By Justine Miller.
This was originally published on Facebook on October 29, 2013. We think it bears repeating. While Superstorm Sandy was awesome in its power to wreak havoc, especially on our South Shore, it was the incredible power of our communities that most deeply impressed us. We were among those who offered a hand here and there, alongside incredible neighbors like these and others who came from miles away on service missions of their own. One of those literal missionaries, lovingly dubbed a "Mucking Morman" by the folks working with him, told us he'd been to many disaster zones but had never seen anything like what he witnessed on Long Island -- So many people from so many communities, coming together to clean up the mess and tend to each other. Honestly, we hadn't realized just how incredible these folks were, either. Now, we will never forget. Seven years in, folks like the Friends of Freeport are still taking volunteers. Want to get involved? Email us!
It's been a year now since Hurricane Sandy literally destroyed my hometown of Freeport, NY. The news said it was going to be one of the largest storms ever to hit Long Island, a "perfect storm" if you may. The conditions were set up with a tide coming in, full moon and the winds bearing down. Then, it hit! The tidal surge engulfed Freeport. People were trapped in their homes while 8 and 10 feet of water broke down their doors and pushed in their windows. They helplessly retreated to their upstairs and attic crawl spaces, not knowing if the water was going to keep on rising up and up some more. Homes burned to the ground, Part of our gem of Freeport, the Nautical Mile, burned to the ground. The fire department was unable to respond due to the flooding and the fires had to burn themselves out.
Finally the waters receded. People came down from their refuges in their own homes. They went outside and bore witness to the devastation that Sandy wrought.
It was surreal, like an explosion went off and tossed my village around. There were boats everywhere! Because Freeport had so many marinas and just about everyone that lived on the water had a boat, it was complete chaos. Boats in the middle of roads, on lawns, half in and half out of the water and leaning on power lines. Cars floated down yards and streets. It was like someone took the south end of Freeport and threw it in the air and let everything hit the ground. One of the things that hit me most in the coming days was looking around and seeing the high tide line, in a lot of cases higher then the top of my head.
The electric was off. The National Guard came in to assist because there were looters out there. Can you imagine that? Looters in Freeport! Never in my wildest nightmares would I believe that MY TOWN would have looters come in like cockroaches to take even more from my people. Then the gas shortages happened. People waited on line for hours. The police had to regulate the crowds and fights broke out among my desperate community because they didn't have gas for their cars or their generators. They didn't have food, or kitchens to even make food, no fresh water, nothing.
The day after the storm a few people came together immediately, calling friends, relatives and neighbors to check on them. There was a desperate need for help, a need for just the basic necessities. Forget TV. The cold weather came in. These people needed blankets (if they even were able to return to their homes), They didn't need their luxuries, they needed the basic items for survival.
Well these few people (and I'm so proud to be one of them) began what would eventually become Friends of Freeport; a small group that would eventually evolve into an established, real, amazing group that has helped HUNDREDS of people return to normalcy.
It started small. We made magnets to sell as fundraisers with 100% of the profits going back to our people to get started on the work that was needed to help. We also formed a secret group, you might have heard of them, the Nite Sprites, that wanted to boost morale and give a little brightness to the ravaged community. We put ribbons of every color all over Freeport, lining Atlantic avenue and Woodcleft, on hundreds of houses, in front of schools. A germ of hope and community spirit started back up again.
Let me also commend ALL of the Village of Freeport employees! Tirelessly they worked, trying to protect the village, 24-7 they worked to right what they could in the village. The Freeport Police, the Freeport Fire department, public works, electric department, EVERY single department pulled together and worked so hard to return at least a little visible normalcy to the village.
There was also the Freeport Recreation Center set up to provide food, showers, clothing and information to the people. There were the Freeport Food Angels going around bringing hot meals to people who couldn't get to the Rec, providing more hope.
It was starting, The Hope was starting. It was AMAZING to watch it bloom. The community pulled together! We were going to survive Sandy and pull together as one! People started to believe again. They saw the needs of the community and people started checking on their neighbors, They started to care about those around them, started to want to help each other. Amazing!
So, back to this group, Friends of Freeport. This little group started calling for volunteers. The work that we are still called to do needed to get started. The volunteers came in like gangbusters. Regardless of the situations in their own homes, in the middle of winter, they came like a tide of miracles.
The coordination began. The groups started forming within FOF. The ripouts began. We had the sidewalkers to go door to door, telling people of the help that was out there and collecting lists of people that needed food (thank you Food Angels). We passed out as much information as possible to get help to people, and to inform them of what assistance was out there.
It grew! Bigger and bigger it grew! FOF kept going! Fundraisers, the website, the shirts, the magnets, the donations. All of it kept going, and still grows.
The volunteers... There will be a special FOF section in heaven for our volunteers. To this day, they keep going. As the ripouts slowed down the rebuilding began. We were accomplishing our mission! We were helping people get home. Not to a "house" that was destroyed, but back Home.
