By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
— TOWN OF TONAWANDA — An area organization’s grass roots efforts were clearly visible Thursday evening at the Brighton Place Library, where The Clean Air Coalition of Western New York displayed their photography exhibit for the first time.
The display, “Tonawanda Through Our Eyes,” features snapshots of areas of environmental need and spots that benefit the area, as well.
And all of the pictures were taken by residents, including a few kids.
“They have been meeting since the beginning of the summer,” Program Coordinator Rebecca Newberry said. “They mapped out the neighborhood — what they like and what they want to change, and eventually decided what they wanted to take pictures of.”
Photographs at the exhibit include those of abandoned buildings and debris.
“The event is putting visuals to what elected officials and the people who hold power need to be concentrating on,” Newberry said.
Clean Air Coalition staff members as well as a few resident photographers opened the exhibit with a few quick speeches.
“I’m hoping this informs as well as empowers our residents,” photographer William Flynn, of Highland Avenue, said to the group.
Flynn took three pictures for the exhibit, including one of the Tonawanda skyline taken from the top of a building in Buffalo.
“What you really focus on when you see the picture is Huntley, Tonawanda Coke, and a landfill,” Flynn said. “It perturbed me that those three things are the ones that stuck out.”
But the photographs also featured fun places in the town, like the splash pad in Sheridan Park.
“It’s always very clean,” photographer Lori Maddocks, of Burns Court, said. “And there are always kids having fun and plenty of supervisors.”
Canisius College Professor and Clean Air Coalition Board member Erin Robinson also spoke Thursday.
“This gives a chance for people to truly empower themselves and document their everyday lives — their struggles, their happiness, their fears and their everyday reality,” she said. “We may drive by these places everyday, but this allows us all to take a closer look.”
The exhibit is part of a yearlong effort, the Care Program, that was kicked off in January.
The Care Program is funded through the EPA and is a broad assessment of the challenges Tonawanda faces in terms of health.
The assessment includes air testing, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with residents about what worries them.
At the beg of Jan., the organization is holding two community meetings to identify the five most important issues in the area. Residents can vote on the issues and then, the top five will be presented to the EPA.
Then, the Clean Air Coalition will work to remedy those five problems.
Newberry also told the crowd about a rally the organization will be holding Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Department of Environmental Conservation downtown. The rally will protest the extension of Tonawanda Coke’s operating permit.
“EPA’s reforms have not taken hold there,” Newberry said. “This is just the beginning.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.