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Race benefits the Alexa Foundation, which supports victims of sexual assault Contraption flotilla to set sail Saturday

LEWISTON – The Lower Niagara River will be filled with wacky floats and people in colorful costumes as they launch the Great Contraption Race at 11 a.m. Saturday from the Lewiston docks in an effort to raise awareness for the It Happened to Alexa Foundation.

This unique event benefits the Foundation, headquartered at 411 Center St., Lewiston, which supports victims of sexual assault throughout the criminal trial process by offering emotional and monetary aid.

The non-profit organization has helped victims in 48 states and 17 foreign countries; has achieved an 82 percent conviction rate with an average sentence of 16 years; and has assisted with prosecution that has resulted in 28 life sentences.

“Proceeds from the race go to victims and also toward educational outreach,” said Sandra Lahrache, the foundation’s acting executive director. She also served as the victim support/educational outreach director prior to her new post this spring.

Teams of two to four people pay a $150 registration fee to participate in the Great Contraption Race. They design and build their own sea-worthy “contraptions,” which will take them from the Lewiston docks to Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown. They may only be powered by paddles or man-made sails.

The more eccentric the design, the better, to help heighten awareness of the foundation’s mission, according to Lahrache.

The race attracted 25 unique creations last year and Lahrache is hoping for more this year.

“We’re looking for eccentricity, for creativity,” she said. “We are even offering free registration to non-profit groups or school organizations this year to create their own floats.”

Lahrache said a group from the Lewiston Moose Lodge has been diligently working on its design since January, while a group from Niagara-on-the-Lake has watched with great interest from Canadian shores as the event has grown through the years.

“This group came to me and said, ‘We need to get in on this,’ ” she said. “So, we have a little international attention this year. I’m so excited – it’s such a creative float.”

A single tube category will attract those ages 16 and older who want to participate in a solo float this year.

Lahrache said anyone interested must contact her at 754-2210 for specific rules for this category.

Check in for all begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Lewiston docks, followed by the race at 11 a.m.

Spectators also are encouraged, Lahrache said. Marked viewing areas will be offered along the Niagara River route.

“And, we are counting on spectators to liven up our after-the-race party,” Lahrache said.

The event continues with a party after the race in Falkner Park, Youngstown, hosted by its community and featuring five bands, food tents and even a beer tent this year.

“We want everyone to come out and enjoy the music, dancing and fun,” she added. “And the proceeds from the beer tent will also go to the foundation.”

Float prizes will be awarded in four categories at the after-party: People’s Choice, Most Innovative, Most Creative and Grand Champion.

Registration is still available until 9 p.m. Friday by visiting: Race sponsors receive tickets to the foundation’s fantasy casino-themed gala Oct. 1 at the Sheraton at the Falls in Niagara Falls.

Lahrache is still looking for wave-runner operators to volunteer their time during the race, to provide a safety net for participants.

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