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.

Lace Mill Couple Host Dance Festival Fundraiser on July 23

Bon Dori Dance Festival 2016Youko and Kazuma Yamamoto work together to raise awareness of nuclear energy issues that will ultimately impact the livelihood of future generations. They are hosting a festival, the Bon-Odori Dance Festival for Peace, at Kingston Point Beach on August 6th, 2017 from 1-7pm, (dance at 6:30pm) and they welcome everyone to come and have fun while raising funds for an important cause. What better way to shake off unnecessary usage and preoccupation of nuclear energy than to create good vibes through dancing?

Back to the grim: statistics reveal that over 75,000 people in Nagasaki, and 150,000 in Hiroshima have been killed since the nuclear bombings of each city. And these numbers likely don’t accurately measure the true number of lives taken; many Japanese have the concept of shame attached to physical or mental disabilities, and so they don’t report theirs or their children’s issues in analytical studies.

With nearly 450 reactors worldwide, mostly located along water and even more being constructed in America and China, Youko and Kazuma are concerned that we are cornering ourselves in potentially dangerous conditions, especially if our nuclear energy usage only increases.

Most recently, a nuclear meltdown disaster resulting from a tsunami and earthquake in Fukushima shocked residents and worldwide onlookers, enforcing the anxiety that nuclear energy is valid. Though Youko and Kazuma were involved in anti-nuclear campaigns before, disaster Fukushima sparked a renewed interest in advocacy and led them to ways in which to promote peace and environmental justice.

Youko & Kazuma Yamamato, resident-artists at The Lace MillWhile Youko was at the family restaurant, Gomen-Kudasi located in New Paltz, NY, Livia and Billy of the Vanaver Caravan dance company asked her, “”Youko, do you know ‘Tanko-bushi’?” from the traditional Japanese coal-mining song. While singing, an idea for a dance festival came to mind. “Why not do something locally?” Later tying the idea of her routine spiritual ritual of chanting Buddhism suturas with the impromptu vocal performance, Youko states, “chanting heart sutura is a good practice, but it isn’t so popular, especially among young people. I thought if I transform it as a fun dance festival, it could invite a lot more people to join us to think about those who suffered in the radiation disasters, such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and a lot more.” She figured a dance event would bring people together to participate and learn effectively, since there is more power in numbers than there is in individuals trying to make changes.

Youko states that when dancing together, “the best part is, even though it is a Japanese folk dance, it’s simple! Our feelings, heart, and spirit unite and our ancestors are with us… we all feel it together.”

A pre-event fundraiser for Bon-Odori Dance Festival for Peace will be held on July 23rd at Lace Mill, 165 Cornell Street, from 2-5pm. Preparing for both the fundraiser and the festival is no easy feat. Youko says costs determine what activities and supplies will be undertaken or purchased. “All the money raised will be used to host the event: insurance, fees to the professional helpers and performers, equipment rental (one large tent cost $2,500!), legal fees, printing all promo material including registration packets, cards, posters, programs, banners, road signs. We usually need more than $5,000 total.” Youko hopes to raise $1,500 at the Lace Mill Fundraiser.

What’s the big draw to the June 23rd Lace Mill fundraiser? The food! Youko, a restauranteur, will “prepare amazing, high quality food with my own recipes.” A plethora of Japanese cuisine and the preparation to make the foods will reflect old traditional practices—down to the ice, which will be hand-shaved and put in drinks, including cold brew tea. Cuban jazz music from the 30’s and 40’s will fill the atmosphere with a different flux of energy to add to the cultural celebration.