I am soooo proud of our group. My heart swells when I think of all that has been done. It truly is amazing and miraculous and it gave me faith in the human spirit again that there are people who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. I believe in the goodness of people again. I know that I've seen miracles.
In ending, I want to say thank you to all involved, the board.members, the donors, and most of all the volunteers. Without you these miracles wouldn't have happened. And thank you to that Bitch of a storm called Sandy for providing hope and faith again.
My heart swells when I think of all that has been done. It truly is amazing and miraculous and it gave me faith in the human spirit again that there are people who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. I believe in the goodness of people again. I know that I've seen miracles.
We hold out hope that those elected to the highest offices in our government will somehow navigate away from the broken politics of today toward respectful, intelligent, evidence-based, compassionate, practical, collaborative, solutions-oriented problem solving regarding our immigration system and border security, as well as a vast number of other issues impacting this nation that we share.
We feel the need to add that we are also often saddened to hear it expressed that because it is “government” it must therefore necessarily be wasteful and incompetent. While we firmly agree that corruption and other ills must be overcome, we are also exceptionally grateful for so many who serve our nation professionally and highly competently, including those impacted by the current shutdown, such as those in meteorology, food safety, the TSA, the Coast Guard, the SEC and Justice Department, and so many others who keep us safe and informed, and who hold in trust our nation’s treasure for the benefit of US all.
Among the many covering this issue, Reuters offers a “Factbox” on the impacts of the current shutdown from the end of the year. The NY Times offers an article that goes a little more in depth. Vox seems to have one of the more updated analyses of what’s being funded right now, what’s not, and who’s going to work anyway, The Washington Post offers this analysis of the contractors whose work depends on a functioning federal government. WNYC has pieces on the impact to low-wage workers, and what might happen with Federal Courts. VentureBeat wants you to remember that there are Cybersecurity implications as well.
Of course, our purpose is not to focus on problems, but to count blessings. So, for our part, we want to take a moment to thank all of those who are giving all they can to override the desperate political dysfunction to support our hardworking public servants, especially the ones who are showing up to work anyway just because it’s the right thing to do.
We offer special thanks to organizations like Island Harvest and Long Island Cares, who have been at the forefront of stepping up to make sure those who aren’t getting paid are at least getting fed. Keep in mind, these folks already have their hands full. The number of folks who face tough decisions between food and rent and medicine on Long Island is sobering. This most recent Oxfam report which shows that “Billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent last year—or $2.5 billion a day—while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11 percent” is a bit global in its view, but Long Islanders are no strangers to the “Tale of Two Cities” feeling that this study validates.
For Newsday, Bart Jones and Zachary R. Dowdy wrote “LI Groups Gearing Up to Help Those Hurt by Government Shutdown” The article includes video of an event convened by Island Harvest, that further explains impacts of the shutdown on Long Island and highlights donations from Stop & Shop, American Portfolio in Ronkonkoma, and the Connecticut-Based Coast Guard Foundation, as well as what Suffolk and Nassau social services officials, utilities, and local elected officials are doing to try and help. At the end, there’s a specific list guiding folks to LI Cares, Angels of Long Island, Nassau FCU, The Suffolk County SPCA and Island Harvest to get (and to offer) help.
Another Newsday article by Daysi Calavia-Robertson, “LI Businesses Reach Out with Freebies to Help Furloughed Workers” profiles a number of small businesses who are doing their part to lend a hand. The offerings include everything from a cup of tea, to lunch, to a haircut or manicure, to mechanics offering free labor for repairs. We know what kind of margins Main Street works on. We also know how giving they still tend to be. Thank you!!!
Alex Costello, writing for the Wantagh-Seaford Patch writes about how “You Can Help Long Island Coast Guard Members During The Shutdown" via a donation to the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, which represents the Coast Guard and other Veterans.
In the Long Island Business News, Bernadette Starzee wrote “NEFCU Offers Interest-Free Loans for Furloughed Workers". and Adina Genn reported in “Island Harvest: More Help For Federal Workers Affected by Shutdown” about some assistance that can be applied for, as well as a few other entities offering their support to Long Island federal workers and contractors.
Here’s a piece by Alex Meier for ABC7NY: "Government Shutdown: Resources for Furloughed Employees in Greater NYC Area" that breaks down services by topic, including beer and music, in addition to much more practical requirements.
Sara-Megan Walsh wrote this for TBR Newsmedia: “Huntington Boaters, Officials Launch Drives to Aid Federal Employees" It lists several sites where folks can donate food, personal hygiene items, household supplies, pet foods and gift cards, as well as simply write checks.
They shouldn’t have to do this. We hope they don’t have to do it for long, and that the end doesn't come in a way that somehow rewards holding our Nation hostage. We pray for the day where we can work out our differences like responsible adults, without sacrificing our economy, our security and the well being of our people. Meanwhile, we're grateful for these folks who are helping make sure we get by, and welcome suggestions of any other resources we may share.
