SCHENECTADY -- Neighborhood leaders from around the city got together at the Electric City Barn in Hamilton Hill Wednesday, all of them committed to making Schenectady a better place to live.
Mary Ann Ruscitto wants to see more garbage cans and historical signage in the East Front Neighborhood, Karen Bradley hopes to increase access to books beyond the library doors, Rachel Conn dreams of an art walk in Hamilton Hill, and Peg Foley talked about art all over the city. They represented four of the 12 project winners announced earlier this week for the Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge, a joint partnership between the Schenectady Foundation and the city of Schenectady.
At Wednesday's informational session at the Electric City Barn, Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, and Kristi Miller, the group's director of grants and community programs, told the 12 winning groups just how to get started with their projects. Carreau also talked about the overwhelming response the Challenge received, and Miller talked about anchor organizations that the Schenectady Foundation would match with the 12 grant recipients.
"We're going to do a little brainstorming this afternoon; we're going to get some feedback from you, and we're going to talk about how we can best promote civic engagement," said Carreau. "We got 48 entries for these grants, and our 25 volunteers did a great job selecting 12 winners. It was a real challenge."
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy was also at the meeting and praised the community response.
"It's an exciting time in Schenectady, and it's great to see this kind of progress," said McCarthy. "To have all these wonderful partners come together in this collective vision is great for the city."
Between the Schenectady Foundation and the city, there was $250,000 to spread over 12 grants, and earning the biggest cash amount was the Spray Pad Cooling Area Project, put forth by residents of the Woodlawn area in Schenectady.
"It is a spray pad, not a fountain," said Spiro Zoulas, one of the group's organizers. "It will basically allow children and other Woodlawn residents to come in and cool off during the hot summer months."
Zoulas, a Schenectady native who's lived in Woodlawn since 2006, said that the area hasn't had a pool since 2000 when Woodlawn Park, near the intersection of Kings Road and Ricci Avenue, was closed.
"The spray pad will be in a green space adjacent to where the pool was," said Zoulas, and academic adviser for Excelsior College. "Woodlawn Park was shut down in 2000. It was abandoned, but a group of residents got together in 2011 with the idea of bringing a water feature back to the park. We can't open a pool again, but we will have this water option. We've been working hard since 2012, and we've already put in $200,000 worth of fundraising, investments and volunteer work into that area."
The smallest grant of $800 was awarded to Canvas Murals for Vacant Homes.
"We're willing to recruit kids from the Hamilton Hill area to paints murals of their own design," said group leader James Dick, a Schenectady native who works for Merriam Insurance Agency in the city. "There won't be any words, just the pictures, and we'll probably hang three or four pieces on these two-family home that are boarded up. It's a great way for the kids to express themselves. Sometimes those kids are in difficult situations. This is a way for them to make a difference in where they live."
Also attending Wednesday's meeting was Camille Sasinowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association on the north side of the city. Their project was Northside Pride, a project aimed at cleaning up that section of the city.
"We had been working on this project for quite some time, but we needed a 501 organization to get us going again," said Sasinowski. "So when we heard about the Neighborhoods Challenge, we said, 'We gotta go for this.' We had all the nuts and bolts, and we knew what direction we wanted to go in. The Challenge came along at just the right time."
Part of Miller's job will be to find specific 501(c)(3) organizations to partner with the project winners.
"We can't just give money to people," Miller explained to her audience. "We will match you with non-profits who will give you the money to do what you need to do. They will be your partner, your mentor. They will be there to help you."
Ruscitto represented the East Front Street Neighborhood Association, who called their project "Reawakening East Front Street." Bradley is director of the Schenectady County Library, whose program, "Our Community Library," will provide free boxes of books for youths to read and own. Conn is the director of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, which put forth "Show the Love Where You Live," designed to create an art walk in Hamilton Hill, and Foley is with Schenectady and Me, an arts group which plans on creating sculptural benches throughout the city.
Other winners included "Howe Outdoor Natural Play Space," (Howe Elementary School), "Rainbow Pride Art" (Gateway Park), "Cleaner and Greener Mont Pleasant" (Mont Pleasant), "Phoenix Walks" (Hamilton Hill) and "East, Center and West Alley Trash Contaiment" (Boulevards Neighborhood).