Bon Dori Dance Festival for Peace, August 6, 2017All are welcome to attend the Lace Mill fundraiser, which will only mark the beginning of a communal resistance effort. The ultimate goal of the fundraiser, festival and subsequent advocacy efforts is, according to Youko and Kazuma, “to see a nuclear free future.” Besides eating delicious food and getting your groove on, the Yamamoto’s suggest taking action as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint and care for the Earth in a more intentional way. The other approach is to lobby against the building of nuclear power plants, since only a small number make large profits from the construction and distribution of nuclear energy, and the losses incurred from pollution and radioactivity emission risk are outsizing the gains. The Yamamoto’s carry on Pete Seeger’s message of having a peaceful world, eventually creating a movement that advances human relationships to each other and to the Earth in a determinedly holistic approach.

Make a donation online here; all contributions benefit the dance festival and the creation of a safe and enjoyable community event.

For more information about the Bon-Odori Dance Festival for Peace, visit BonOdoriKingston on Facebook, and be sure to like, comment, or share the page with your friends!

Contact Sakura Kojima at (845) 255-8811, or email gomenkudasainy@gmail.com for further details.

Couple Find Creativity, Privacy at Lace Mill

Youko & Kazuma Yamamato, resident-artists at The Lace MillBefore living at the Lace Mill, Youko and Kazuma owned a home in Gardiner with scenic views and remote neighbors. Never did they think they would receive housing assistance. But the day came when they could no longer afford to pay their mortgage and keep up with other expenses that piled up quickly. Eventually they found a place that suited their needs, in rural New York. They think living in the Lace Mill community experience helps them to focus their time and energy on their New Paltz restaurant, Gomen-Kudasai, and not on costly house maintenance or routine upkeep.

Rising taxes eventually squeezed the Yamamoto’s out of an affordable living space in NYC. They then moved upstate to Gardiner and began looking for other housing options as they could not afford the mortgage on their restaurant income. Thankfully, their son’s Waldorf School teacher suggested The Lace Mill for local artists. “We got the interview about two weeks later, and fortunately they took us in, and now we are very comfortable,” Youko says.

Youko elaborates that living in Lace Mill provides the same security as does a home without an assistance program. “I feel like it’s our nest right now,” she says. “We know that it is not our final home, but it is our hideout community for us.” The Yamamoto’s have a safe space to lead their own lives and artistically create in privacy.

“I know a lot of artists who don’t have comfortable living,” states Youko. “RUPCO is an excellent resource to utilize, especially for artists who want to continue their work but have limited means to purchase supplies or rent studio spaces.”

Following in good fortune with RUPCO’s help, Kazuma found a workplace in Saugerties in which he is able to continue his metalsmith career. His original studio was in an upstairs workshop in High Falls; residents below would regularly complain of the machinery noise. Now, he uses the space without worry about disrupting neighbors below.

Bon Dori Dance Festival for Peace, August 6, 2017Youko and Kazuma believe in community contribution and welcome opportunity for Lace Mill residents to feel like they are living as part of the real world. Youko and Kazuma believe it is wise to take responsibility for the space they rent, and not fall back on complimentary services to elevate their experience beyond typical means, otherwise complacency and a distorted sense of entitlement may arise. That’s why they’re hosting the Bon Odori Festival on August 6th, as a way to give back to the community.

The Bon-Odori Dance Festival for Peace, and other RUPCO programs fiber offer positive effects. People of modest means and their families contribute much to the community when given the opportunity to live peacefully amongst neighbors. Find out more about the couple’s fundraiser on June 23 and the Bon Dori Dance Festival on August 6.

Gimme Roots

Gimme roots, ivy creeping on brick walkwayShe opens the door to a Lace Mill gallery. She reminds me of every favorite Art and English teacher I’ve ever had. She’s an accomplished writer, poet and Mom. A part of Ulster County and its thriving artist community for her entire life, Holly is one of the people that makes our area the amazing place it is.

As we sit on soft leather couches in the gallery, other residents stop in and out, asking for an opinion on an art project or quick feedback on an inspiration. I ask her if she knows her neighbors, really knows her neighbors. Is The Lace Mill a social building? Her eyes light up.  Residents of The Lace Mill bond over everything: their families, growing up, religion, even politics. At this point in time, almost everyone in the building seems to love the Netflix show, The Adventures of Kimmy Schmidt.

