This year's Community Foundation of Oyster Bay fund raising is coming along well, but there is still a great gap to reach their goal of $200,000 this year. Much of the success of the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay is the assurance that the funds raised will be used to benefit local people. The community-oriented organization watches what is happening locally so that it can step in when needed.
The kickoff for the annual fund drive of the Community Foundation featured a presentation by their newest beneficiary, the Oyster Bay Main Street Association. Mrs. George O'Neill introduced Katie Schwab, MSA executive director to volunteers who are working on the annual appeal that directly funds programs in this area.
Mrs. O'Neill said that over its 37-year history, the foundation has identified problems in the community and pushed to solve them by finding the right methodology. In developing the MSA, said Mrs. O'Neill, people met over a period of about 18 months as they organized their group. It all began when CF board member David Lamb attended the annual town meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with then Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce President Greg Koke. Mr. Lamb came back excited by the concepts offered. The MSA became a reality as the foundation added them to their funding list.
Last year's budget gives an idea of the scope of the foundation's involvement in making a better Oyster Bay: Youth & Family Counseling - $132,372; Parent-Child Home Program - $49,620; Doubleday Babcock Senior Center - $6,000; Senior Transportation - $800; BOB Summer Program - $4,500; Horizon Fund - $5,000; O.B. Main Street Association - $61,000.
The Horizon Fund was the featured presentation at the YFCA annual meeting. Mr. and Mrs. O'Neill attended the event and said it was wonderful. It was a showcase for young people mentored in the arts by local teachers.
The Community Foundation looks at the community as a whole and finds where the gaps exist. "The foundation picked areas that were not being served," said Mrs. O'Neill. She is most proud of the success of the YFCA Parent-Child Program. She said they reach the families in Oyster Bay who have young children, starting at 2 and 3 years old. "When they go to kindergarten they are ready to learn. They are familiar with books as a result of the social interaction of receiving books and toys from the volunteers who work for the program. School personnel have told us that the youngsters are prepared for the learning environment," she said.
Over the years the foundation can take credit for helping to create senior transportation as well as 88 units of low-income senior housing in Oyster Bay. They reached out to teens in the 12 to 17 age group with the BOB Program. Mrs. O'Neill said, "The teens are not interested in planned activities, and not everyone can afford camps - so Mary DiSario worked to create the project. YFCA Director Peter Thompson said last year there were an average of 75 young people at the evening programs for a total of 1,800 for the season," she said.
The evening programs include local bands. "They much prefer their peers," said Mrs. O'Neill. She was looking at the promotion booklet as she listed the income of the foundation. It comes from four sources.
The income for the foundation is a result of the annual giving ($168,895) the garden party ($28,000) and rental income ($6,000), she explained that YFCA pays $500 a month rent for their facility. The fourth source of income is from their endowment fund.
This year they recorded $37,347 as special and memorial gifts. "A family had a reunion and they all decided to give funds in the name of the family as a memorial gift," she said.
Mrs. O'Neill introduced Katie Schwab, a new local resident whose background matches the needs of her MSA position superbly. She is an attorney, has worked in preservation, and with government agencies including the NYC landmarks preservation group.
Katie Schwab has been with MSA for about a year. The organization is located in a landmark building on East Main Street. Ms. Schwab said the MSA was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has been a successful program for cities across the country and it is a good fit for Oyster Bay. The group has four committees: design, promotion, economic restructuring, organization.
She said, "The plans were hatching for three years and this year they decided: let's do it!" Both David Lamb, the first president of the MSA and Katie Schwab were members of the Quality Communities Steering Committee formed by Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto when they, the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Friends of the Bay and the Oyster Bay Historical Society, applied for a NYS Quality Community planning grant.
That steering committee held a community meeting at the Oyster Bay High School to determine what residents wanted to see happen in the hamlet. The MSA brought in Dan Burden who, with his Walkable Communities, Inc. associates spent a weekend talking further with about 380 residents about "Oyster Bay Your Town, Your Future".
Next MSA sponsored a panel discussion on historic preservation, which informed listeners about tax incentives. Main Street Minutes, a column, has appeared in local newspapers to keep people informed of what MSA is doing.
This year, said Ms. Schwab, they will be seeking to increase their membership.
Their annual meeting held at the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center attracted 70 people, she said. MSA board member Abraham Poznanski, of Island Properties spoke and said his company's plan for the hamlet would soon be unveiled. (Since then they have unveiled the new Art Center and their Obies Juice and Java project.)
