Community Summit 1-9-12

All photos by Ellie Markovich.

“Meet the folks who love Troy”

By PAMELA MERTZ, Commentary

Many voices, one community.

The setting was an old church turned funky, grass-roots community center. A huge circle of chairs filled the main room.

In a back room, people of different ages mingled, talked and shared dinner that had been prepared by many hands in many kitchens.

I was struck by the warmth, the din and the smiles. People knew each other by name, and their children, too.

This was a meeting at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in North Troy back on Jan. 9. The words community summit were printed in large block letters on a sign hung from the fence outside the Sanctuary’s front doors.

A facilitator called everybody to find a seat in the circle. Chairs filled quickly, and soon volunteers set up more chairs as people kept streaming in.

I had not seen anything quite like this before. More than 100 people, representing 10 nonprofit organizations, sitting in a circle, facing one another, ready to talk, share and listen.

To say the assemblage was diverse is an understatement. There were men, women, children, church leaders, college students and neighborhood lifers. Black folks sat next to white folks who sat next to Hispanic folks. And included in the mix were Mayor Lou Rosamilia, and three Troy City Council members.

What happened next was nothing short of amazing. People from the nonprofit groups were given about 5 minutes to introduce themselves and discuss their ties or interest in North Troy, what the group does and their vision for 2012.

Everyone heard about groups who are voluntarily working together to make the community, well, a community. Something we all talk about was on display for us to see, hear and feel.

People from the group Troy Bike Rescue talked about how they began. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students ventured north into the Troy community about eight years ago. College kids dreamed that maybe they could fix old bikes and give them to neighborhood kids who didn’t have bikes. The idea grew, and soon kids were riding bikes around the community like kids everywhere do.

As the RPI students graduated, some chose to settle in North Troy. We heard stories from several who have recently bought and renovated homes in this community.

People from Collard City Growers shared how they grew vegetables in vacant lots, despite critics telling them it would never work. They involved children, teaching them how to garden and the benefits of fresh, locally grown food. Volunteers combed the neighborhood and encouraged residents to compost, which enriches the soil that grows the food that is served at many tables.

And we heard from other groups, who told us about street ministry, youth media projects, opportunities for adults who didn’t finish school, a whiffle ball league and neighborhood watch associations.

Then every individual in the circle introduced themselves. Some told where they live in Troy, why they live in Troy and what they love about Troy.

Several men spoke with a candor I will not soon forget, about how they were once entrenched in gang life, and part of the problems in Troy. Now they are part of the solutions. I saw some moist eyes.

Close to 10 p.m., the summit ended. Mayor Rosamilia stood up and told the group that he had no idea so much was happening in North Troy, and that he would do everything he could to stay engaged with the community.

I don’t live in Troy, but I do work, play and volunteer there. Being part of this community summit made me feel proud, and humbled. The people in that circle define community.

Pamela Mertz is a Capital Region writer and the adult literacy facilitator for BOCES in Troy.