“I do know my neighbors, and I love my neighbors!” extolls Holly. “I was thinking just today that it would be weird for me to move away and not see them anymore. And that’s after less than a year.”  In that time, Holly’s life has changed for the better. Within a place she calls Home, she embraces her true self: a comforting, welcoming, and happy woman. With great shoes.

Holly at The Lace Mill

Holly dressed as Queen Bee for Sinterklaas, outside The Lace Mill

“It’s been a hard few years in these parts,” Holly says.  “Because the apartments are subsidized, my rent is lower than average local rents, and that’s changed my life substantially.  I had been fighting for a while the idea of having to leave Ulster County, which has been home all my life, to find some place more affordable. Since being here, I’ve applied for artist residencies (where you go and just write for an entire month), and I am leading a poetry workshop in Missouri this summer, at an academic conference about Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote The Little House on the Prairie books, which are important historical documents about pioneer life.  Maybe even more exciting, I am going to have an article in the local paper, which I have wanted to do since High School. Lace Mill has let me focus on creating the life I want, rather than imagining it to be somewhere else, in some imaginary future.”

 

She’s realized what a role being safely housed plays in much mental illness, something she spoke about at a recent public hearing in support of Landmark Place. She’s seen first-hand how housing stability plays a huge role in productivity, and what a difference secure housing makes in a person’s life.

Because she’s got a solid place to live, Holly can now open herself to new writing opportunities and collaborations. She plans to hold poetry workshops and finish her new book. Since moving in to The Lace Mill, she’s coordinated several group shows, called Samplers, and gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol in December. Seeing people excited to create new work is what makes the time putting together things like The Spring Sampler worth it, and she loves brainstorming with other creative spirits in The Lace Mill.

She and I agree that having a secure place to live makes you a happier person. Life is hard enough. There are lots of people suffering from all sorts of different things. “I think that when you chronically don’t know where you’re going to live in a year, mental wellness suffers. Everybody needs a place to regroup and ‘just be.’ Moving around a lot, or not having a place to land — it definitely makes a hard situation worse.”

Holly knows what Home means to her. She happily and knowingly appreciates her neighbors, and newfound opportunities. Having roots for the first time, Holly thrives, more and more every day.

This interview has been updated, reflecting a few of Holly’s more current artistic activities.

Rachel Barnett headshotFreelance writer Rachel Barnett wrote this interview while serving as Editorial Assistant in RUPCO’s Communications Department (Fall 2016) as part of the SUNY-Ulster Internship Program. Rachel too knows the important connection between housing and mental wellness; her brother strives for mental wellness, too. Rachel has seen the benefits of stable housing and its affect on his life, and hers. A lover of all things avante garde, Rachel too appreciates fabulous glasses and great shoes.  

 

 

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.

MyKingstonKids Fest2017 at The Lace Mill

Kids Festival at The Lace Mill

The Lace Mill is the place to be for MyKingstonKids Fest2017, a free indoor/outdoor event created for local children. Your child will enjoy an eclectic experience of  interactive educational tools; engaging, fun-loving events; and age-appropriate entertainment. MyKingstonKids Fest2017 includes a children’s art show, music, performances, dance classes, arts & crafts, games, and more. MyKingstonKids Fest 2017 is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Lace Mill, 165 Cornell Street, Kingston.

For early-bird, get-up-and-go kids, MyKingstonKids Fest offers a Yoga Fun Class at 10:30 a.m.;  for parents and those young-at-heart, an adult beginners yoga class runs at the same time.

And who doesn’t love a Wonderland Tea Party? Tea Party-ers dress up, enjoy “tea & snacks,” parlor games and entertainment; choose from one of two age groups, ages 4-6 and 7-9. Register in advance as space is limited by visiting MyKingstonKids Fest2017.

Follow the latest updates on the MyKingston Kids Fest2017 Facebook page, too.