'Say Yes' coming to Falls

By Rob Hackford


NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Say Yes Buffalo continues to lay the groundwork as it expands its scholarship and education investment program into the Niagara Falls City School District.

The non-profit has operated in the Queen City for a dozen years but this fall they will launch a massive fundraising campaign in hopes of mirroring Buffalo's success in the Cataract City.

"The high school graduation rate is up 30%, post-secondary entrance ... is up 17% and post-secondary completion is up 14%," Say Yes Buffalo CEO David Rust said.

Rust said he gets at least one phone call a month from places that want to bring the Say Yes program to their district, but after a year of conversation with Niagara Falls, they decided to stick close to home.

"As a 40-year educator in this district you know it really kind of invigorates you," said Mark Laurrie, the Niagara Falls City School District superintendent.

Laurrie said Niagara Falls faces similar education and job retention challenges to Buffalo, which is why Say Yes Niagara Falls is set to adopt four pillars from the program that started it all.

Those pillars include prioritizing apprenticeships, working with young men of color, launching Saturday academies, and implementing the "Last Dollar In" scholarship program.

"We've got a model to follow behind and I think it's going to be a game changer not just for the kids but for the community," Laurrie said.

"This is our opportunity to help students earn a certificate, two-year degree, four-year degree so they can live here and work here in our good community," Rust said.

Laurrie told 2 On Your Side that Niagara Falls High School, Gaskill Preparatory School, Abate, and Bond Elementary are already being considered for Saturday Academies.

Say Yes has also started gauging interest for the major fundraising effort that according to Laurrie will start Sept. 1.

"I think that will be the hardest part of this but it's well worth undertaking," Rust said.

Laurrie agrees it won't be easy to raise the capital, but when they do, he thinks it will be worth it in the long term.

"The kids that are in the elementary schools are going to benefit from this. It's a reinvigorating point for the district and the city. I just can't wait to get started," he said

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