Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Senase Project

Back in 2011, after a group of students from Semester At Sea had the chance to visit Senase in Ghana, Africa, they came back to Buffalo with a mission. While they visited a small village named Akatim, they found out there were hundreds of kids there with no access to education. Though they spent a short time with the community in Akatim, they were changed by what they saw, and shortly after began The Senase Project.

Since the trip in 2011, volunteers from The Senase Project have made additional trips to Africa to meet with local leaders and educators and find out what they could do to help. The result, a plan to build a new school and provide the resources educators need to help the children of the village. 

The enthusiasm and clear passion for the mission gained them a big name supporter, Desmond Tutu, who has worked with the Senase Project to obtain grants and other funding to begin the work. The Buffalo community has also been extremely supportive of the organization as well as family and friends of the founder/Board members. 

Currently, three functioning classrooms are up and running at the current school location while work finishes up on the new school. When completed, the new school will help facilitate educational programming for over 120 students from Kindergarten to 11th grade. They hope to have work on the new school completed by the end of September 2013.

The Senase Project volunteers don’t have plans of stopping once the school is finished. They have already outlined their second project, a new medical clinic. The medical clinic will be a much larger undertaking with a considerably bigger budget than the school. They already have a plot of land where the clinic will go, but are taking the planning stages slowly so they make sure they get it right. 

The clinic will be a major improvement for the village. The current medical clinic serves about 10,000 residents and is a considerable distance away from the village center, making it difficult to get to, especially for those very ill. Medical resources are very limited and while they currently do the best with what they have, there is great need for improvement. 

“Our mission is to empower a community and provide them with the resources to help improve the quality of life.” Sophie Herrman, Marketing Director for The Senase Project told me. 

What impresses me most about this small, grassroots organization, is that the majority of the founders and Board members are still in school. They are an extremely passionate and young team with a lot of ideas and a great set of goals and plans to improve life in Senase.

"Our immediate goal is to improve the quality of life in Senase and provide them with the resources they need, but we hope in 5-10 years that we can say we have helped additional villages in Africa." 

The organization relies on private donations and they are currently running a "UFunded" campaign to raise money for the school in Akatim. Check out their fundraising page, HERE, and if you can, support the drive! 

You can stay in the loop on the progress for the school and other upcoming projects and fundraisers by checking out The Senase Project on Facebook and Twitter too. 

Education has been a hot topic in Buffalo and throughout New York State for the past few years with budget cuts, state testing and limited government funding. While these challenges are incredibly hard to work with here, there are millions of children who don't know what the inside of a classroom is like and have never been to "school".  

I'm looking forward to seeing where The Senase Project goes next and am so proud of the students who have been working to "Pay It Forward" and make a difference in the lives of others! 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Krystal's Buffalo Summer To Do List - 2013

Summer comes and goes entirely too fast in Buffalo. There are hundreds of events to choose from to fill up my schedule, but there just never seems to be enough time to do everything I want. Come September, I find myself saying, "I wish I did that!" 

To help focus my summer plans, I've created my own "MUST DO" Buffalo Summer 2013 To-Do List. Some are obvious staples I do every summer, and some are random personal summer goals. I plan on updating this blog post throughout the summer as I check things off.

Feel free to join in, or, even better - create your own Buffalo To Do List and send it my way!!! I'll pick out some of my favorites and post them! 