We are grateful to know great librarians. Recently, we've thoroughly enjoyed working with Ellen Druda, who is doing incredible things for the Coltrane Home Project. We also deeply appreciate Susan Goldberg, who's known to have people who happen to stand next to her smiling, and who has built a library for Elwood. We were privileged to work with Michelle Lauer-Bader on crafting "Community Conversations," and have caught her around town helping out Long Island Cares since her own retirement. Recently, we had the opportunity to nominate one for national recognition through the "I Love My Librarian" award. For that, we chose Helen Crosson, who we find embodies and amplifies the spirit of the American Library.
Helen was, perhaps, the primary force behind the multi-organization effort to launch Long Island's library-hosted "Community Conversations." Prior to that, Helen championed Long Island's second true community visioning process in order to transform a collection without a library into a full-fledged community living room, town square and environmental resource center. Helen is now bringing her second such process from vision into reality for the Half Hollow Hills community.
The Nation is filled with extraordinary librarians. We know we may need to submit this nomination several times before Helen gets the recognition she deserves. Still, we find her more than worthy, thoroughly enjoyed the process of nominating her, and thought you might like to read what we put together, too...
Question 1: Please tell us in 2-3 sentences why your nominee should win this award. What sets them apart?
A librarian once endeavored to inspire me by singing about “that ant that moved a rubber tree plant.” It was helpful, but I was much more deeply moved by another librarian who actually WAS that ant. Helen Crosson guides communities in building their dream libraries, fills them with incredible resources, and dedicates her life to ensuring these keys to the American Dream remain relevant and of great service well beyond her own tenure.
Said Robert C. Hughes, Trustee and former president, Cold Spring Harbor Library: "Helen is a dynamo who devotes every waking hour to the promotion of libraries. Few librarians have a chance to build a brand new library--Helen is working on her second one. We were fortunate to have Helen at the helm when the Cold Spring Harbor Library was faced with the tremendous task of building a new library building--one that was four times larger than our previous home. Helen was the perfect person to lead the effort. Twelve year later we couldn't be happier with the results. And now Helen has taken that unique experience and is helping a neighboring community realize its dreams of a new state of the art library."
Question 2: Please list a few ways in which the nominee has helped you and made your experience of the library a positive one. For instance, did the nominee inspire in you a love for literature; assist you in a project or finding other information?
I met Helen Crosson during my service as Assistant Director of Vision Long Island, Long Island’s premier Smart Growth Organization. Our relationship deepened significantly during my time as Acting Director of Leadership Huntington, Long Island’s premier community leadership program. I mention these two organizations because her outgoing interest in these two groups that focus on bringing diverse interests together to advance the common good is fundamental to Helen’s spirit of advancing libraries boldly into the new millennium.
Make no mistake, Helen is dedicated to libraries in the classic sense, designing, building, and filling them with books and other media. She is deeply focused on understanding and providing the highest quality resources and programs to the communities that she serves. Helen’s outward-looking endeavors are largely intended to find great resources that she can bring home. At the same time, however, Helen maintains a view of libraries that is much broader, as well as a sense of their critical importance and a dedication to doing what she can to best serve that mission that far transcends any one location.
I have always loved and appreciated libraries. Helen made me realize what an extraordinary force for the American dream that they are, their power to overcome social, economic and cultural barriers, and what a critical mission it is to ensure that they continue to thrive for generations to come. She was a primary inspiration for this article.
I have worked very closely with Helen, both in her time as a member of the Leadership Huntington Class of 2013, and as a partner in an endeavor she spearheaded called “Community Conversations.” Throughout, Helen Crosson consistently reinforced the fundamental value of libraries, while at the same time expanding the conception of what they are capable of to whomever was willing to listen.
Helen inspires poetry:
By David Fuchs
Librarians open gates
that lead to wondrous
places and are keepers
of order in their quiet
ways, perhaps like no
others in bringing us
to things that bring
us to others, because the
rewards never cease.
Builder, keeper and
leader, our Helen sets
Question 3: How has the librarian made a difference in the community? Please be specific.
A Community Living Room
In this 2014 video, Helen shares how the Cold Spring Harbor library went from being a collection without a home, to becoming a small castle of a “community living room” on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. She also speaks about the “Community Conversations” that she pioneered. Helen brings this spirit to everything she does with her family, her church, and the new libraries she is serving.
Beth Fuchs, President of the Cold Spring Harbor Library Friends Foundation, remembers: “Helen Crosson came to us ten years ago as the new Director of a suddenly defunct Public Library. Housed in an unused portion of our Goose Hill School for the previous twenty years, the library had just been informed that its lease could not be renewed because of an unexpected growth in school registration. Her problem: there was no Library and no place to put one. No existing building was available and no land for new construction. So she set out to solve both problems head on. First, she formed and led a search team.
