By Matt Youngfrau
LOCH SHELDRAKE January 21, 2003 In 1996, a small group braved a rough snowstorm to attend the initial meeting that would help change Sullivan County forever.
In 2003, more than 100 people braved subzero temperatures to attend the seventh annual Sullivan First Winter Forum. The event took place Saturday morning at the Paul Grossinger Dining Room at Sullivan County Community College.
Seven years ago, we kicked off the process, said Sullivan First Co-Chair Gerald Skoda. We looked at the good things and the eyesores. Most of the eyesores are now gone. There is still room for improvement.
It is hard to imagine six years have past, Sullivan First Co-Chair Jonathan Drapkin added. The improvements have been monumental, the naysayers have turned to true believers. Our momentum can only be stopped from within together, we can make a difference.
There has been an amazing transformation in four short years, noted New York State Senator John Bonacic, reflecting on the length of time he has represented Sullivan County. Money is not the key to success; the key has been your commitment and your time. You are the soldiers. This is an exciting county to be in. Things do not happen overnight.
This years annual event was a busy one. Awards were handed out, new programs were announced, and the keynote speaker addressed mobilizing and capacity building. In four short hours, many things were covered and a successful program took another turn to capitalize on that success.
The day started out with members of the Fallsburg Girls Varsity Basketball Team guiding people to the conference and the workshops.
After the welcoming remarks from the co-chairs, the Sullivan First Achievement Awards for 2002 were handed out. Five awards were handed out to Bob Buckles (for rehabilitating three buildings on Broadway and bringing in new businesses), Phil Coombe II and Phyllis Moore (organizing and improving Neversink), Eldred Sullivan First (ongoing efforts to improve Eldred), Sandra Gerry (founding Sullivan Renaissance), and Georgianna Lepke and Glenn Smith (the new Neversink Town Hall).
The best thing about the program is that it works, Gerry commented when accepting her award. The volunteers have been out doing it. They formulated the plan. Alan (Gerry) is the muscle. Others helped out. You set the standard.
We are not an island onto ourselves, Lepke stated. We worked on this project over 10 years. We look ahead to the future.
This years Sullivan Renaissance program was introduced by Denise Frangipane of the Gerry Foundation.
We incorporated changes based on what you told us, Frangipane said. Instead of 20 initial awards, we are giving out 30 this year. In the past, we held grant review workshops. This year, we want to come to you. We want to get a feel for your town and project.
Once again, projects will be divided into three categories A (single element projects), B (More than one element), and C (multi-element projects). Awards will be A-$3,000, $1,500, and $1,000. B-$7,000, $5,000, and $3,000. C-$20,000, $10,000, and $7,500.
For the first time, each project will have a liaison. Binders on the projects will be due the week before judging takes place. Then, the Friday before the judging, each group will give a presentation on their projects.
A new award this year is the Golden Feather Award for Outstanding Performance. It is funded by a $50,000 grant that was secured by New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther.
Jake has been a big supporter and investor, Gerry commented. He came in with a $50,000 check. It is now part of the program.
It is a pleasure to be a part of this, commented Gunther. This is possible through your efforts. I just brought your taxpayer dollars back to you.
The award was created because organizers were concerned about project maintenance. It is open to all projects that have participated in at least one prior Renaissance.
The grant will be awarded to the community with outstanding performance in planning, development, maintenance, and community involvement. Whoever wins the award, will be removed from the running for the other, smaller, Sullivan Renaissance awards.
The Renaissance timetable is as follows: Grant Applications are due March 5. March 20 will be the Spring Forum and the awarding of the grants. The deadline for projects is August 18. Judging will take place August 22, 23, and 24. Awards will be presented on August 24.
The keynote address was given by Kenneth Reardon, a professor from Cornell University. The address was on community-based planning and development. Reardons background is in this area, and he has lectured throughout the country on the subject.
You cannot be left behind, Reardon stated. Think about the barriers that separate people. Try to incorporate the new people in the county. Build a consensus around your vision. Think outside the box.
Reardon told the story of East St. Louis. During the course 10 years, the city hit rock bottom. Most of its businesses were gone. Poverty was so bad people sold manhole covers to get food.
The bottom came when the city was sued and ended up losing the title to the municipal hall to pay the damages.
A group of citizens transformed the city. They cleaned it and brought in a playground. They raised money, cleaned up the houses and improved the aesthetics. They ended up with a train route going through to bring the economy back.
The officials have to commit to a vision, Reardon commented. A trend is not destiny. With everyone working together, any problem is solvable. Anything is possible. You have the potential to do something remarkable.
After Reardons address, people went to their workshops. Topics included changes that affect assessment, Sullivan Renaissance 101 (for new projects), working with planning and zoning boards, and capacity building. All of the rooms were packed for the presentations.
At the end of the day, Skoda announced the Adopt-A-Spot Program. There will be five in the county. A business will landscape the spot by a stop sign and their name will be on the sign.
We stole it from another community, Skoda admitted.
We co-opted it, not stole it, Sullivan County Legislature Chair Leni Binder corrected him.