Erik Hartnett

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Buffalo student Erik Hartnett believes in helping all creatures, great and small.

When he sees a person who needs help, Erik is the first to raise his hand to improve someone else's life. His generosity of spirit doesn’t stop with humans; the Buffalo resident also rescues dogs, cats, rabbits and — not too long ago — ducks. He and his partner are not afraid to paddle a canoe out to an island that has been used as a dumping ground for unwanted pets and bring them back to care for until, Erik explains, “they can be re-homed.”

In addition to his work in animal rescue, Erik also has a job as a property manager. Erik is extremely active as a community volunteer. He has served on the LGBT Pride Buffalo board of directors, started a neighborhood association in his area and is involved in his local arts community. That sense of service is ingrained in him, from the more formal aspects of helping with fundraisers to the simple act of giving rides to friends without transportation. As he says, “I help where I can.”

This extraordinary record of service is even more significant considering that he is doing it all while suffering with osteonecrosis, a disease that is literally killing his bones. At 38, he has had two total hip replacements, as well as surgery on his right shoulder, and his left shoulder is breaking down. “But I’m right-handed,” he notes, “so it’s not so bad. You wouldn’t believe how amazingly happy I am just to be able to walk.”

His philosophy on life remains upbeat. “Life is beautiful. Life is lovely. It makes me happy and excited to make the world a better place. Philanthropy is not about recognition, it’s about helping your neighbor. I’m more interested in working in my own community, making things better, than working for a big, national organization. I’m interested in carrying out a core mission. I don’t want a hall named after me, I want to work on behalf of good, accessible health care and a living wage in my own community.”

The recipient of the Niagara Frontier Center Alumni Student Association Scholarship is immersing himself in that goal. As a full-time student, he is earning a B.S. in Business Management and Economics with a concentration in nonprofit administration. After completing his undergraduate degree, he plans to continue on for an MBA.

Given his medical condition, traditional colleges are out of the question. He points out, “I can’t even carry my own books, and before my hip replacements, I couldn’t walk to class. Empire State College offers an option that makes higher education realistic.”

He had taken some courses at a community college in San Francisco and at Erie Community College, and was at a reflective crossroads when he decided, “I have the passion and the commitment, so I should get a degree that can move me ahead as a trustworthy leader in Buffalo, which I think is a magical place. I have a moral obligation to this community. It’s got an old-world quality where you can celebrate what’s really important: friends, family, food and drink — then work hard.”

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