They uncovered an old N. Y. State Department of Transportation map indicating acreage set aside several decades ago for a major highway that was never built, then worked with our State Senator Carl Marcellino to sponsor a bill in Albany to acquire it. With that in hand, the next job was to raise the money for an entirely new building. That entailed a persuading the School District (who’s boundaries define Library districts in New York State) to submit a $9,000,000 bond issue for voter approval. This would be combined with a $4,000,000 private funding campaign to arrive at an overall $13,000,000 budget. This would cover site clearance, design and construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art edifice that would sit on a hill overlooking beautiful Cold Spring Harbor.”
Helen also brokered a unique agreement with NYS to establish a local environmental resource library and to serve as a terminal point for a Long Island Greenbelt Trail. Following a model that had been recently introduced to Long Island, Helen then led a full-fledged community visioning process. She kept residents abreast through a branding campaign, a redesigned newsletter, website and mobile app, as well as a social media presence.
Said Beth Fuchs, “Outside, a special path leads walkers to our section of the Greenbelt Trail. All this activity revolves in and around a stunning building designed to reflect the architecture of the North Shore’s fabled Gold Coast era.”
Bess recalls that Helen’s studious diligence had lasting value, “Helen led all of these efforts and, when the work began, spent her days carefully tracking every aspect of this complex process, keeping her own detailed notes on the work – notes which later proved to be invaluable in negotiations over insurance claims for the inevitable faults that accompany a task of this order.”
The greatest music to Helen’s ears was people coming through the doors and saying, “You listened to us. This is incredible. Thank you.”
An alum of the Leadership Huntington Class of 2013, Helen made among the most intense use of the program of anyone we have known. She also recruited other local librarians to join the program. Further, she managed to unite all eight independent public libraries in the Town of Huntington, engaged Leadership Huntington, the Huntington League of Women Voters and the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce in a pilot program called “Community Conversations,” engaging diverse local leaders, experts and residents in discussing key topics:
Suburban America: Problems & Promise Part I
Suburban America: Problems & Promise Part II
Growing Community: Who are we? How do we live together?
Suburbs for the Next Generation: What do we value most?
Our Next Generation Speaks Up: Who’s Listening?
Common Core: Uncommon Challenges
Helen and librarian Michele Lauer-Bader, then brought the conversation to the 2014 Public Library Association (PLA) conference. Focusing on the potential of libraries as public squares, they discussed partnering with others and playing leadership roles in civic engagement.
Helen has since moved on to her next great endeavor, rebuilding the Half Hollow Hills Community Library, which encompasses two buildings in Dix Hills and Melville, New York. Helen is also now working with Leadership Huntington on a new round of Community Conversations. We look forward to seeing them develop, too.
Question 4: How has the library, and the nominee, improved the quality of your life?
Helen improves my quality of life primarily by improving the quality of life for every member of the communities she serves. She advances libraries as vehicles for learning and development, not only through books and other media, but as centers for civic engagement. Helen is an antidote to ignorance, and a force for civilized discourse. She does it all in a spirit of partnership, lifelong learning and community development.
Personally, when I want to remember that there are people dedicated to the common good, I think of Helen. When I’m facing a tremendous challenge, I think of Helen and endeavor to transform it into a great opportunity. When I need to be reminded that everyone deserves an opportunity to learn and grow, I think of Helen and her commitment to making that possible.
When I get to actually be in her presence, I invariably come away informed, inspired and grateful. She consistently leads me to think about big ideas and practical solutions, and can always be counted on to help find the information I need. Moreover, it is ever evident that Helen is always coming from something and going somewhere; that she is busily thinking about what her recent experiences mean, and how they may be leveraged into some powerful force for good. She is thinking about how she can infuse this sense of purpose into those she anticipates encountering at her next stop. It’s ever a pleasure to hear how that went, and what it next inspired.
Said fellow Leadership Huntington graduate, Raymond Homburger, “Helen’s expertise goes beyond the walls of the library. She is not only a wealth of information but she also brings an energy level and enthusiasm to all projects that is infectious. She is a true asset to the community. Helen gets things done and involves the community.”
It is a distinct privilege to know her.
Question 5: How does the nominee make the library a better place? Please be specific.
Once conceived, made feasible and built, Helen then equipped the 26,700 square foot modern library that replaced the 7,000 square feet of space they’d previously had in a rented school building, via a measured and timely personnel expansion. She managed to do this while holding the budged stable, and more than doubling both the number of visitors and events. The creative environment that she fostered resulted in teamwork, shared responsibility and low staff turnover.
Beth Fuchs recounts that during Helen’s tenure the library, “developed into a combination library-community center. Every day dozens of our students are seen working at computer consoles, while citizens are scouring the magazine racks and bookshelves, community organizations fill the meeting rooms, new display are mounted on the gallery walls and an entire floor is filled with youngsters reading, listening to story time in our special room surrounded by a hand-painted mural that displays various aspects of our local flora and fauna."
