by Terry Duffy
Living in northern Niagara County, one of neatest attributes seen in area residents is their ability to get creative.
We tend to make real "grand to dos" - and quite nicely - out of the ordinary and have fun doing it. Our numerous festivals in the Lewiston and Youngstown areas are living proof. They run the gamut from smelt to gardening, arts to music to history, peaches to scarecrows and much more over the course of several months each year. They have also become trademarks of the region's ability to conceptualize, create, organize, and have a good time - oftentimes helping others.
And they're popular with locals plus outsiders from Buffalo, Western New York, Canada and points beyond.
You can say one thing: This region's ability to promote, create and achieve never ceases to amaze.
And don't look now but there's a whole new one on the horizon, one that's sure to inspire creativity, become a fun, popular event, involve the participation of many and help a good cause.
It's called the "Great Contraption Race" - with its goal to benefit the programs of the It Happened to Alexa Foundation.
For those unfamiliar with the Lewiston-based It Happened to Alexa Foundation, it's a national charity and the only organization of its kind in the United States. According to Executive Director Ellen Augello, the Alexa Foundation is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit whose mission "is to help support rape survivors through the trauma of the criminal trial, in the hopes that more survivors will go through with the prosecution in order to put these perpetrators behind bars. The Alexa Foundation has and is successfully supporting hundreds of victims of sexual assault and their families in 43 states across the U.S., as well as 15 foreign countries."
This foundation has been active both locally and nationally for years in enlisting public support for its worthwhile cause. You have seen it in the Lewiston and Youngstown areas with fundraising dinners and even on a national level with upscale fundraiser events held in the major media markets of Boston and New York City and also in West Palm Beach. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has been an active supporter and promotes the Alexa Foundation on his programs and in national appearances.
So what of this "Great Contraption Race?" you ask.
Essentially it's the latest in the foundation's ongoing efforts to spur the public's interest and support for its mission, says Augello.
"We are so fortunate to have the support of the residents of Western New York - Youngstown and Lewiston areas in particular. For 11 years, we have held an annual fundraising dinner that has always been very successful, but the time has come to change things up a bit," says Augello. "So, in a time when children and adults alike seem focused on technology to communicate with each other, we wanted to come up with a concept that used both creativity and teamwork that would bring families, friends and coworkers together outdoors. Most importantly, we wanted them to have as much fun as possible, all while raising money for the Alexa Foundation."
Over past weeks Augello, along with Sandra Lahrache, educational outreach director for the Alexa Foundation, have been working with Youngstown- and Lewiston-area residents Aaron Dey of The Dory Trading Post and Mike Fox of Fox Fence, Foxboys Marina and Niagara Jet Adventures along with other locals. Their goal was for an event that would be fun, creative, a little off the shelf, and involve the participation of many for a good cause.
The idea was to hold a competitive type affair, one that could best utilize the area's assets and be cool to participate in. With its focus on the water - remember we're on the lower Niagara, and with Fox, Dey and a number of other organizers being true boating aficionados - the "Great Contraption Race" was born.
Approvals were sought and given by both the Village of Lewiston and Village of Youngstown boards for using facilities at the race's start and end points, and the racecourse has won the support of the U.S. Coast Guard in Youngstown for utilizing the 6.2 miles of river areas on the U.S. side. It will not enter Canada waters.
Planned to take place Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, starting at 10 a.m. at the sand docks in Lewiston, the Great Contraption Race will feature either two- or four-person teams going downriver to the south dock in Youngstown in what's best described by Dey as "homemade floating contraptions."
"Designed and built by each team, the contraptions must be made essentially from recycled materials, they must be able to float and the contraption can only be powered by human power and/or a man-made sail to float down the river," says Dey.
Points will awarded for creativity of design, the team and crew's showmanship, those that finish, and those that don't and the time it takes from start to finish.
To participate, an entry fee will be charged. "Fee for participating teams is a minimum donation of $150 per person," says Dey, noting this can be accomplished through independent team fundraising. "Essentially it equates to getting $10 from just 15 just people for each team member that is racing," he adds.
Dey notes the race will feature three divisions of sponsored teams - corporate/military, collegiate and individual. Participation is open to literally anyone.
As to the awarding of points, Dey notes the contraptions will get extra points if they have affixed wheels allowing the vehicle to steer and roll on its own (or with a push) into the Niagara River using the Lewiston launch starting gate located behind The Silo Restaurant. If the contraption vehicle doesn't have wheels, it must be carried by team participants and their support crew into the river.
"The contraption has to also be able to float down the mighty Niagara River 6.2 miles (9.97km) to Youngstown," says Dey. "The participating teams and support crews then will pull, push, or carry their contraption out of the Niagara River from Youngstown's south public dock boat ramp, then travel approximately a half mile to the finish line in Youngstown's Veterans Park."
He adds that costumes and theme contraptions are highly recommended for participants. The day will conclude with a day long party at Veterans Park with music and awards for team competitors and their support crews. Foods, beverages and entertainment are expected to be offered and the community is invited to join the fun.
Dey adds that organizers are also planning an Aug. 1, 2014, VIP dinner for major sponsors of the Great Contraption Race to be held at a private home on River Road in celebration of the race the next day.
Look for more details to come on this event as the organizing continues.
Participation in the Great Contraption Race is currently open to anyone from the River Region communities, Buffalo, Western New York and Canada and points beyond.