Krystal's Buffalo Summer 2013 To Do List:

1.) Get to every Buffalo food truck at some point this summer!
2.) Throw a wine party featuring all "local" wines and food!
3.) Take at least 5 tours offered by Buffalo Tours
4.) Try all the fitness classes offered at Canalside this summer (Zumba starts June 4th)
5.) Take a hard hat tour of The Central Terminal! - Sunday, June 9th
6.) Tour at The Darwin Martin House
7.) Take a Lockport Locks cruise
8.) Enjoy a bottle of local wine outside around our patio/fire pit (we are putting one in soon!)
9.) Buy a new piece of artwork at the Allentown Art Festival - Sunday, June 9th
10.) Tour at Graycliff Estate in Derby, NY
11.) Take a tour at Forest Lawn Cemetary
12.) Cross the Ride For Roswell finish line after biking 30 miles
13.) Tour the Teddy Roosevelet Site
14.) Cheer on the Bisons at Coca Cola Field and get cotton candy with Jacob
15.) Take a Whirlpool Jet Boat tour
16.) Take a hot air balloon ride over Letchworth State Park (thanks Dad for the best Christmas gift ever!)
17.) Take Jacob on a nature hike around Tifft Nature Preserve
18.) Sample something I've never tried before at The Taste of Buffalo
19.) Water bikes at Canalside
20.) Strawberry picking - and hopefully the crop is better than last year
21.) Cherry picking (we didn't get to go last year because the crop was so poor)
22.) Visit the Niagara wineries - Saturday, June 1st
23.) Visit the Burchfield Penney Arts Center (preferably on a rainy summer day)
24.) Spend an afternoon at the Griffis Sculpture Park (West Valley, NY - close enough!)
25.) Lead a great tour for Buffalo Bites Food Tours
26.) Beach day
27.) Rock climbing at Silo City Rocks
28.) Visit the new location for Lake Effect Ice cream and sample something new - Thursday, June 6th
29.) Get to Artpark and Canalside for a few concerts
30.) Throw a party at Shakespeare in the Park - you are all invited (bring a dish to pass)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Directions Youth & Family Services

Respect. Responsibility. Safety. Goals. Those are the "norms" at New Directions Youth and Family Services.  Their mission, according to their website, is to "foster resilient, self-reliant families and permanence for at-risk children in the shortest time possible, by promoting safe, respectful, responsible and goal-directed behavior".

The agency dates back to the late 1800's when they first opened a group home for children in need. What started as one small house nestled in the woods in Randolph, NY has grown into an additional five homes that all have a slightly different focus to treating at-risk children. 

Take for instance The Randolph House. It  focuses on getting its residents outside and participating in a variety of recreational activities including hiking, kayaking, skiing, and horseback riding.  

The Zafron Home houses teen parents, provides a safe and encouraging haven for new moms to continue their education and receive the support they need. 

An additional four houses throughout Western New York in Lockport, Falconer and Westons Mills all take a slightly different approach to treatment and house a variety of at-risk children. Two of the homes also house state-approved schools for students with special needs.

In addition to the residential locations, New Directions also offers foster care and adoption services throughout Western New York. Couples interested are screened, go through a training program and receive ongoing training on how to best serve the children they foster, and in some cases, adopt. 

Preventative services are the "newest" addition to the 23 different services they provide for Western New York. Family support, crisis intervention, Intensive Case Management and more all take a very family centered approach.

"The old model of treatment was that if a child wasn't making it at home, they went to an institution. The relationship with the family was never the same. Nowadays, we put a large value on the influence of family. Families are forever, and the more you can do to make the family stronger, and include the family in aspects of treatment, the stronger the family will be in the end." Brad Sande, Development Director for the organization told me. 

When speaking with Brad, he truly emphasized their family approach and how they are all about strengthening the family, because it will be in turn strengthen the child. I couldn't agree more. Many times, families can feel helpless, or don't have the resources to make things better on their own. That is exactly what New Directions is here for. 

Staff are experts in their field and programs are accredited by The Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services and additional agencies. The organization partners with over a dozen additional groups and is a member of many top agencies. They are the leader in services for at-risk children in Western New York. 

Services reach over 1,000 families every year with close to 250 families placed in their residential homes. Preventive services reach the most families, providing an incredible resource for families in need. 

While most of the funding for programming comes from county contracts and funding, the reimbursement rate doesn't support the many special services (including recreational activities) that they believe are very important to the well being of the children they serve. 