Among numerous multi-media outreach endeavors, Helen commissioned a video that highlights some of what she fostered, with a focus on the connections between the Library and its environment through the eyes of children: Always thinking about the next generation, Helen also provided opportunities for students in Cold Spring Harbor to satisfy their community service requirements by assisting their Children’s librarians in the creation and implementation of programs designed to instill a love of reading and learning in young children.
Throughout, Helen maintained the Library as a leader in the adoption of new technologies to further reach the community. She was a key force in launching the Library’s website and mobile app, facilitating e-book downloads and deploying social media such as Facebook and Twitter pages.
In terms of programming, my closest experience was with Helen and Leadership Huntington. That program involved a 9-month in-depth experience meeting community leaders from throughout the town. Whether it was an expert on the opioid crisis, a legislator who cared about our environment, or someone involved in community development, Helen found a way to incorporate their expertise into library programming. The program on the drug epidemic was a notable example, bringing top expertise into the library to meet a full auditorium and help her community learn how best they could help solve this problem.
When Helen embarked upon her latest library visioning, she invited the community with this message:
Imagine your family enjoying a public library for the 21st century.
Imagine a building with energy efficiency built-in, a place for reading, learning, exercising, music, recording, creating and gathering.
Imagine a space filled with natural light and plenty of spaces for simultaneous meetings, classes and workshops.
Imagine children, parents and grandparents sharing stories and crafts, creating memories to last a lifetime.
Imagine state-of-the-art technology to meet your needs today and tomorrow.
Please attend community meetings and discover how you can get the public libraries you deserve in Dix Hills and Melville.
If you have any questions, suggestions or concerns, please contact me at 631-421-5940 or email me at email@example.com.
Hope to catch you reading,
Helen M. Crosson, Library Director"
You can see her real-time updates here.
Said Diane Lettieri, “I know Helen from my being the PTA President at Half Hollow Hills High School East. We’ve collaborated on several projects, such as the ‘Save a Life’ drug awareness program. Working so closely with Helen, I see her drive and enthusiasm, and just how much she cares about this community. Her latest endeavor is to build a new library in Half Hollow Hills; one that will serve the community for many years to come. Her campaign was called ‘IMAGINE.’ She wanted community members to imagine what they wanted for their new library. She listened to everyone’s suggestions, concerns, wants and needs. I supported and helped her every step of the way. The night the bond passed in favor of building a new library, she cried tears of joy. Her commitment to our community has never faltered. Plain and simple, she cares, and the Half Hollow Hills community is so lucky to have her.”
The winner of the 2018 I Love My Librarian Award will be announced in December, 2018. Best of luck to all involved! Want to nominate your favorite librarian? Sign up here to be notified when the 2019 nomination process opens. Want to learn more about libraries and how you can help support them? Visit www.ilovelibraries.org
Ron Stein is sharply intelligent and deeply passionate. He loves film, music, tennis, hiking, and getting his hands straight into the dirt. He is also a Long Island pioneer who dedicates incredible resources to causes that resonate with him. These have included strong advocacy for those impacted by fraud, pioneering Smart Growth land use philosophy on Long Island and, most recently, a tremendous effort to advance the legacies of John and Alice Coltrane. Above all, Ron is a devoted husband, a great friend, and a proud father of two young men. While his sons are each very much their own individuals, they do seem to have that same spark in their eyes…
More Than a Career
Ron is a Certified Financial Planner who was among the first proponents of the socially and environmentally responsible investing movement. Since 1987, he has been a member of the Social Investment Forum trade association. Throughout the early and middle ‘90s, he was a frequent lecturer and workshop leader on Personal Finance, Social and Environmentally Responsible Investing, and various environmental topics. He served on many panels, and spoke at several Long Island and New York radio and television events.
To this day, Ron continues to weave principals of sound financial planning together with enabling people to align their investments with their values. His business, Good Harvest Financial Group, is now 25 years old. When the US economy finally fully hit the wall in 2008, Ron devoted tremendous energy to helping people understand what was happening and where they could find help. He founded an organization specifically dedicated to helping victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He then went on to launch the Network for Investor Action and Protection, an investors’ advocacy not-for-profit group of over 1200 members nationwide. Their purpose is to advance protections for investors as well as victims of fraud. We weren’t entirely surprised the morning we awoke to hear Ron’s voice on NPR, talking about his understanding of needed regulatory reform. He shared some of these views directly with Congress in 2012.
Man with a Vision
We first met Ron in the late 90’s when he was launching a very different organization: Vision Huntington. He had some experience as an environmentalist who had primarily gotten involved with national organizations like the Sierra Club. Locally, he had spoken out against the Shoreham nuclear plant and had also helped bring some good models to light when the region was figuring out how to preserve its Pine Barrens. Ron came to our attention when he joined Long Island’s first and still only community leadership organization, Leadership Huntington.
You see, Ron’s attention had now been turned right to his own back yard. Frustrated by land development that seemed to occur without concern for the environment or the community, he had recently joined with a local architect to convene a variety of stakeholders to introduce a then-revolutionary concept called "Smart Growth." The emphasis was on broad stakeholder participation, new approaches to housing, open space preservation, traffic and pedestrian safety, and the creation of walkable, attractive communities.
