Before even taking their first official class as Niagara University freshmen, 16 students are helping to fulfill the institution's Catholic and Vincentian mission.
The students, who are participating in the Niagara University Opportunity Program, spent most of July 18 working with the Niagara Area Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate a house on 37th Street in Niagara Falls.
Sharon Green, a NUOP instructor and coordinator of instructional services in NU's Office of Academic Support, organized the day of service. Green previously received a service-learning grant from the university to fund the initiative. The goal of the grant is to incorporate service learning into a course.
Led by NUOP peer counselors Enuel "Matthew" Caraballo and Chris Cornier, the students tore out carpets, pulled nails and staples from floors, removed flooring, took down cement walls inside the home and assisted with landscaping.
The students were guided by Claudia Folsom, Chris Schifferli and Eda Buzzelli of the Niagara Area Habitat for Humanity.
Incoming freshman volunteer Elena Marquez said, "While helping out to fix the interior of the house, I realized just how much I enjoyed the physical labor. What made me feel more proud about the volunteer work was the idea to help a family in need. Overall, my volunteer work allowed me to appreciate my home more and appreciate volunteering for those in need."
NUOP is designed for students who have the potential for and interest in furthering their education, but may not gain admission under Niagara University's standard criteria. The ultimate goal of the program is to make higher education possible for students who are both academically underprepared and economically disadvantaged. NUOP is funded jointly by the university and the New York State Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program.
As part of the program, Green teaches a course called "Introduction to College Reading," which requires students to read "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers. The nonfiction books centers on a Syrian-American painting contractor in New Orleans who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was subjected to unlawful imprisonment.
To enhance students' understanding of this book, they also watch Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke." The incisive documentary includes extensive footage of the devastation caused by the breach of the levees in New Orleans. Sadly, the worst destruction occurred in the poorest neighborhoods, which are also the lowest lying.
Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity enabled Green's students to draw parallels between New Orleans, which 10 years after Katrina is still re-building its housing stock, and the need for improved housing for the low-income residents of Niagara Falls.
Along with Green, Diane Stoelting, director of the Office of Academic Support, also participated in the day of service. Connie Matthews, NUOP program director, assisted with transportation.
"Coming from Queens, New York, this was an opportunity to help out a community that I will now be part of for the next four years," noted incoming freshman Christina Ruiz.
Cornier added, "These students have done a tremendous job at the site and we look forward to seeing them continue to serve the Vincentian mission here at Niagara University."