Today as I walked out of a meeting for an event being planned for my little 'ol town, I left wondering when the hell I will ever get paid for all the time, work, mental energy and prayers I have put into this mission I am on… It's cold, I'm not feeling well and I'm not making a dam dime BUT I feel good about all the progress that has been made, after all, I would like to take partial credit for what might be the first event that two neighboring towns actually contribute to and participate in TOGETHER. Although the real credit goes to WaterFire and I will explain why....and how it started 491 days ago for me.
Today, I announced that I would be the official representative of a newly formed non-profit organization (PRCDA)**. An organization which in itself is the first of its kind locally.[Note to self: Wow, there are a tremendous amount on firsts going on in my life in the past 491 days… some personal, some professional, but a moment on reflecting how we are always changing and growing - a growth that can only be done by choosing new roads]
Anyway, a little background is in order. We have a very unique community here on the East End of Long Island. A beautiful part of the world, a small town existence in a large geographical spread. Nestled at the edge of the twin forks of the island, we have been called "The Gateway to the Hamptons and The Wine Country." The North Fork over the past few decades has grown in reputation with its vast wineries, while the South Fork is known worldwide for the "rich and the famous" getaways to the Hamptons. It's a culturally rich area just about 1 and half hours from the city. (Straight down the Long Island Expressway I might add!) The local landscape is comprised of beautiful farmlands, ranches and waterfront vistas. You can find quaint homes, historic farmhouses and modern mansions. We have local craftsman, foods and artisans and yet, we are passed over as people travel through to other destinations. What might be most unique about my town, is that we share the Peconic River, a school district and fire rescue services with the neighboring town. BUT despite our children attending school together, there's a border between the two towns that runs deep. Riverhead on one side and Riverside on the other..... shared community services and schools, yet Riverside is notoriously one of the poorest and neglected areas not only in its wealthy Southampton Township, but on Long Island in general. Riverhead has seen a rise, decline and on the rise again, but Riverside remains in what one could say is in a state of desperate need of attention. So how is it two towns share so much, yet seem to exist independently outside of the political and geographical boundaries? We ARE the same community. Our children are educated TOGETHER. Something needs to be addressed.
For me, change starts with bringing this community together as we all work towards the revitalization of downtown Riverhead and Riverside. And there are BIG THINGS going on!! Land clearing, developments, outreach... but what I want to identify is why WaterFire? Why do I give credit to WaterFire for where I am today.. the changes already happening. What's so important about it?
I am proud to be on the Board of Directors of a newly formed non-profit Alliance [Peconic River Community Development Alliance, Inc.] - formed early this year with an incredible mission to bridge the two towns - "to facilitate social change and economic development ."... " through the arts, education, the coordination of broad range community resources." The board is a diverse sample of people from both sides of the river. We look forward to great things and great change because of the mission and the unbiased basis of this Alliance! But it only exists because of WaterFire. It's important to understand the power of WaterFire beyond any one singular event, or series of events.
491 days I attended a town hall meeting. Lisa Lowenstein of WaterFire International, consultant and advisor to WaterFire creator and artist Barnaby Evans, presented WaterFire to Riverhead Town Board. Many key people were there who are still very involved today. As I listened and learned about WaterFire my whole being was ignited. I "got it" immediately and feel blessed to have the vision to understand what this could really do for my community. Particularly when I came to understand that WaterFire is not viable just anywhere... we have the right formula for success. WaterFire is for the community and run by the community. It's not a political event or fair. It's not a festival or franchise.... it's a transformation of community. Its spiritual, musical and artistic. It's economically and ecologically advantageous.. it's, from what I have learned in 491 days, LAYERS and LAYERS and LAYERS of transformation and engagement. WaterFire answers a communities needs in ways I can only scratch the surface to express. I've spent 491 days immersed in a new world, learning, leading, motivating and believing.
Yet, I will admit, on that day if you told me how hard I would yet work, for almost no compensation, I may have RAN. It's been 491 days of success, inspiration and frustration. But God provides in ways we do not understand and He provided me this very thing I needed at that very moment - I had the passion, the energy and the time to commit. Truth is our community is broken and desperate for change. When you talk to people, we all want the same things. We love our town. We realize its tremendous potential and it's underutilized River and problem-ridden downtown area. So many people have great vision, come here and invest and leave discouraged. So many of us still have hope. Some of us, in the "forgotten" parts of Riverside, live (if you can call it that) in an existence that nobody notices - chooses to not see. But WaterFire? It's all good! (expect maybe the initial cost!)