Ever willing to go straight to whomever he feels will help advance a cause, Ron surveyed community members extensively. This included getting roughly 900 of them to fill out a 5-page quantitative and qualitative survey at the local Fall Festival. He also organized local leaders to visit model communities, and brought in top-of-their field speakers from across the nation to talk about cutting-edge land use practices. He worked with the Town to establish a Smart Growth Steering Committee that brought together local government department heads and other representatives of diverse interests who may never have otherwise connected. Together with a growing coalition of public, private, and not-for-profit interests, he championed Long Island’s first true community planning process. Reflecting his dogged determination to sharply raise the bar, he became known around Huntington Town Hall as “The Man Who Wouldn’t Take ‘Yes’ For an Answer.”
It…together with supportive, complimentary and sometimes tempering efforts alongside him…worked. A matrix of ambitions some called a “Tablet of Intimidation” and others just called “pipe dreams” was largely realized within five years. Fundamental change was happening. Of course, it must be emphasized that none of this occurred without tremendous teamwork. While perspectives differed, Ron was far from alone in yearning for a better way to build. The organization was deeply blessed with smart, conscientious, pragmatic, hard-working people, many of whom continue to directly serve its mission to this day. The broad coalition of program partners and supporters of the organization constitute a great wave of positive momentum. Still, the more experienced we have become, the more we realize how Ron’s skills at facilitation and communication at the very beginning of this movement made an extraordinary difference. He made sure people knew what was going on, why things were proceeding the way they were and, even more importantly, that everyone around the table was heard and understood. He did this always with humor, humility, and genuine interest.
The fruits of Ron’s labor soon took on a life of their own. While the Town of Huntington readily embraced the general principles of Smart Growth it also, at first, demurred somewhat from challenging its own status quo. The Town of Brookhaven, on the other hand, declared that it was ready for significant change. Vision Huntington quickly grew to become Vision Long Island, which you can find sharing excellent information on Facebook, here and on YouTube, here.
It’s bittersweet to watch a beloved child grow into adulthood. While things didn’t always go exactly as Ron envisioned, we have always been impressed with the grace with which he allowed the organization to assert its independence and come into its own. Over the last 20 years, Vision Long Island has grown to play a tremendous role in community-based planning, in influencing policy decisions, and in facilitating active cooperation across interests and perspectives.
In addition to specific project work, the organization brings an extraordinary number and diversity of stakeholders together for the highly informative annual Smart Growth Summit. It meaningfully celebrates people, projects and policies that are making a positive impact through the annual Smart Growth Awards. All in all, in a world where one can sometimes wonder if different perspectives can ever really reach across the table, have productive dialogue and actually work together, those involved with Vision Long Island have established that the answer is “Yes.” Our communities are better for it. We are grateful.
A Jazz Man…
Ron knows a lot about economics and finance. He cares very deeply about the environment. He loves Long Island’s communities. Beyond what we’ve mentioned, he has been active with numerous non-profit organizations and environmental initiatives. This includes a great passion for the arts and for history…especially Jazz.
When Ron learned that the home in which John Coltrane wrote his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme” was in Dix Hills and due for demolition, he quickly got on board to help however he could. He is now President of the Board of an organization called The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. Together with the Coltrane family, local historians and diverse artistic devotees they have saved the house where this legend raised a family and spent his final years. Now, they are working to restore and adaptively reuse it.
Art, Culture and Education
The vision for the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills includes the creation of a museum and cultural center that reflects the life, the music, and the spiritual and humanitarian legacies of both John and Alice Coltrane. The historic restoration of the home will include a selection of original furnishings and instruments, an extensive digital archive with listening stations, a meditation garden dedicated to Alice Coltrane, and archival materials donated by Coltrane scholars and collectors.
The importance of both John and Alice Coltrane have a lot to do with incredible music. Through, above and beyond that was a tremendous desire to use their talents and influence as a force for good. As such, a big component of this project involves education. Pilot programs have already begun offsite and will continue at the Home when it opens to the public. As stated on the website www.thecoltranehome.org , they are focused on outreach to the community that will:
A Journey Integral to the Mission
One thing we have long appreciated about Ron is how the things he is involved with tend to have a journey that’s as meaningful as the ultimate goal. This starts with the people he joins forces with whom tend, by and large, to be extraordinary lights. Together, they provide a depth of experience that seems to pervade every step of the journey. While the house is not yet opened, it’s safe to say an awful lot has already occurred to advance the Coltranes’ legacies.
