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First Niagara donation to benefit youth mentoring organizations

Ashley Hirtzel

The First Niagara Foundation donated $175,000 to nine non-profit organizations in Buffalo/Niagara. The shared award will provide financial support and draw attention to the importance of mentoring programs.

First Niagara has awarded $1 million in funds to 37 total organizations across the region this year through its Mentoring Matters grant program, which aims to help children improve school attendance, prevent substance abuse and behavioral problems, and performance and give at risk youth a chance to reach their full potential.

Buffalo Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan was among those delivering the donation to area recipients at First Niagara Center Thursday.

Junior Achievement President Laurie Mahoney says the funding is crucial in helping students prepare for college and career.

“The youth are the future. We can cut it any way we want, but at the end of the day if we’re not supporting and giving as much as we can to the youth in the community then how do we expect the community to get better? Without organizations like First Niagara to support the work that we do, that is how we’re funded, we’re really very dependent on organizations who are committed to making the community better,” said Mahoney.           

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Patty Szwed

Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteer Patty Szwed says mentoring her little sister Rayna has changed her life for the better.

“We not only have fun, we really truly learn from each other. When I think about our friendship, I thought about something that really stood out to me the most. When we were first matched and when we first got together, when would make a plan I would say for example ‘let’s get together Saturday at 11 o’clock.’ Rayna would call me a lot to confirm. I thought to myself recently, she doesn’t do that anymore. It’s because she knows I am going to be there. We have that trust. We’ve really built a lot of trust in our relationship both ways,” said Szwed.

The local recipients include Junior Achievement of Western New York, Youth Mentoring Services of Niagara County, the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo Inc., Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns of WNY, Buffalo Prep Inc., Compeer of Greater Buffalo Inc., Seneca Street Community Development Corp., Hillside Work – Scholarship Connection Inc., Be a Friend Program, Inc.