Lighting the fire under great ideas

Community ReBuilders, a facet of Pattern for Progress, helps to get dreams off the ground

By JANE ANDERSON
Posted 5/12/21

There are great ideas floating around this area, and Community ReBuilders—a program offered through Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress—is giving them a solid foundation.

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Lighting the fire under great ideas

Community ReBuilders, a facet of Pattern for Progress, helps to get dreams off the ground

Posted

There are great ideas floating around this area, and Community ReBuilders—a program offered through Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress—is giving them a solid foundation.

Community ReBuilders offers advice, education and resources to community leaders who want to improve or rebuild their communities. Seven participants in this year’s “class” are from Orange and Sullivan counties, with others hailing from Columbia, Dutchess and Rockland counties.

Main Street, Parksville

Frank DeMayo, supervisor of the town of Liberty, and his confidential secretary, Nicholas Rusin, are working with Community ReBuilders to reinvigorate Main Street in Parksville. Once the I-86 bypass was built 10 years ago, traffic no longer drove through the little hamlet; since then, residents have had to contend with the insinuation that Parksville has become a “ghost town.”

“There is actually a lot of interest from people in New York City who want to move up here,” Rusin explained. “And we have a beautiful segment of the rail trail here, and the trail entrance is right off of Main Street.”

Parksville Priorities, a 30-member group of residents and leaders, soon formed and has met monthly with ideas on how to kickstart Main Street. Community ReBuilders has been the group’s guiding light, Rusin said.

“[Community ReBuilders] helps you organize your plan into achievable, short-term goals,” Rusin added. “We’re benefiting from learning how to organize our community, write grant applications and conduct surveys. The number-one lesson so far is knowing where to find legitimate sources of data and create a visual interpretation of what’s going on in the community. That’s paramount when you’re writing grants to secure funding for municipal projects.”

Highland Falls Elementary School

Olga Anderson is leading an effort to retrofit the Highland Falls Elementary School into a net-zero-emissions, energy-efficient building and, eventually, house-shared space for innovative green-technology companies. Anderson said Community ReBuilders has been challenging in an appropriate way.

“For those who have ideas, sometimes those ideas float around,” she said. “Community ReBuilders has a way of shaping our ideas into a really workable plan.”

The weekly meetings and “homework” provided by the program have inspired her: “Each time we have a discussion or an assignment, lightbulbs go off in my head!”

North Street Commons, Monticello

It takes vision to look at a weedy parking lot and see a family/community gathering space. But that’s exactly what’s planned for a lot on North Street in Monticello near the Sullivan County Government Center. Sean Hofving is an economic development specialist with Healthy Kids, the Community ReBuilders participant that is working with the Sullivan County Division of Planning, Community Development and Real Property to reimagine the underused lot. Potential amenities could include playgrounds, a basketball court and a stage for community events, Hofving explained.

“We feel it’s a great spot in a great location,” Hofving said. “We’re in the planning stages now, and Community ReBuilders is helping to show us, step by step, how to get this project done. Plus, Pattern for Progress has a proven track record of getting things done. So, we had faith in this from the start.”

Hofving lauded the “great group of instructors and planners” who lead the program: “It’s nice to have them as a support system.”

Goshen Green Farm

When Susan Hite-Shapiro first applied to be a Community ReBuilders participant, she had great visions for the 1860s mansion formerly known as Ontaroga on Route 207 in Goshen, connected to Goshen Green Farm, a permaculture farm. Her plans for a spa and wellness center have been put on hold due to approval issues, but Community ReBuilders helped her reimagine her dreams on the farm itself. Now, the program is helping her envision cottages where visitors can immerse themselves in the farm-to-table experience, along with other ideas. Hite-Shapiro said she appreciates the building blocks that Community ReBuilders provides to help participants realize their plans’ potential.

Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce

Jaime Schmeiser is a graduate of Pattern for Progress’s Fellows program, so she is familiar with the benefits that the agency provides. She eagerly applied for the Community ReBuilders program and is pleased with what she’s learned so far. The chamber hopes to bring to life a Main Street initiative in either downtown Monticello or Liberty—parts of the county that, as Schmeiser puts it, need a little bit of love.

“Our main goal is to help businesses not only survive, but thrive,” she explained. “We have beautiful outdoor resources, and a big influx of visitors and new residents from New York City. We want to be the champion of Sullivan County and open office space in a downtown area to attract that interest.”

The chamber’s plan includes renovating an existing building to create a community meeting space and business incubator, as well as shared office space. Schmeiser said Community ReBuilders has helped formulate that plan.

“I’d liken it to building a business plan to develop your business, but on a bigger scale,” she explained. “And we have the chance to collaborate on each other’s projects. This program is a great resource.”

The Building Better Blox Initiative

Freeman Hughley believes he has had a calling to restore and empower the City of Newburgh community with opportunities for affordable rentals as well as lower-cost homeownership. Community ReBuilders is helping him realize that potential.

The Building Better Blox Initiative plans to transform distressed properties (dilapidated buildings and vacant lots) into newly constructed, efficient and affordable homes with repurposed shipping containers. The plan includes two phases: Phase 1 provides “micro-units” (two bedrooms, 480 square feet) to be rented to residents under a certain income level. Phase 2 would implement ownership opportunities with a larger two-family home (640 to 800 square feet). 

Hughley is impressed with Community ReBuilders so far.

“I didn’t know they existed prior to seeing their application online,” he explained. “[But] the program is everything I thought it would be and more. They are extremely supportive and connected and I haven’t heard ‘no’ yet. Each week’s assignment deals with a different level of scope for our projects. 

“They are really good at giving us the fishing pole instead of the fish, so to speak, and I like it that way. It’s clear that we can and will get out of it as much as we put into it. It’s definitely challenging and forces me out of my comfort zone, but that’s expected. I love it and appreciate the program and the organizers themselves. I strongly suggest it to others who are serious and passionate about their project.”

O&W Station, City of Middletown

The City of Middletown worked with Community ReBuilders on repurposing the former Woolworth’s building on North Street into Rail Trail Commons, an upscale gathering place with restaurants and access to the future Heritage Trail through the city. So, when the city wanted to explore restoring the historic O&W train station to its former glory, it naturally leaned toward that program once again.

“Our goal is to rehabilitate the building and eventually create a business incubator program to help entrepreneurs get their business off the ground,” said Caitlin McNamara, of Middletown’s Office of Economic and Community Development. “The building was built in 1892 and was altered in 1920 and is a pretty iconic structure in the city and to the community.

“I’m hoping to get feedback and creative ideas for my project” by working with Community ReBuilders, McNamara continued. “I also think the networking aspect to the program could be helpful in attracting new businesses when we get to the incubator phase of the project. Personally, I’m hoping to home in my organizational skills and learn from the other participants. So far, the program has been great and has made me rethink about the way I approach a project. The assignments have been extremely helpful with organizing my thoughts and narrowing down the goals of my project. I have also gotten some great advice and tips from both the other participants and the Pattern staff.”

For information on Community ReBuilders, visit www.pattern-for-progress.org/community-rebuilders.

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