their project, “Reclaim Niagara,” is a grassroots effort to return Niagara Falls to its former glory.
“We all love Niagara Falls. That’s why we’re here,” Cafarella said. “We have a lot of resources in Niagara Falls, amazing waterfront, amazing parks. We have the power generation plant. We have great people. Unfortunately, we can’t succeed as long as the state and its authorities continue to seize our resources from us.”
He said generations ago the Power Project was a taxpayer for the city, paying 40 percent of the city’s tax levy, but the state took that away. He said the state also shot down a plan to give the city a bigger share of casino revenues.
The Reclaim Niagara group was asking for assistance to buy more signs and help to get the word out. A one-mile scenic walking tour was scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 14 from the Schoellkopf Power Plant along the Robert Moses Parkway above the Niagara Gorge. Petitions were handed out.
“If we do win, that’s fantastic, but we are going to have a website and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/reclaimniagara),” Proctor said. “I love this city. I grew up here. There’s no doubt about it. But enough is enough.”
Weber said their efforts are just beginning. They urged people to sign their petitions.
Other projects included: the Magdalene Project, which helps the women who are former prostitutes or homeless and their families; the Town of Niagara Lions Club, which holds a bowling for sight event and provides free exams and eyeglasses; Footprints on the Future, which helps young parents; and the College Simulation Experience, which teaches high school students what they really will need to make it through college by playing a simulation game.
Winner of the $700 pot for the evening was Inspire Boxing. Owner Stacy Robinson said they have no website, just a small storefront and gym at 17th Street and Pine Avenue that encourages young men and women to get off the street and avoid crime by having a safe place to work out.
“These troubled young men came off of the streets, from gangs. Their lives have been changed around,” Robinson said.
He said seeing these young men praying and helping others has meant more than medals or titles and pointed proudly to one of his “graduates,” recently elected City Councilman Ezra P. Scott Jr., who watched from the back of the room.
“We don’t have the funds to keep doing the work we’re doing. Everything I am doing at the gym I am doing out of my own pocket. I funded myself, work two jobs, do whatever I can to buy headgear and gym shorts. Some of their parents can’t afford to pay for the equipment they need,” he said.
Before the winners were even announced people were gathering around presenters asking them what they needed and how they could help.
Piccirillo said it is not unusual for presenters to raise money for their groups and upcoming projects even if they don’t win the overall prize.