Niagara Falls group works to leave impact on future generations
By Lauren Zaepfel
Young parents in need of help, guidance and support have a place to go in Niagara Falls.
"Footprints on the Future" is a support group run by founder Sandy Quinn. The group's motto is, "Just because you had a baby, it doesn't mean that your future's over. It just means that it's changing. And now we have to do things differently."
The group provides a variety of programs and resources to young people to help them deal with everyday responsibilities such as going to school and working while parenting.
Quinn said she often finds people are unaware that "Niagara Falls has a higher teen pregnancy rate than Buffalo does. And there's a need for more programs."
She said she began the group four years ago when her own daughter became pregnant at the age of 16.
"It was hard to find resources for her," she said. "I'm not talking about social services. ... She needed education; she needed guidance; she needed mentoring as well as other things. So that's why I started the group."
Quinn said those who receive assistance from the "Footprints on the Future" group "believe that they're not going to be a statistic. There's this misconception that, you know, teen parents are irresponsible, lazy and that, but they're not."
"We kind of advocate for them," Quinn said. "Because, if it's easier for them, we believe 'happy parent, happy child.' Yes, the primary focus in that is the children, but if the parent is happy, healthy, educated, working, going to school, then chances are that next generation's going to go to school, go to college, and want better."
In order to provide guidance to these young parents, Quinn said, "I run my group like a family," noting, at every meeting a healthy meal is provided at one table to all participants.
"It's just a really great opportunity to reach out and it's not even just the resources, but to other teen moms or teen fathers who are in a similar situation as you," said Kayla Leiser, a single mother in Niagara Falls who has gained support from "Footprints on the Future" since its inception. "We all kind of know what each other is going through and you try to be there for each other and help each other out. ... There's new bonds being made and, you know, you are offered resources and you are (having fun) at the same time and you feel comfortable."
Quinn said all recipients are able to call her, or anyone else who helps out with "Footprints on the Future," at any time of day.
"I know these things sound small but, these girls, they crave that support and that family-type atmosphere, because a lot of them come from families where there is little or no support at all," Quinn said.
Leiser said Quinn encouraged her to return to school after she had dropped out of her program at Niagara County Community College while dealing with lack of support and challenges at home.
"Sandy's really helped me through all of that, and that's kind of been my rock, you know, making sure I stay on top of everything," Leiser said.
"There's really not anything like the group out there," Leiser said, adding many young people may need guidance in simply learning to apply for assistance, such as help obtaining food. "It sounds silly, but a lot of girls don't have that support system behind them already to push them in that direction. So Sandy kind of (comes in) and is that support."
Besides encouragement and support, donated food, clothing and baby items are also available for those in need through "Footprints on the Future."
Educational monthly meetings and programs are held on topics from cooking healthy meals to pursuing college to overcoming domestic violence.
Meetings are held, on average, once a month. The group's "home base," Quinn said, is Bacon Memorial Presbyterian Church, 166 59th St., Niagara Falls.
"Without the support of my church family, especially the mission committee ... 'Footprints' may not have taken flight. Everyone there embraces our families as if they are their own and always set up with help and support," Quinn said.
Besides meeting at the church, members also gather at different locations in the community, for additional programs or services.
Although the group's primary focus is young parents, Quinn said those who feel they can benefit from programming are welcome to participate.
"If you feel one of our meetings would help you in some way, just come," she said.
In addition, information on outside resources is offered for those who may require assistance beyond the scope of the group's services.
"Whatever we can't do or provide, we can get them in touch with the people that can," Quinn said.
Quinn said her only request is that new attendees please call the church ahead of time, to help the group determine how much food to prepare for its "family meal."
For more information on "Footprints on the Future," or to volunteer or participate in the group, call Bacon Memorial Presbyterian Church at 716-283-5744 or visit the "Footprints on the Future" Facebook page.
"Footprints on the Future" founder Sandy Quinn (center) poses for a photo with two of the group's original members, Samantha Miller (left) and Kayla Leiser, and their children.
'Family Fun Fair' set for July 9
To gain support and raise funds, "Footprints on the Future" will hold its annual "Family Fun Fair," from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 9, at the Bacon Memorial Presbyterian Church.
This year's event will feature free lunch from 11 a.m-1 p.m., music, face painting, crafts, and a petting zoo, along with free pony rides and carnival games for children.
Information tables will be set up by community organizations and service providers. Representatives will be on hand to provide attendees with resources and answer questions.
"They all come out and set up informational tables so the community knows what Niagara has to offer," "Footprints on the Future" Quinn said.
The SPCA will bring adoptable animals and the Niagara County Sheriff's Office will bring its canine unit. The Niagara Falls Fire Department will bring some of its fire trucks and the Niagara Falls City Police will have a table set up at the information fair.
A basket auction will take place to raise money for the group, as well.
"That's how we stay afloat," Quinn said. "The money that we generate from the basket auction allows us to put on this fair every year and it also allows us to continue programming."
Jet Blue has donated two round-trip airline tickets to wherever it flies to be raffled during the event, as well.
For those who wish to donate to the event, more baskets, gift certificates and gently used stuffed animals are needed.