Beauty abounds as Sullivan Renaissance grows

By LISA CUTRONI

Sandra Gerry first encountered a town-beautification project during a visit to the French Alps. She imagined how a similar program could benefit Sullivan County—how it could reawaken community spirit and pride in this homeland of the post-Catskill resort era.

Sullivan Renaissance began to emerge through collaboration between the Beaverkill and Gerry foundations, both of which strive to improve life in Sullivan County. The beautification program offers an open contest, beginning with the distribution of seed grants to each accepted group. After the projects are completed and judged, the winning groups are awarded honorary placements and monetary gifts. There are also a number of awards presented to those groups that qualify.

Sullivan Renaissance has aided 125 projects since its start in 2001. This year has brought the participation of 42 community groups from across the county (20 in Category A, 18 in Category B and four in Category C). Over the past four years Sullivan Renaissance has donated over $125,000 in phase-one seed grants, and the 125 projects have raised over $1.5 million through donations, fundraising and gifts.

When Sullivan Renaissance began in 2001, 30 groups participated. Each received an initial seed grant of $1,000 to complete a beautification project. Technical advice was offered to all groups as they vied for a $20,000 prize. There were no separate divisions in the first year, which meant that groups working on welcome signs, for example, competed against groups renovating entire streetscapes. To make the competition fair, the steering committee—which includes the 29 executive members of the program, including Sandra Gerry, chair, and Glenn Pontier, program coordinator—created categories A, B and C.

Category A included all small-group projects, such as welcome signs and small gardens. Category B included projects that entailed park enhancement, facade renovation, roadside beautification or extensive building landscaping. Category C included all large-group projects, such as the creation of a new park, which entailed three-year community development initiatives as well as year-round planning.

Even now, the program is still evolving “The program changes every year. People push Sullivan Renaissance to make it [the contest] more fair and better,” Pontier said.

Two significant changes were introduced this year. The first represents Sullivan Renaissance’s response to the high volume of participants in categories A and B. To spread the glory, a first, second and third prize will be awarded to not one, but two groups competing in each category.

Second, the Mid-Hudson Pattern for Progress has made a $4,000 award possible through a donation from Verizon. The Silver Feather Award will be issued to a Category B group that shows the promise of becoming a Category C group next year.

The contest’s grand prize in Category C is the Golden Feather Award, a grant of $50,000 made possible by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. Other accolades include the Environmental Impact Award and the Historic Preservation Award.

Sullivan Renaissance only distributes seed grants to projects that involve the collaboration of two or more community groups. There are a few reasons for this, but most important is the sense of community established when a variety of people work in the service of a common goal. Accepted groups are required to document their progress in binders, and at the end of the four-month Sullivan Renaissance season, each binder is submitted, signifying the completion of the project.

The contest’s 22 judges, all of whom live outside Sullivan County, are experienced in professions such as horticulture, forestry and architecture. They evaluate projects based on scope, impact, appropriateness and maintenance of previous projects. One of the most important criteria is youth involvement. Sullivan Renaissance has deemed it essential for a group to involve a community’s youth members in the planning and completion of a project. The more kids are involved, the more the judges like a project.

While the original Sullivan Renaissance beautification program is at the forefront, the steering committee has established six other complementary programs:

• The phase-two completion grant is extended to all Category A, B and C groups that do not win first, second or third prizes but complete their projects on time.

• For the Horticultural Youth Internship Program, Sullivan Renaissance hires one youth intern, 16 to 20 years old, for each Category B project. Interns work 10 hours a week for $10 an hour throughout the summer. Responsibilities include watering flowers and general maintenance of project grounds. A general supervisor is in charge of all employment matters, while a Master Gardener from the Cornell Cooperative Extension is employed to teach interns everything they need to know about horticulture.

• The Merchant Discount Program allows area businesses to provide sales discounts, between five and 50 percent, to Sullivan Renaissance groups when they purchase tools and materials. Twenty area businesses are participating this year.

• Sullivan County Community College offers a scholarship to one full-time student and two part-time students who are Renaissance volunteers. Required in the scholarship application is a video or photo essay that presents the volunteering experience.

• $200 grants have been offered to 13 seasonal communities this year. The money can be used for such projects as fixing signs, painting fences or building garbage containers.

• The School Spruce Up program invites schools or classes to apply for $150 grants to complete small beautification projects on school grounds. The intention of this grant is to foster the ideas of beautification and volunteerism in the minds of young students.

