How can a group of people organize to achieve a common goal?
That’s a question facing the Flanders, Riverside, Northampton Community Association — one that was addressed at the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.
Though it appears that the area will soon be represented on the Town Board for the first time in recent memory – Northampton resident Brad Bender held a 143-vote lead after Election Day, with nearly 900 absentee ballots to be counted – declining membership in its civic group remains a long-term issue, especially with projects of community concern looming on the horizon.
“The numbers continue to decline, but it still is a good-sized membership of paying community members,” said FRNCA president Vince Taldone. “To me, that alone wouldn’t upset me. My main concern is that people are not participating in the discussion about the community they live in.”
Mr. Taldone said Wednesday that over the past three years, membership in FRNCA — which asks a $20 annual fee of its members — has dropped from 130, to 115, to 90.
Tuesday night’s discussion centered on turning those numbers around.
Shirley Coverdale, who sits on the board of Long Island Organizing Network and was recently named a co-chair of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee’s newly formed Black and Hispanic Democratic Committee, also shared her experience in community organizing.
Ms. Coverdale has most recently been at Riverhead Town Hall to support a special zone that would permit construction of the Family Community Life Center – a multi-purpose facility proposed for land owned by First Baptist Church, where her husband, the Rev. Charles Coverdale, has been pastor for over 30 years. She told FRNCA members that over the past 20-plus years, as she and others have attempted to bring that project to fruition, it’s drawn over $1 million in donations.
“A funny thing happens when you organize people,” she said. “Money follows.”
Ms. Coverdale also shared an anecdote about 15 homeowners affected by torrential flooding that ruined homes in the Horton Avenue area in the spring of 2010.
Through a series of one-on-one face-to-face meetings, she said, personal connections formed to strengthen a core group of people, widen their reach and eventually attract $3.5 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to compensate people whose homes were destroyed — quite a feat for such a small group, she noted.
In recent years, FRNCA leaders have helped draw resources to the area south of the Peconic River, including a Brownfields Opportunities Area grant of nearly $240,000 intended to spur revitalization in the Riverside area, which has 15 dormant, contaminated properties. Meanwhile sewer and traffic studies have also been in the works there, though Mr. Taldone said Tuesday that study after study could be part of the reason it’s hard to draw people to FRNCA meetings.
“Too many promises, too many studies for years and years,” Mr. Taldone said. “They lose faith. When I go to them, and say ‘This is amazing, and it’s happening now,’ they don’t even believe me.”
Northampton resident Chris Sheldon said that a decade ago, when Southampton Town was conducting a Riverside Revitalization Study, “we could have filled Phillips Avenue school.”
Moving forward, Mr. Sheldon suggested “finding new blood” and engaging those members of the community face-to-face.
Mr. Bender pointed to his Southampton Town Board campaign, noting that knocking on 2,000 doors and hearing people out in-person made the difference in what looks like an election victory
Speaking to an audience of no more than a dozen people, FRNCA leaders said Tuesday they’ll spend some of the organization’s limited funds on colored palm cards to have on hand when they speak to their neighbors in the future. And as the brownfields grant and other projects continue, they hope to see more locals come out and participate in the future of their community — at public meetings about the actual projects and at monthly FRNCA meetings.
“When the bulldozer is taking down buildings, maybe then people will believe what’s happening,” Mr. Taldone said. “But, by then, everything will be decided.”