Schenectady County

Mont Pleasant neighbors dig in

Hydrant by hydrant, a new sense of community is sweeping through the Mont Pleasant neighborhood.

Hydrant by hydrant, a new sense of community is sweeping through the Mont Pleasant neighborhood.

The newly reorganized neighborhood association sparked a movement that has neighbors cleaning up their blocks and banding together to fix the neighborhood’s welcome signs.

“It started with painting a hydrant. It just took off! Now it’s like we’re all addicted,” said resident Flora Ramonowski.

She had lived in Mont Pleasant for decades, but moved away to New York City. When she returned, she was shocked by how far the old Italian neighborhood had fallen.

It now has one of the highest percentages of vacant buildings in the state, and the commercial corridor has very few businesses left. In parts of the neighborhood, crime has spiked.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, what happened to Mont Pleasant?’ And I started taking care of my street,” she said.

She wasn’t quiet about it, and soon others were doing the same.

Lifelong resident Donna Foley said Ramonowski and others persuaded her to, at the very least, paint one hydrant.

“This has been my neighborhood forever,” Foley said. “I’ve seen over the years how much the neighborhood has changed. I just figured it was a way for me to help out.”

The idea was to weed around one hydrant, scrape off debris and loose paint, and then paint it bright red to make it easy to find in an emergency.

“I thought, well, I could at least do that much,” Foley said, confessing that she picked it because it was the easiest thing on the neighborhood group’s ambitious list of neighborhood projects.

Now her truck has become the hydrant-mobile, filled with tools and cans of paint. A large group of residents have painted 115 hydrants. And many of the people they recruit to the task have gone on to join other projects.

Foley volunteered to maintain the islands on Michigan Avenue. That turned into a plan to create flower beds in the triangles of grass between major roads in the neighborhood. And once they started talking about gardening, it only made sense to repaint the welcome signs at the borders of the neighborhood, and plant flowers around them.

“We’re looking around for where we can really make improvements. It’s spreading and what I’m hoping will happen is each street will hear about it, pick up a couple cans of paint and do their own street, and then start picking up,” Ramonowski said. “We’re not just painting fire hydrants, we’re bringing the community together.”

Neighborhood association President Mohammad Hafez said residents had begun to feel that the city was neglecting the neighborhood.

So while volunteers poured their own effort into beautifying the neighborhood, they also gathered complaints from residents and brought them to the city for help.

“People felt if we don’t do anything about it, it’s going to start going down and down. We do whatever we can do,” Hafez said. “And this way we will also get the city’s attention.”

That’s worked. City Council members praised the group at last Monday’s meeting, highlighting their efforts.

City officials promised more cameras to help fight crime, and agreed to empty the public trash cans more often.

ReTree Schenectady will also plant 20 trees at locations determined by the association, which is organizing volunteers to do the planting.

Hafez is delighted.

“We’re having great success and we’re having more people volunteer,” he said.

The group meets on the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at Faith Deliverance Tabernacle on Ostrander Place.

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