Donna Stovall’s expansive résumé includes work for the Urban League in Brooklyn and as associate director at an upstate drop-in center for people affected by or infected with AIDS. She also started and ran her own youth programs in Schenectady, where she lived for 13 years. And most recently, she worked at Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she verified employee credentials.
Ms. Stovall, a Riverhead resident since 2000, was hired last month as community organizer for the Peconic River Community Development Alliance, a new organization that aims to get people in downtown Riverhead and the neighboring hamlet of Riverside working together on projects for the common good.
“I am in love with my job,” she said Monday.
Both communities have already been working on big plans for the future.
Riverhead has several multi-story apartment complexes planned for the downtown area, while Riverside recently developed a comprehensive restoration plan that calls for hundreds of new apartments along with new commercial development, much of which will require upgraded sewage treatment capability.
In her new role, Ms. Stovall, 51, will go door to door seeking community input and partner with different businesses and organizations. She’ll also be “going to every meeting that I can get my foot in,” she said.
The Alliance, as it’s being called, “is a community-based organization whose goal is to facilitate social change and economic development in the adjacent communities of the hamlet of Riverside in the Town of Southampton and the Riverhead community joined together by the Peconic River,” according to its website.
It’s being funded by a $20,000 Long Island Community Foundation grant that will cover Ms. Stovall’s salary for six months. She said she’s already got about five volunteers helping her.
The Alliance was incorporated in January and is led by a board of directors that includes Southampton Town deputy supervisor Frank Zappone, Riverhead Town community development director Chris Kempner, Riverside Rediscovered liaison Siris Barrios, Riverhead Business Improvement District executive director Diane Tucci and realtor Larry Oxman.
The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association applied for the grant early this year because The Alliance had not yet become a nonprofit. The organizations are otherwise not affiliated, according to FRNCA president Ron Fisher.
“Our focus is the community around the Peconic River, which is Riverside and Riverhead,” Ms. Stovall said in an interview Monday. “I’m hoping to bring to the community whatever the needs are, whether it be sustainable job training, entrepreneurial programs, holding events with different organizations or arranging opportunities for people in the community. That’s the main purpose.”
Explaining her new position hasn’t always been easy. At a Sept. 26 Citizens Advisory Committee meeting in Flanders, her first public meeting in her new role, Ms. Stovall was asked by one resident, “How can we support you when we’re looking for a ZIP code that distinguishes us from Riverhead?”
The reference was to an effort by residents in Flanders, Riverside and Northampton to establish their own 11902 ZIP code.
Currently, those hamlets, located in Southampton Town, have the same 11901 ZIP code as Riverhead. They also are in the Riverhead School District, library district and parts of Riverside are in the Riverhead Fire District.
Ms. Stovall said she agrees on the new ZIP code proposal, but said The Alliance has nothing to do with that.
“We share the Peconic River, we don’t want separation,” she said at that meeting. “We can’t build a community and stay separated at the same time.”
Mr. Fisher then explained the origin of The Alliance.
“When a proposed pedestrian bridge [from Riverside to Riverhead] got shot down by Riverhead, people in Southampton were disappointed and felt there was no communication between Riverside and Riverhead,” he said at the CAC meeting.
Likewise, Mr. Fisher said, when there was the potential for a $10 million state grant for Riverside, Southampton Town officials suggested applying for it jointly with Riverhead Town, but Riverhead opposed doing that, and the grant was awarded to Westbury in Nassau County.
Riverhead officials had said the bridge was too expensive, and opted to apply for the $10 million grant on their own.
Ms. Stovall said she hopes to get the community more involved in both areas.
“The focus is definitely diversity, and diversity is basically community,” she said Monday. “I’ve always been active in the community and I’ve never had a problem with approaching people. I want to be able to have meetings in both Riverhead and Riverside and bring the community together to find out what their needs are.”
Photo caption: Donna Stovall, left, is the new community organizer for The Alliance. At right is volunteer assistant Jane Hyatt. (Credit: Tim Gannon)