July 18th, 2012
Newburgh SPIRIT Forum held at Kaplan Hall
Many agencies participated in the first day of the SPIRIT Forum, held at Suny Orange’s Kaplan Hall on July 17, 2012. Pictured are Dawn Wilkin, Project Coordinator of Team Newburgh; Leslie Hoffman, Shelter Director of Newburgh Ministry; and Karen Mejia, Director of Community Partnership.
NEWBURGH - The tipping point.
It’s a phrase Newburgh City Manager Richard Herbek has been hearing a lot of lately. It refers to where many see the City, which has experienced the pendulum of highs and lows lately. More pressingly, it’s a status on the brink of imminent movement.
“We cannot go backwards; we need to go forward, and today is a chance to come together, collaborate and see what road we are going to travel,” said Herbek, greeting a room full of participants at Tuesday morning’s SPIRIT Forum. “We are really trying to get the community moving in the right direction together, as so many really great things are on the horizon.”
SPIRIT (Site Problem Identifying and Resolving Issues Together), facilitated by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS), was making its first ever appearance in the City of Newburgh. Held on Tuesday, July 17th and Wednesday, July 18th, the central purpose revolved around collaboration. Bringing together a room full of community leaders from all parts of the community, the event attempted to identify key issues and problems plaguing the City, develop potential solutions for those concerns and work on a plan of action.
Day one’s morning session focused on small group brainstorming. Participants gathered in individual classrooms, identifying major concerns. Danny Fisher, from the U.S. Department of Justice, addressed his group of about ten people.
“Any group has agencies that affect one another; the problems require a holistic approach,” said Fisher. “We are here today to not just say what is wrong, but to come up with solutions.”
Immediately following introductions, participants offered a host of those issues, which were immediately recorded on large pieces of construction paper in the front of the room. That list included; abandoned buildings, sanitation, transportation, police/community relations, job creation, functional literacy, antiquated systems, racism and government accountability. Following the mentioning of each concern, its specifics were discussed. The process was not always easy, as many of the issues ran deep.
“It is very important that we listen to the hurt, pain and hope of what goes on here today,” Deke Spierling of the Greater Newburgh Ministerial Association reminded his group. “Can we hear each other to get beyond the stereotypes?”
As the morning session progressed one concern lead to another and yet another. The connections created further dialogue.
“There is a loss of collaboration and caring for young people, a lack of demonstration of caring; our community has changed so much, I’m in culture shock,” said one woman. Another participant spoke about the inability of the police to talk to and understand the youth. Still another expressed her frustration over the cyclical, inherent nature of poverty, unemployment and hopelessness, along with the complacency of government.
“At what point do we really look at how much these systems are all really helping; there is a lot of take, take, take, but no giving back,” the woman stressed.
By the end of the two hour session, each of the white pieces of construction paper was covered with issues and problems. Scheduled to return in the afternoon for a session focusing on the prioritization of the top five issues, many expressed mixed reactions over the morning’s feats.
“Nothing beats a try but failure,” said Martin Colavito of Gateway Clinic of Catholic Charities. “It has been worthwhile so far, bringing people to the table; it was just a little exclusive, as I would have liked to have seen more people from the community, but today is about over 30 years of frustration being ignored.” Colavito added, “People all need to process this on their own terms, but no matter what, I remain very hopeful.”