By Matt Youngfrau
LOCH SHELDRAKE December 4, 2001 When Jonathan Drapkin first came to Sullivan County in the mid-90s as the countys manager, he noticed something right off the bat. The area was literally a mess.
"The single biggest issue was physical appearance," Drapkin reflected. [The creation of Sullivan First] became not so much about fixing up, but about reinstilling pride. It became better and stronger than before. It was rebuilt aesthetically."
In 1996, as part of a small group, Drapkin founded Sullivan First. The group's main goal was to clean up the county, and the results were noticeable as a new county spirit caught on.
"This has been a restoration of community pride," commented current County Manager Dan Briggs. "It all starts there. The integral part is what is being done. Success breeds success. Thank you, and keep it up."
"It has been very rewarding and encouraging," Sullivan County Planning and Community Development Commissioner Alan Sorensen remarked. "It has attracted new investments to the county."
Five years later, Sandra Gerry, on vacation in the French Alps, came up with the idea for Sullivan Renaissance, a collaborative effort among groups to beautify their area with donated funds. The initial program was very successful and culminated in an awards picnic last August.
On Saturday, December 6, the Sixth Annual Sullivan First Winter Forum celebrated both Sullivan First and Sullivan Renaissance at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. The purpose was two-fold: 1. to honor five recipients of the Annual Sullivan First Achievement Awards, and 2. to kick off the second year of Sullivan Renaissance.
"Two years ago, we needed a new outlook," stated Sullivan First Co-Chair Gerald Skoda. "There are so many good things happening now. 2001 turned out to be a much greater year than we anticipated. We have a larger commitment this year."
While unable to attend the conference, Sandra Gerry did send a videotaped message.
"Many people became involved, and it shows. There is much left to do. We are working toward a common goal."
Those honored on Saturday were Suzanne Rhulen Loughlin of Frontier Insurance Group, the Sullivan County Department of Public Works, Sullivan Correctional Facility, Wurtsboro Mayor Bob Whitehead, and The Front Porch of White Lake. All made significant contributions in cleaning up, support, and assistance. Along with the awards, handed out by Sullivan First Committee member Joyce Salimeno, there came a letter of congratulations from United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
Drapkin himself conducted a panel discussion with representatives of the four grand prize-winning groups of the first Renaissance. The panel featured John Theadore of North Branch, Barbara Hahn of Jeffersonville, Frank DeMayo of Liberty, and Phil Coombe of Neversink. The group shared their experiences and offered advice to those doing projects this year.
"The common denominator in all these projects is involvement," DeMayo said. "Lots of groups were involved. It brought groups together."
"There was a lot of work," Coombe explained. "There were many doubters. Eventually, everyone [in Neversink] got involved. It became infectious."
The 2002 program was announced by Denise Frangipane. It will be built upon the success of the first, but modifications were made based on suggestions from those involved last year.
The biggest difference this year is that the projects have been divided into three different categories. Category A features single-element projects such as welcome signs, small gardens, building landscaping, and sign replacement. Category B features projects with more than one element, such as gazebo projects, park enhancement, extensive building landscaping, limited roadside beautification, and facade renovation. Category C includes multi-element projects like corridor improvement, extensive main street beautification, and park creation.
"We learned along the way," commented Frangipane. "The more involvement the better. Rally and organize the community."
Sessions were held to answer questions and inform people how to do the application, which is due by March 5. The 20 $1,000 grants will be announced at the Sullivan First Spring Forum on March 21. Projects must be completed by August 12. Judging takes place August 24 and 25. The awards will be presented on August 25.
Prizes for Phase 2 are as follows: Category A will have prizes of $3,000 and $1,500. Category B has prizes of $7,500 and $5,000. Category C has prizes of $20,000 and $10,000.