Our first encounter with the organization was an intimate gathering of jazz greats at the Greenwich Village restaurant of Yasuhiro Fujioka (“Fuji”) who is, among many things, one of the world’s most important collectors of Coltrane memorabilia. The event also included involved jazz greats, community leaders, aficionados, and others. Speakers included Cornel West and Carlos Santana, who is the honorary chairman of the The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills’ Board, as well as Ron and Steve Fulgoni, the Town of Huntington resident who first realized what the house was and how important it was to save. John and Alice’s son, Board Chairman, Ravi Coltrane played with his quartet. Elvis Costello donated a guitar that he signed on site. The power of the music was matched by the passion of voices who had been touched by the musician and who recognized the potential great music has to lift the human spirit. You can Check out images from that powerful day here. On the organization website, you can find a really beautiful video made that day by many of the incredible artists and supporters in attendance.
Soon after, the first annual Coltrane Day was held at Heckscher Park in Huntington. This event represents an extraordinary fusion of professional and enthusiast, master and student, style and substance. There are workshops, artist booths and great food. A broad variety of musical genres and other art forms have been included, ranging from gospel to funk to electronica and, of course, a whole lot of jazz. You can check out images from the first Coltrane Day here and from the 2016 event here. Learn about the upcoming 2017 Coltrane Day, to be held of July 22nd, here.
The most recent event we attended was a sold out special showing of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Chasing Trane”. It was held at Huntington’s cinematic gemstone, The Cinema Arts Centre. The moving documentary about John Coltrane was followed by a Q&A with the film’s director John Scheinfeld and with renowned bassist Reggie Workman, who was part of the John Coltrane quartet in the early 1960s. There was a lot to appreciate.
John and Alice Coltrane’s lives are inspirational stories that continue to have deep relevance, not just for musicians, but for humanity as a whole. We are grateful to Ron and to everyone else endeavoring to advance their important legacies. We can’t wait for next month to get to experience Coltrane Day again, and look forward to seeing the home become a cultural center of its own.
To learn more about how to support this mission, please check out this page on their website:
Thanks, Ron, for all you do and for all you bring us to appreciate. We are grateful.
2/18/20: This article has been corrected from the original version. where Steve Fulgoni's first name was mistakenly stated as John.
"I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution."
~ Andrew Carnegie
The efforts of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates to encourage fellow billionaires to make a substantial “Giving Pledge” bring to mind another very fortunate man who saw value in giving: Andrew Carnegie.
PBS offers a detailed timeline of the life of the notorious robber baron and his rise in steel, transportation, communications and other business to become the richest man in the world. It also covers his devotion to philanthropy and human rights. Like Buffet and Gates’ recent pledges, Carnegie wrote himself a letter in 1868. At the time, he was determined to resign from business at age 35 and live on an income of $50,000 per year, devoting the remainder of his money to philanthropic causes and most of his time to education.
Carnegie was not very successful at giving up his interest in the business of the world, but he excelled at giving away his spoils. Wikipedia states that he actively gave away $350,695,653 (approximately $4.3 billion, adjusted to 2005 figures) of his wealth. A final $30,000,000 was bequeathed to foundations, charities and pensioners. All totaled, it represented 90% of the income of the richest man in the world.
How a Self-Made Man Gives Back
Of his many works, the most famous gift might be Carnegie Hall.
”How do you get there? Practice, practice, practice….”
Indeed, Carnegie specifically promoted the type of giving one might hope even Ayn Rand would approve of: Giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others."
Carnegie, himself, is heralded as a quintessential self-made man. However, he never forgot the chance at self-education that he was granted by Colonel James Anderson, who gave young working boys like him a rare opportunity -- access to his library. His philanthropy reflected this, such that there is an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to the Carnegie Library. By 1919, nearly half of the United States’ 3,500 public libraries were financed by Carnegie construction grants.
While Carnegie Hall is reserved for those who have achieved the top of their class, libraries were intended to be available to all. For free. True to his principles, however, the gift was far more about teaching to fish than providing a free lunch, and about gifts that keep on giving so long as the recipient keeps up its end of the bargain.
Communities were always given great responsibility. The above mentioned Wikipedia article is quick to link to post Civil War housewives who formed the women’s clubs that, in turn, worked very hard to found 75-80% of US libraries. Many of these were Carnegie libraries. To receive his donation, Carnegie insisted that communities provide the site and be willing to raise taxes to cover at least 10% of construction costs, maintain operations and provide free service to all. Today, it is still up to communities working hand in hand with generous patrons to foot the bill. Budgets face close public scrutiny. Winning support is critical.
“We try to talk to communities about the value they get out of a library. I don’t think people realize how much libraries provide…every library service is free,” explains Todd Harvey, Partner at Beatty, Harvey, Coco Architects, which completed over 100 library projects in 20 years, “For the [taxpayer] cost of a couple best sellers or once a month blockbuster rentals, you can expand and get better library services. You can expand. It’s a tremendous bargain.”
The Perfect Gift: Information, Innovation and American Dreams
What could be more valuable to those chasing the American Dream? At essence, public libraries granted individuals freedom and access to self-directed education. In fact, a major design innovation that Carnegie spurred was the advent of open stacks. For the first time, people could wander the shelves on their own rather than be at the mercy of a librarian’s selection.
