Mentors Offer Lessons On Life To Young Men In The Falls

Eric Fields and John V. Elmore

Eric Fields and John V. Elmore

Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y. — 3/28/2015 – by Philip Gambini

To resource supervisor Eric Fields, after 15 years organizing the Niagara Falls Housing Authority’s Male Summit, it is still a “blessing.”

“As long as God allows me, I’ll continue to help however I can, wherever I can,” Fields said.

On Friday, Fields’ work was overseeing the buzzing hallways, classrooms, and theater at the NFHA’s Doris W. Jones Family Resource Building. Dozens of young men from the Gaskill and Lasalle Preparatory schools and Niagara Falls High School came to the Ninth Street facility for workshops focused on youth finances, self-esteem and positive connections. Each workshop was led by successful community members, many of whom had been in similar positions not long ago.

Don Sheldon, manager of accounts services for the Buffalo Bills, was among them.

“I get to tell them my experience, which is rewarding because I was the exact same way and in the same position,” Sheldon said

That position was one of youth in an average household, growing up in the cities of Philadelphia and New York City, ignoring the lessons of mentors in classrooms trying to impart the lessons he spoke about Friday. Sheldon emphasized that people get few opportunities in life, and that to be ready to capitalize on them is one of the greatest assets one can possess.

Fields felt that was a message that ran through the entire program.

“This is a transitional time in their life,” Fields said. “One move, one lack of judgement, could hinder them for the rest of their lives.”

John V. Elmore, a local attorney who served as the keynote speaker, sent a message that was in line with the program’s theme of “choice,” describing the close friends he had that fell by the wayside over the course of seven years. In that same time, Elmore said, the choices he made led him to a college diploma, a law degree, a home, and a family.

“If they had an opportunity to come to one of these events, things might have been different,” Elmore said.

The summit featured a guest panel, “My City and Me,” which hosted representatives from different levels of government. Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Niagara County Legislator Owen Steed, D-Niagara Falls, Deputy Police Chief Carl Cain, and politically involved resident Ezra Scott all fielded questions from the young men attending.

Cain said they primarily spoke about the city’s limited resources, the lack of parkland, and the prevalence of violence in the city.

“The biggest effect of these events comes through interacting personally with the kids,” Cain said. “This way, out on the street, I can say hello and have a conversation with them.”

Steed said the relationships built at the summit that extend into the community create a dialogue between residents, police, politicians, and pastors. The more exposure young people have to confidence in their leaders, he said, the better city you can expect to have.

“We hold them accountable too,” Steed said. “You have to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”