"We have developed a strong working relationship with Island Properties, to make this a healthy small vibrant town," said Ms. Schwab.
Ms. Schwab credited the MSA holiday window project, taken up by Snouder's, Terri's Color Creation and Rich-Bern Travel, to the effects of the attack on the Twin Towers. "It was hatched after Sept. 11 and the realization of Jerelyn Brunner Hanrahan that many students come here from other countries. The result was the theme of the holidays around the world." Ms. Schwab said it was a small program, but that "little projects make a difference."
They currently have a parking task force that has spoken to Supervisor Venditto, the Oyster Bay Civic Association and the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce as well as residents and are considering two hour parking; diagonal parking; possibly parking meters, although she added, probably not the meters.
They are applying to the county for a downtown grant program. They need a consultant to lay out the parking lots (both public and private) working with them on something that will benefit landowners too, she said. They may also add lighting and signage to that project.
The MSA has a façade improvement program and has contacted several local banks for low interest loans for them as well as looking into façade improvement grants. "We have lots of artists and architects who would work free on the program," she said.
Ms. Schwab explained that some small service businesses are too busy with their day to day work. "If we offer these services they will enhance their businesses," she said.
"We are working with Rotary to create a kiosk that will display a list of events in town. There are all kinds of kiosks that they are considering, including electronic ones, computerized ones and cast iron ones. They need to be put someplace in the hamlet area."
The MSA is putting together walking tours for visitors. Garbage cans are another priority and they are determined to get some out, she said.
The Promotion Committee is looking into a campaign to bring boaters into the hamlet. In Oyster Bay boaters have made the hamlet famous as a town where they can't get around, she said. There is no taxi, or bikes; no way to get to Sagamore Hill and Planting Fields or to get packages of groceries out to sail boats, she explained.
Their Economic Restructuring Committee of business professionals, merchants and property owners is looking at what businesses ought to be located in the hamlet. They have about five or six businesses they have identified and have expressed interest in working with the MSA. Before bringing in new businesses, they have determined to strengthen the existing businesses, said Ms. Schwab.
Their long-term goals include affordable housing. She said there are people living in substandard housing. They will look at the town and consider what sort of housing is possible. The MSA wants a healthy town with mixed use and not a gentrified town. "Economic and ethnic diversity is great," she said.
In answer to a question about keeping the hamlet clean, Katie Schwab said the MSA is working on garbage pickup being made at the rear door of local businesses. They have been working with the OBCA on the project. Ms. Schwab suggested telling the shop owners if they were concerned with the condition of the streetscape. "They are inside their shops and may not notice the trash. If they realize it's important to their customers they might consider it," she said.
Another lady asked how shopkeepers and residents can work to make the town look more historic. Ms. Schwab said MSA members have visited Sag Harbor and Locust Valley to see what has been done well. Sometimes the answers are simple and straight forward, she said. The MSA has asked the Oyster Bay Public Library to set aside a collection of books and resources to use for historic preservation.
Someone asked if there could be fewer nail salons and more shops. Ms. Schwab said many people have ideas and suggested they give those ideas to Island Properties who are trying to attract businesses to town.
She said, "The question is what came first the chicken or the egg. New businesses want to see a lot of pedestrian traffic before they come to a town. If we can make the businesses we have here better first, we can attract more businesses."
She mentioned the new Dillon Gallery operated by Lisa Ott and owner Valerie Best who she said, has a wonderful attitude and a group of world class artists.
That was when one of the volunteers called out "Where's the power?"
"We are trying to build a good relationship with the town," said Ms. Schwab.
"How much power does the community have?" asked another woman.
Katie Schwab said, "It's tricky. The government here is certainly very different from anything I've dealt with."
Mrs. O'Neill explained the government here is for the whole township. She said, "If you bring groups together the town gets on board. You have to go to them. They don't initiate. You can make things happen here quickly. There are 78 organizations in town, including a number of individual groups.
"We need leaders in the community to identify issues. It's been discussed that we have no mayor. In one way, Oyster Bay is fortunate to not to have that layer of government. It's allowed a lot of creativity to bubble up unimpeded," she said.
Mrs. O'Neill ended the meeting by saying, "Katie needs a lot of people to get involved."
To get involved in the MSA, you can call Ms. Schwab at 922-6982.