FERNDALE, NY — For 19 years, residents of Sullivan County have emerged from winter hibernation to exult in a rite of spring known only to them: the Sullivan Renaissance Annual Conference, an …
FERNDALE, NY — For 19 years, residents of Sullivan County have emerged from winter hibernation to exult in a rite of spring known only to them: the Sullivan Renaissance Annual Conference, an event celebrating spring, the glory of nature and all things Sullivan County.
Sullivan Renaissance, the nonprofit volunteer-based organization founded to enhance the appearance of Sullivan County, turned 20 this year. It was to have been a year-long celebration of that milestone, kicked-off with a gala annual conference. Although COVID-19 has forced postponement of the festivities to next year, Sullivan Renaissance is still doing its beautification thing, and is perhaps more relevant now than ever before in its history.
In a May 7 teleconference, Sullivan Renaissance founder Sandra Gerry and Sullivan Renaissance Executive Director Denise Frangipane shared their thoughts on the organization at 20, its role in the current coronavirus pandemic and its part in the county’s path forward.
For almost all its history, Renaissance has faced one tough challenge after another from regional, national and global tragedies. First, there was 9/11 and its subsequent wars, then the Great Recession, Superstorm Sandy and other extreme weather events, and now the global COVID-19 pandemic. How has Renaissance managed not only to survive all these trials, but also to actually thrive through them?
Frangipane said, “World and global events definitely do impact us at the local level. It seems as though we are powerless to change or improve things at the [global] and national levels, but we know we have power to influence things at the local level. And that is what Sullivan Renaissance is all about.”
Gerry added, “Funding alone cannot keep a volunteer organization going, it takes individual volunteers with their ideas, work and accomplishments to support it on an ongoing basis. Without our dedicated volunteers and partners, there would be no Sullivan Renaissance.”
Frangipane noted that Renaissance’s intern program, open to individuals age 16 to 20, is a game-changer for many of the young people who’ve participated in it. “You know, people who are at a pivotal point in their lives—graduating from high school and beginning college—realize that they now have a responsibility to their communities as well as to themselves, their families and their friends. And they start thinking about how they can fulfill that responsibility. Sometimes it means staying in the county, or maybe returning to it after college and early work experience elsewhere.”
Gerry recalled the first gratifying evidence that Renaissance was quietly working magic beyond its stated mission of beautification. Twenty years ago, she received a letter from a woman in Grahamsville who had spoken to her next-door neighbor for the first time in 25 years. It happened as the two had planted flowers together.
Gerry said, “People began to realize that, if they could work together to beautify their neighborhoods, they could work together to address more challenging and complex issues, because there was already a common bond among them.” Gerry and Frangipane hope that now, during this unprecedented and stressful time, people may still bond in the shared pleasure and responsibility of planting flowers, tending gardens and watching nature’s miracles unfold before their eyes.
Inclusivity has been a hallmark of the organization. “We’ve taken a neutral political stance, so that no one is alienated,” said Frangipane. Proof of that is everywhere apparent. Faith, ethnic and fraternal groups of every stripe are well represented in community projects and Sullivan Renaissance grant competitions.
Additionally, Frangipane says Sullivan Renaissance has been proactive in outreach initiatives. “We have invited the community to use Sullivan Renaissance as a forum for discussion and resolution. Our role is that of host and facilitator; we take no sides, and we are not aligned with any particular agenda.”
How does Sullivan Renaissance plan to move forward while social distancing? Gerry answered, “Unexpectedly this has provided an opportunity for us to maintain and protect established projects, refresh those that need renewal and recover any that have lapsed. I am really liking that, in our 20th year, we are able to look back on what we have accomplished and plan for our future.”
Frangipane also sees opportunity in the current situation. In fact, she apologized for overusing the word while describing Sullivan Renaissance’s response to the pandemic. “We’ve had to rethink our way of doing things. The pandemic is forcing us to acquire more social media savvy and presence and to develop more distance learning platforms for the community.”
What about people who don’t have a green thumb, but still want to participate? Gerry says there are many other volunteer opportunities available. Providing refreshments, being the designated photographer, offering clerical support and organizing fundraisers are just a few of the many possibilities to lend a helping hand.
How does someone interested in volunteering get started? Frangipane suggests visiting the Renaissance website at www.sullivanrenaissance.org and checking the Project Spotlight, which contains a comprehensive list of projects, to see what opportunities are available. Prospective volunteers may call Renaissance’s info line at 845/295-2445 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating their interest. Volunteer coordinator Anne-Louise Scandarito will connect prospective volunteers with project managers. Frangipane adds, “We’re holding a virtual volunteer event in the end of May, and Anne-Louise will provide information about attending it.”
Church Grounds Project at the Claryville Reformed Church
Upcycled Vertical Pallet Garden & Pathway at the Ethelbert B. Crawford Library in Monticello
Gracie’s Park Restoration at Fremont Park, Inc
New Sign Garden & Walkway at the Liberty United Methodist Church
Monument Restoration at Loch Sheldrake Fire District,
Serenity Garden at the Monticello United Methodist Church
Suzanne Stanway Arts Haven Sign & Garden at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Monticello
Firemen’s 911 Memorial Park at Smallwood, Mongaup Valley Fire Department (BLDC)
Church of St. Peter in Monticello
Livingston Manor United Methodist Church
St. James’ Episcopal Church
St. Peter’s Church in Liberty
The Club at Smallwood
Town of Fremont
Youngsville Busy Beavers 4-H Club
Callicoon Business Association for the Callicoon Main Street Blossom Parade
Greater Barryville Chamber of Commerce for Bold, Beautiful Barryville
Livingston Manor Renaissance for Renew, Revive, Refresh
Narrowsburg Beautification Group for Blossoms, Bees, and Beautification
Town of Neversink Beautification for Neversink Blooms
Phillipsport Community Center Assoc., Inc. for Hamlet Beautification
Swan Lake Renaissance for Swan Lake Maintenance & Beautification
Town of Forestburgh for Welcome & Dove Gardens
Town of Highland for Yulan Beautification
Town of Lumberland Parks & Recreation for Lumberland Pride
White Sulphur Springs Sullivan First for Growing Better All the Time
Town of Bethel
Town of Fallsburg
Town of Liberty
Town of Mamakating
Town of Thompson
Village of Jeffersonville
Village of Liberty
Village of Woodridge