Sullivan Renaissance is not the cure-all for Sullivan County’s problems. The program is to be used as a stepping stool as a community gets back on its feet.

“What underlies beautification is the continuum of community involvement, ...is democracy, not political democracy, but real democracy,” Pontier said.

2005 Sullivan Renaissance projects

Category A

Bloomingburg: Gateway initiative project, triangle beautification at the Community United Methodist Church.

Callicoon: Knotweed eradication, educational outreach at the Callicoon Creek Park.

Harris: Welcome sign and landscaping at Catskill Regional Medical Center.

Hasbrouck: Beautification of old stone house by Concerned Citizens of Hasbrouck.

Liberty: Entrance gate at Sarah Wells Girl Scout Council.

Liberty: South Main Street beautification and signage by Catskill Artists Gallery.

Livingston Manor: Four-season landscaping at synagogue by Livingston Manor Community Center.

Livingston Manor: Welcome sign at western entrance of town by Livingston Manor Renaissance.

Monticello: Gardens on sidewalk, parking lot at the Recovery Center.

Monticello: Pond-stocking, sign and garden at de Hoyos Park by the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs of Sullivan County.

Monticello: Work at exits 106 and 104 by Monticello Sullivan First.

Narrowsburg: Main Street decoration, signage by Narrowsburg Beautification.

Parksville: Gazebo at Honor Roll Park, cleaning Main Street by Parksville Sullivan First.

Rock Hill: Church landscaping by Rock Hill United Methodist Church.

Roscoe: Landscaping around library by Rockland Garden Club/Roscoe Free Library.

Smallwood: Fencing and flowers at Smallwood Civic Association Park.

Tennanah Lake: Welcome banners, flags, planting, litter pluck by Tennanah Lake Beautification.

White Sulphur Springs: Gazebo and garden by Sullivan First/White Sulphur Springs Fire Department.

Woodbourne: Landscaping improvements by Sullivan Performing Arts.

Youngsville: Garden, bridge flower boxes by Youngsville Preservation.

Category B

Callicoon: Building and playground improvement at the Delaware Youth Center.

Cochecton Center: Playground, gardens, museum improvements by Cochecton Center Community Center.

Fallsburg: Straw bale sports equipment storage house at Morningside Park Youth Center.

Forestburgh: Park enhancement and roadside beautification by Forestburgh Sullivan First.

Hortonville: Painting and beautification of Delaware Town Hall by Hortonville Beautification.

Jeffersonville: Landscaping of historic school by Jeffersonville Enhances Main Street and Sullivan West school district volunteers.

Liberty: Garden and pavilion at Walnut Mountain Park by Liberty Boy Scout Troop #96.

Liberty: Beautification of Main and Lake streets by Liberty LEAP/ALIVE.

Long Eddy: Historical interpretive signs, berry trail and plantings by Long Eddy Renaissance.

Mountaindale: Community development project (three parks) by Mountaindale Community Development.

Mountaindale: Garden at firehouse, Main Street triangle garden by Mountaindale Action Committee.

Neversink: Corridor improvement by Neversink Renaissance and the Daniel Pierce Library.

North Branch: Façade improvement, corridor beautification by North Branch Planning Council.

Rock Hill: Rock Hill Drive corridor improvement by Rock Hill Business Association.

Swan Lake: Beautification of waterfall, gardens and benches by Swan Lake Hose Company.

Woodbourne: Enhancement of park, Main Street baskets, signage along river by Woodbourne Action Committee.

Woodridge: Train corridor improvement by Woodridge Renaissance.

Wurtsboro: Main Street beautification by Wurtsboro Renaissance.

Category C

Barryville: Main Street identity for Route 97 corridor by the Barryville Chamber of Commerce.

Bethel: Kauneonga corridor improvement by the Bethel Local Development Corporation and Bethel First.

Hurleyville: Veteran’s Park/Main Street revitalization by Hurleyville Sullivan First.

Lumberland: Circle Park construction by Lumberland Circle Park.

For detailed coverage of projects in Lumberland, Rock Hill, and Monticello, see this week's print edition of The River Reporter.

TRR photo by Laurie Stuart
Bill Terry, Bill McKerrell and Ron Meyer position the large beams for the archway at the Circle Park, Lumberland’s 2005 Sullivan Renaissance project. See story on pages 4 and 5. (Click for larger version)
TRR file photo
Sandra Gerry, founder of Sullivan Renaissance, with her husband, Alan. (Click for larger version)