Of course, times have changed and technology has exploded. First, volumes were supplemented with microfilm and photocopiers. Later, space was made for VHS tapes, then DVDs. Now architects design for computer centers, building-wide wireless access, and…people….
“Libraries are much different than they were 10-20 years ago,” explains Harvey, “They used to be for the storage and access of information. Now, they’re places people go to create and exchange information.”
It isn’t all about print seeming somehow passé in a wireless world, though. Libraries are still relied upon heavily for their original primary service. Despite all the technology, library use and circulation is rising. Fast. “We’re not getting rid of books,” says Harvey, “but creating places that are much more.” Now, in a world where the volume of information is increasing exponentially, “Libraries are becoming the source to access that information and a place where you can come to understand it.”
“Libraries are amazing,” says Roger Smith, Principal of BBS Architecture, which worked on the four-branch Smithtown Library system on Long Island, NY, “When you’re shopping, you’re shopping. In a movie theater, you go see a movie. A library is different. You can do many things.”
A Place of Our Own: Evolution by Community Design
Community rooms are now just as important as the book shelves. “They’re not just community rooms,” explains Harvey, “One evening you can hold a concert, lecture or film. The next you use the same room for computer classes or other programs. In the past you’d design a room just for one function. Now we’re designing a room that serves half a dozen.”
“There’s a tremendous demand for community and library programs from a wide range of groups: Cub Scouts, art classes, driver’s ed., seniors,” says Danny Tanzi, Senior Project Architect for H2M Group, which provides integrated architecture and engineering services, “No other public buildings have facilities open to everyone. Schools are limited in their use. Fire houses and others are limited to their membership.”
Libraries have now transcended their prestigious role as repositories to actively filling the void that was once the public square. “Quite honestly, there’s a fundamental social vacuum and libraries are one of the only secular facilities to fill it,” says attorney John Caravella, “There’s really nothing else addressed to all members of the community. Religious institutions can do a good job of offering public education, but that’s not necessarily on their agenda and the broader community might not be so quick to take advantage of it.”
Smith agrees, “The public becomes broader, so much broader. You can look at the bulletin board and see the great things taking place. This is not what libraries were originally intended for. Yes, it was always a community building, but now…” Smith reflects on evolving roles, “Architects typically used to design structures without community input. I mean, you got input, but nothing like today. Now it’s community with a big ‘C’”
Libraries themselves are deeply involved in their own evolution. "I make many presentations and spend a lot of time talking about the 'Human-Centered Library,'” says librarian Helen Crosson, “It's not just books anymore." Crosson worked closely with trustees, locals and Beatty Harvey Coco Architects (then Beatty Harvey and Associates) to spearhead a new building when she was the Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Library in NY. She became immersed in needs assessments, usage demand studies, blueprints and other technical documents you might expect a librarian to find, but not to design, "We spent a lot of time talking about lighting, cooling, heating and doors."
An Opportunity; A Responsibility
New libraries model green design, emphasizing natural lighting and energy efficiency. “They’re the center of the community and they have an opportunity to set an example,” says Harvey, “I don’t know of a library we’re working on that’s not green or LEED certifiable.”
“Architects have an opportunity to do wonderful things and maybe have a responsibility.” says Smith, “I‘d hate to think the community was upset with a library I designed; that it wasn’t theirs. They’re a reflection of the community.”
Carnegie libraries, too, often became focal points for the community, and he encouraged communities to make them their own. Embracing symbolism in design, they were often the most formidable structures in town, featuring stairways representing the rising force of education and lampposts signifying enlightenment. Today’s architecture focuses more on accessibility, but history remains important, “We’re trying to keep within the sense and character of the town; a sense of the vernacular,” notes Smith. For the Smithtown NY Library System, his firm designed the adaptive reuse of the Nesconset Armory. The community broke ground March 22, 2010.
“It’s not necessarily the quantity of space” says Harvey, “We don’t need warehouses for books. It‘s the quality.”
“When I walk inside, do I go to the Museum of Modern Art, The Louvre or the Mall?” asks Smith, “I want someplace I can sit quietly and believe I belong.”…and maybe even wander the stacks for a good book.
A Lasting Legacy
As a whole, the legacies of Carnegie libraries are like well-planted seeds that are good for the ecosystem and continue to bear fruit long after the gardener has gone. They remain an incentive and a focal point for community substance, gifts to be carefully tended, keys to doors leading toward American Dreams.
It’s a lasting gift to community, to freedom, and to a very individual experience. It is a gift that, generations later, still empowers us to take responsibility -- both individually and communally -- to achieve our own greatest potential.
Imagine the possibilities if today’s billionaires were to dig deep, and to carefully sow such seeds of their own? Imagine if we all were to rise to such a cause?
BTW....You don't have to be a billionaire to get involved in the Giving Pledge. Warren Buffet's sister, Dorothy, is seeking volunteers to help her give her brother's money away.