Digging Deep for Community Connection

Karen Miller has a special mission: to steward the Rondout and Liberty Street Community Gardens. Conveniently located in Kingston, both areas boast rectangular raised beds of fertile soil, a watering system, and opportunities to get your hands dirty while helping the Earth in a positive way. Miller hopes that these gardens will relieve residents of stress, so that these special places will offer them something in return other than a tangible product.

Miller sees community gardens as a way for people to “have success at what they are doing, that they see their efforts, and that whatever they put in there, they get something out of it. I want people to come back because they feel good about themselves. It’s exciting that they get excited.”

A local resident interested in the gardens called Miller one day and asked for two plots. Miller calls him her “wow guy.” He figured spending time gardening with his ill wife would enhance their relationship and give them something meaningful they could share during an emotionally turbulent time in their lives. Unfortunately, his wife died before they could start together, but he continues to tend the most productive patch on Liberty Street. There’s something therapeutic, digging deep, getting your hands into the soil.

Even children can benefit from the fruits of gardening. Miller hopes that adults who burrow sections of allotted land and soil—solely at the Rondout—will relay practices to children, such as youthful interest in weeding or watering. For example, Miller watched a mother come to the Liberty Street garden recently to show her child the flowers in bloom. The mother put the compost in the flowers and spoke of the purpose of her actions while the child watched. Miller believes that teaching children important life lessons early on is essential towards healthy growth. “I encourage the kids to come and help.”

Miller states that she gets personal pleasure from gardening: a way to recycle a day’s worth of stress or negativity and harness a positive sustenance that heals the mind and body. Miller is mindful when she gardens, “I am a sensualist person. I love the feel of the soil, the smell of the soil. And I like that when I plant something that there is a vegetable or plant that comes from it. I also like the feeling of having a little bit of control of where you put a plant, but also the lack of control.” This perspective has a spiral effect into other areas of life, being aware of control is central in developing a realistic sense of the world. Paradoxically, she hopes people “will lose themselves in gardening,” so that they can pay more attention to things that are in the immediate surroundings and not worry about the past or future. Gardening allows us to develop a sense of where we are, who we are, and what we are doing. It’s about digging deep, making a connection, simply being in that moment with nature.

Miller hopes these personal successes and life lessons wrought by gardening will provide fertile ground for future development and joy in unexpected ways. When life’s struggles and stressors cloud our outlook, gardening can cultivate something rich and beautiful within. This light can yield good energy for others to connect with—and therefore create roots in sustainability and livability in an increasingly digital, abstract world.

Residents interested in gardening a raised bedsat either location can email Karen Miller to get started.  Beds are $5 and include access to the garden space, compost, and a fair share of weeds. Bring your own plants, seedlings, seeds, and garden tools; water provided at both locations.

WIMBY: Welcome in My Backyard

WIMBY: Welcome in My BackyardTwo words I believe are very dangerous together, though benign alone: Us. Them.

Uttered in singularity, neither word brings much to mind except perhaps a grade school spelling test or two. Uttered together in virtually any context, and the speaker has just created a dichotomy that truly does not have to exist.

Yet we do this. We speak like this daily.

“Why are they so much different than us?” “Why are they taking what belongs to us”?

And when we consider our neighborhoods, our villages and cities, we pit “us” vs. “them,” and we create the phenomenon called NIMBY. Not In My Back Yard.

Let’s be honest. When we say “Why do they have to live here with us?” that is exactly what we are saying.  We are saying that “they” don’t belong. But we do. Do we stop and think what gives us the right to make this determination? Do we stop to consider who has helped each of us along the way? Do we consider that at any moment “us” can become “them”? In fact, each of one of us is a “they” to someone else.

No. We don’t consider those questions. We move forward. We close our eyes to our neighbors who have come on hard times. We close our eyes as we walk in Kingston, focusing on the new shiny renovated spaces, the blue sky, the historic district. We close our eyes to our community. We miss the beauty that can be found in need. We miss the opportunity to be more than ourselves.

We, as individual members of our community, cannot do many things on our own. We cannot individually make the opioid drug epidemic go away. We can’t stop people from developing terminal illnesses. We cannot individually hide on our porches, behind our picture windows, behind our fear hoping that someday we will go for a walk in Kingston and all of the people who make us uncomfortable — just because they are them and not us — have been cared for by someone else because we don’t want to do it.

But, a community that decides to do right by everyone who is a member of that community, can collectively do anything.

It starts with admitting to ourselves that we all know right from wrong. We were all taught this at some point. And, even if we weren’t, we know right from wrong because we are human.

We share this community, but we do not get to choose who our community members are. Learn about the community, love the community, enjoy your neighborhoods, parks and restaurants.

But never forget that this community is our community, collectively. Beautiful, ugly, new, old, rich, poor, homeowners and homeless. No matter how hard we try to separate “us” from “them,” it is impossible because it is not reality, nor should it be.

I offer WIMBY. Welcome In My Back Yard. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s open ourselves up to the opportunities that come when we avail ourselves to them.

Let’s be WE.

And most of all, let us do what is right.

Eliza Bozenski, RUPCO Advisory CouncilEliza Bozenski is a member of RUPCO’s Advisory Council since 2017. She also works as Director of Anderson Foundation for Autism, and has been with that organization since 2006.

RUPCO Strives to Better Engage Latino Community

Pictured l-r: James Kopp, NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Hannah Karp, Hugo JuleOn October 21st, RUPCO Outreach Coordinators Hugo Jule and James Kopp and Executive Assistant to the CEO Maru Gonzalez attended the 3rd Annual Hudson Valley Latino Forum held at Dutchess County Community College in Poughkeepsie.

Nearly 300 participants — including NYS Secretary of State, NYS Comptroller, State Assembly and County legislature members, City Mayor, Governor’s office, Empire State Development, Federal and State Agencies — came out to share perspective and service information. Organizations from Long Island to Albany and more that 25 sponsors, including RUPCO GJGNY, contributed their ideas on how to improve the quality of life of all residents in the Hudson Valley. 

Several round table discussions addressed health, media, community, education, politics, business and arts. James sat in on the media and politics sessions; Hugo attended the community and business sessions; and Maru attended the politics and community sessions. During the business session, Hugo explained how saving energy can improve business profit, as well as save money at home. Hannah Karp from Solarize Hudson Valley tabled next to RUPCO so that energy efficiency and renewable energy were on display together.

“One concern expressed at the forum was the difficulty that agencies have in bringing services to the Latino community,” notes Hugo. “This is due, in part, to the different immigration situations that residents may be dealing with. There needs to be a consistent, trustworthy presence of agencies in the community. Moving forward, the RUPCO GJGNY team will continue to work with the community leaders who work with the Hispanic population in the Hudson Valley so they may all benefit from the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program.”

RUPCO is also working to provide better service connections to the Latino community with its first-time homebuyer program and foreclosure prevention services. RUPCO recently launched a Spanish home buyer education orientation series and several energy-efficiency videos spoken in, or translated overdub, into Spanish.

Pictured l-r: James Kopp, NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Hannah Karp, Hugo Jule