In order to raise the funds to support recreation programs, the organization is hosting its 4th Annual "Wines of Distinction" event tomorrow (Friday, May 3rd) at the Lockport Town & County Club located at 717 East Avenue in Lockport, NY. The event starts at 7:00pm and will feature wine samples from around the world, including The Niagara Wine Trail. Tickets to the event are $35 each, or $60 for two and can be purchased at the door tomorrow night. In addition to wine samples, appetizers, cheeses, desserts and coffee/teas will be served. For beer lovers, micro brew beer samples will also be available. 

Prize raffles and basket raffles will be available to event goers, with the chance to win an IPad, flat screen television, luxury box at a Buffalo Bisons game, sports memorabilia, golf outings and more! 

It is a fun opportunity to learn more about New Directions and enjoy a night out! I'll be attending with my Mom, and hope you will join us and the rest of the guests in attendance to help raise money for this important organization in Western New York. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Restaurant Week Recap #4: Cecelia's Ristorante in Buffalo

To wrap up my Restaurant Week adventures, I planned a girls night with some of my best friends from high school. I'm fortunate that so many of my close girlfriends growing up still live around me! 

We chose Cecelia's Ristorante, located on Elmwood Avenue. As with most places on Elmwood, they don't have a parking lot, but I was able to score a great spot just outside the restaurant on the street. 

The Italian restaurant is a trendy spot in Buffalo with a great outdoor patio. The inside boasts a large bar, and plenty of seating, but can get crowded quickly - especially during happy hour. The atmosphere is laid back, fun and flirty. It is a great spot to bring a date in Buffalo. Come summertime, the patio is hopping and it's a wonderful place to people watch. 

The Restaurant Week special included an appetizer, entree and cannoli for dessert. But before I get to the food, let's talk about the martinis. They boast a long martini list to choose from. I opted for the Bellini and it was tasty and not overpowering. Other good choices are the Lemon Drop, Pomegranate and Berry Snapple. If you are looking for a great deal, they offer 1/2 priced martinis Tuesday - Friday from 4:00 - 6:00pm (only available at the bar).  

For my appetizer, I chose the margherita pizza, which was honestly a meal in itself (see picture on the right). It was tasty, and while I couldn't finish it all, it was great for sharing with the table. They offer it under their regular pizza menu, and while I wouldn't necessarily go to this restaurant for pizza (try Siena, Rocco's or 800 Maple), it was a good starter. 

One of my friends chose the Caprese salad (also on their regular menu) and it was a gorgeous presentation, generous portion and delicious. To be honest, all of our appetizers were great. Others at my table chose the stuffed banana peppers (which were on the spicy side but had good flavor) and a Caesar salad (tasty). Our meal was certainly off to a good start. 

Before I get to our entrees, I want to point out how much I enjoyed the fact that the Restaurant Week specials were actual normal menu items for the restaurant. Many times, Restaurant Week specials include dishes you can't normally get at the restaurant, and while it is usually something delicious, I'd rather have a regular menu item so I know if I should come back or not. 

For my entree I, and a few others at my table. chose the Chicken Brushetta (cutlet floured & sauteed with grape tomatoes, basil, goat cheese in a lemon white wine sauce served over whipped potatoes). The dish had me at "goat cheese" but honestly everything about it was delicious. The chicken was breaded perfectly and cooked well and the lemon white wine sauce complemented everything on the plate. The whipped potatoes has so much flavor and all together it was a perfect dish. I would go back for this dish alone. 

Everything else my friends had (penne broccoli, chicken parm) looked great too and everyone enjoyed their meals. The portion sizes were good, there were not really any leftovers, but you definitely felt full and satisfied. 

Girls nights out are so important and Restaurant Week gives you a great opportunity to get together with friends, family and co-workers (although who really needs a "reason"?). I'm already counting down to the Fall Restaurant Week!

Thanks for the memories, Restaurant Week!

Caprese Salad (so pretty)