“Sandal Falls,” A Project from Students at Niagara University
As a university founded by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” Niagara University and its students take public service to perhaps a higher level than most colleges and universities.
For nine years in a row, university community partnerships and projects at Niagara have made the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, noting colleges and universities that achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes in the communities they serve. Programs operate via the university’s Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement, headed by Dave Taylor, Ph.D., a former police officer who did his doctoral dissertation on homelessness and spent time living on the street as part of his research.
This year, Niagara will nominate six student community service projects.
One of the stand-outs, known as “Sandal Falls,” (and particularly active during the summer) is extraordinary in its own right because it saves hundreds of thousands of lives. Since 2010, this campus organization has collected 1.5 million shoes that have been distributed by Niagara faculty and staff on mission trips to Malawi, Guatemala and El Salvador. Additional distributions have gone to India, Kenya, Malaysia and parts of the U.S. The name “Sandal Falls” comes from the origination of the sandals – they are donated by tourists at the Cave of the Winds attraction in Niagara Falls, N.Y.. When tourists are done using them, they have the option to keep the sandals as souvenirs or to discard them. The unwanted sandals are cleaned and repackaged before making their way to the needy.
By providing these communities with shoes, the “Sandal Falls” project helps to eliminate podoconosis, a debilitating disease that causes painful swelling of the feet and legs that can lead to amputation and, possibly, death. Through such a simple solution, disease can be prevented, making it possible for people to work and help their families survive.
Other NU projects to be nominated this year include:
Heart, Love and Soul, Inc. – The Niagara Falls based soup kitchen in partnership with Niagara University and its students provides daily meals and access to a full service food pantry to the most vulnerable residents in the Niagara area. Funds are raised annually by the students organizing and participating in the “Run Against Hunger” and fall “Turkey Trot”.
Theatre for Young Audiences – Niagara University’s Theatre for Young Audiences creates a series of educational performances that tackle issues of prominence in the lives of teenagers and young adults, for example, bullying and cyber bullying. NU’s Theatre Department offers TYA at no charge to youth and their families who otherwise may not have the opportunity to attend a theatrical performance.
Sports Based Youth Management – Students organize a variety of outreach projects to bring sports and recreation opportunities to the underserved youth in Niagara Falls who have been affected to major cuts in sports programming, shutting many students out from participation. The program is part of NU’s Sport Management program.
Family Literacy Center – Niagara University established the Family Literacy Center in 2012 in response to the need for literacy services in Niagara County. The Center is an on-campus educational opportunity for graduate students to demonstrate teaching while enhancing the literacy performance of at risk readers and their families. The Center takes an intergenerational approach through its family support, which provides an opportunity to coach guardians and other family members on ways they can support literacy development.
Quality Improvement Project – Since 2010, Niagara University’s College of Education has administered QIP, which enhances the lives of children in child care centers in Niagara County to ultimately improve their school readiness level of entering kindergarten. In 2013-14 the College of Education received state approval to offer a bachelor’s degree program in early childhood development and cognition.
David Taylor, Ph.D. is director of the Levesque Institute, which has implemented the above programs since its inception in 2011. In his role, he is working to expand Niagara’s partnerships in the community and to strengthen community based learning and research at the university.
The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M. Institute for Civic Engagement
The institute is the primary resource for anyone in the community who is looking to partner with Niagara University’s students, faculty and staff, in turn building more partnerships within the community. With four flagship programs – Border Community SERVICE (Special Emergency Response Volunteer Initiative for Community Empowerment), Learn & Serve Niagara, ReNU Niagara and WNYSLC (Western New York Service Learning Coalition, students have been recruited to work on projects such as the Niagara Beautification Commission’s annual Beautify Niagara city clean up campaign, Niagara Falls Block Club, Council President Roger Spurback’s fight against graffiti and the YouthWorks organization’s home repairs for senior citizens. They are also involved with Special Olympics and Sandal Falls, a program to provide shoes to those in need around the Globe.
About Niagara University
Founded by the Vincentian community in 1856, Niagara University is a comprehensive institution, blending the best of a liberal arts and professional education, grounded in our values-based Catholic tradition. Its colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education, and Hospitality and Tourism Management offer programs at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral level. As the first Vincentian university established in the United States, Niagara prepares students for personal and professional success while emphasizing service to the community in honor of St. Vincent de Paul.