Niagara University is deeply committed to the social, economic and physical revitalization of the Buffalo-Niagara region. In November 2005, Niagara University received a federally funded grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of University Partnerships (OUP). With this funding, NU established ReNU Niagara, a community outreach partnership center (COPC) on Main Street in Niagara Falls.
The mission of the ReNU Niagara COPC was to improve the quality of life for Niagara Falls residents by initiating and supporting asset based, target activities in partnership with community leadership. COPC addressed the urgent multidirectional urban problems of community capacity building, economic development and employment, and environmental justice and health.
As a cornerstone of NU's active engagement in the community and through its work with faculty, staff and collaborative partners, ReNU Niagara COPC completed projects to address urgent community needs and challenges. Examples include the establishment of community vegetable gardens, tax preparation assistance, resident and organizational training (entrepreneurial, business development, fundraising, nonprofit management), and GIS asset mapping.
ReNU Niagara worked collaboratively with community partners to establish two community garden projects in Niagara Falls. In March 2008, ReNU Niagara partnered with several organizations to help with recruitment of local youth interested in planning, implementing and maintaining the "Keeping it Green" community vegetable garden. This garden is located in the south end of Niagara Falls, on land owned and adjacent to the Niagara Falls Neighborhood Housing Service's executive offices and senior housing complex. The Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club has taken on garden responsibilities since its first season.
Planning for the second garden began in January 2009 when ReNU Niagara partnered with the Highland Community Revitalization Committee Inc. as well as the Henry J. Kalfas Magnet Elementary School to establish the Highland (Area) Community Vegetable Garden. Built on a lot adjacent to the Kalfas School, the community garden consists of 25 raised garden beds, rain barrels and composters, promoting sustainable gardening practices.
The Highland Greenfields project and the 2008 "Keeping it Green" community garden project were instrumental in shaping ReNU Niagara's future programs and services. These two projects clearly demonstrated ReNU Niagara's ability to mobilize an entire community of residents, bring people together from different neighborhoods and different age groups, build human and social capital, identify different assets in the community and leverage resources.
The two green neighborhood improvement projects gave ReNU Niagara a unique identity among community stakeholders and a defined niche. Instead of being perceived as just a connection to Niagara University and its resources, ReNU Niagara became recognized as a trusted partner in Niagara Falls by local nonprofits, community-based organizations and residents as an individual program that is willing to take on "out of the box" projects and connect others to neighborhood improvement resources.