Waterfire can is an amazing catalyst for a community that so desperately needs it, but at the same time, BECAUSE we are in that place that we desperately need it, we can't seem to get our acts together to make it happen. Everybody wants in, nobody wants to get it rolling. (i'm talking the people with the cash my friends - we need $$). But still, without a single WaterFire installation haven been planned, WaterFire has already begun to change us. The Alliance was created from a group of people who all deeply believe in the power of WaterFire. While the majority of us have worked to get WaterFire here in one way or another for even longer than my 491 days, we realized during all this time, there was no organization to make it happen. There was nobody who represented both towns and not one organization biased towards one side of the river or the other, one political party or another. When I went to WaterFire in Providence, I had many conversations with a long time project manager, Allan Redfern. He gave me a lot of information bait how WaterFire is run, but what he was doing most was just shy of tattooing on me the idea that we need an Organization, a champion. I came home somewhat depressed over it... because I looked around and saw no organization stepping up to make it happen. People were involved, but it seemed like a whole lot of people were ready to take part once the ball was rolling but not so eager to put their money where their mouth is so to speak. So what could "I" and a few dedicated people of a street team doing outreach and local fundraising really do without an ORGANIZATION"??
Phew, now that was all a mouthful. In some ways this blog entry is my ode to Lisa. She believed in me and encouraged me and counseled me. While we don't always agree on the journey, we end up at the same place. I am beyond grateful to her for believing in my little old town and for dedicating her time and professional expertise all for something that comes from deep inside our souls. Maybe we're crazy, but we believe that one person, two people, and a whole community CAN CREATE CHANGE. We are the doers. Not the "sitter-by-er's". Lisa has helped me grow and I have gained experience and opportunity like none I would have had without WaterFire.
So back to WaterFire and where we are now, as you may wonder... WaterFire is already at work. As you see the project I am working on develop, and you see the two towns working together, in whatever way may seem big or small, there is zero chance those relationships would have occurred without WaterFire. I see these coming events as the pre-cursor to WaterFire. We are a town who is not ready for WaterFire, but we sure are working our buts off to make it happen. You will see incredible developments and river access on the Riverside part of the River and you will see members of both communities working TOGETHER in an unprecedented way. And I need you to know, it's only because of WaterFire. You may say, well, you all know each other and this might have happened anyway... and that could be true. But the truth is, we ARE all here because of the series of events that did transpire and those all revolve around WaterFire. I tell you the PRCDA was formed because of the mutual goal and work towards WaterFire. I sat at a PRCDA meeting and proposed working with Riverhead on an upcoming event, then I went to Riverhead and proposed PRCDA working with Riverhead and that's how it all begins. It's about change in our community. People breaking down that barrier between the towns, working together and making the East End of Long Island not only a destination, but providing our youth and community members, jobs, careers, opportunity, fellowship and so much more.
Oh so I looked at my first line... all this time and when will I ever get paid... I think I should say, although it's frustrating at times, I said to myself, for whatever reason, I have everything I need. I have food on my table, a car and a roof over my head. I have three healthy children, an amazing supportive partner who challenges me to be my best and a great friend who is well-educated and giving me a lifetime of education and experience at my asking... God put me on this path and I will continue it as long as I can. My main motivation is that I am a Riverhead born artist who had to leave here as a young adult to find opportunity. I don't want my children, or your children to have to leave. I want them to have the opportunities of their desires right here in Riverhead. And if you know what a mother will do for her children, I will exhaust myself to create a better life for them. The paths we are put on, we need to remember that it is not in our control but we must make the best decision we can, accept what is given and learn to be grateful for those things that challenge us most. So every time I give it my all and get what seems to be nothing in return, I hear the voice inside that says "never give up, you're on the right path." It's not always about money (though it does help). It's about what is right and good.
Tomorrow will be Day 492.
*Personal Board of Directors. I learned this from a COTA (Council of Thought & Action) presentation . The speaker said to think of yourself as the president of your corporation. Look at the five people around you/closest to you in your life. Consider them your Board of Directors. What does your board look like and what does it say about your corporation? I love it! My board needs some change of members, but not by much
**Peconic River Community Development Alliance (PRCDA) is a community based not-for-profit organization whose goal is to facilitate social change and economic development in the adjacent communities of the Hamlet of Riverside in the Town of Southampton and the Riverhead community joined together by the Peconic River. It is the mission of PRCDA to facilitate that change and development through the arts, education, the coordination of broad range community resources including local businesses, municipalities, and other non-for-profit organizations. Peconic River Community Development Alliance believes that economic development and social change are intrinsically linked to broad based community engagement. It is the mission of Peconic River Community Development Alliance to stimulate and sustain that engagement through creative and innovative programs.
Please email me for information on how to get involved or more about what you can do to bring WaterFire to the Peconic: firstname.lastname@example.org