Funders, Wyandanch Village, June 2014. Source: New York Foundation


Communities across New York State face evaporating local industry and generational legacies of segregation – the diverse communities of Long Island, America’s first suburb, are no different. On March 30th and 31st, New York State Funders for Community Engagement saw a slice of the contradictions and collaboration evident on Long Island.

Scroll through our virtual tour below.


Winthrop Hospital



Winthrop Hospital Welcoming Center, March 2016. Source: Marie Smith, Long Island Community Foundation

Funders began their tour over breakfast and presentations at the Winthrop Hospital Welcoming Center. They heard from local community leaders working in Hempstead and the surrounding area. jenn--rojasJennifer Marino Rojas, Vice President of Grants and Operations at the Rauch Foundation, introduced the group to the social, economic, and political landscape of Long Island. A resident of Centerport, and an Adjunct Professor at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, Jennifer has a bird’s eye view of the Island’s economic transformation caused by a disappearing manufacturing sector and the rise of service and agricultural trade jobs.




To see more from Jennifer Rojas’ presentation, read about the Long Island Index. sergio---webSergio Argueta is among the most influential community activists on Long Island. He is the founder and Board Chair of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, Inc. He was awarded the Tuner Fellowship at Stony Brook University, where he earned a master’s degree in social work. In 2014, Sergio decided to leave academia full time in order to pursue his passion – working with youth, families, and communities. fred-circleFrederick K. Brewington was raised in Lakeview, New York, and is a lawyer and community advocate with a distinguished legal career. With his expertise in civil rights litigation, he has successfully challenged the “at large” voting system in the Town of Hempstead and worked on preventing future unconstitutional and discriminatory purging of voters from the voting roll.


Other speakers:


maggie-williams-circle Maggie Williams co-founded the Advocacy Institute in July of 2011 and is the primary developer of its curriculum. She has extensive experience with grassroots community organizing and working to ensure that all communities have their voices heard in the political and legislative process. Before starting the Advocacy Institute, Maggie worked in the New York State Senate, prior to which she worked as an advocate on criminal justice issues at the Correctional Association of New York and The Bronx Defenders.


rahsmia-cirlce Rahsmia Zatar was hired by STRONG Youth Inc. in September, 2015, to help establish and run STRONG university, a gang intervention program. Since her appointment to Executive Director, S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth’s impact has grown to offering holistic services to youth and families throughout Long Island’s vulnerable communities and increasing youth’s civic engagement and influence though leadership and advocacy training.


Shinnecock Nation


Long Island’s East End encompasses much more than the Hamptons, an area often referred to as a playground for the wealthy. The majority of North and South Fork residents are the middle- and working-class people responsible for shaping the unique character of the East End. In the vibrant space of the Shinnecock Cultural Center and Museum, funders heard from tribal leader Bryan Polite about the Shinnecock Nation’s work to right historical injustices and move toward economic prosperity through initiatives such as aquaculture projects. Georgette Grier-Key then spoke about the history of African-Americans in the area within the context of Long Island’s extreme racial and economic segregation. bryan-politeBryan Anthony Polite is the Chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. During his time at the Indian Police Academy he received extensive training in Native American Law, U.S. code, and conflict resolution. For three and a half years he has served as a Trustee of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. By serving on the Council of trustees, Governance Committee, and Economic Development Committee, he has been able to help the General Council address a multitude of issues.


Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum. April 2016. Source: Marie Smith, Long Island Community Foundation

On the bus ride to our next destination, local resident and activist Shirley Coverdale joined us to talk about the 15-year struggle to build a Family Community Life Center in nearby Riverhead. She described the barriers that local government officials have erected over the years to keep the Center, which would provide a safe, healthy living space to over 100 working families, from being constructed and shared the recent milestone of finally getting Town Board approval for the required zoning change that would allow the plan to move forward. shirley-coverdaleShirley Coverdale is the President and CEO of the Family Community Life Center in Riverhead , New York. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, Ms. Coverdale brought her extensive business experience to spearhead the creation of a Community Benefit District and the construction of a mixed-use transit-oriented development on 12.5 acres of land owned by The First Baptist Church of Riverhead. The plans include 100 one- and 25 two-bedroom apartments for working families, a major sports and recreation complex with an indoor walking track, gymnasium, pool and workout rooms for year-round use by all community residents.

Other speakers:

georgette-circle Dr. Georgette Grier-Key is the Executive Director and Curator of Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor and the President of the Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies. She has raised awareness about and fights to protect endangered historic African American sites on Long Island’s East End. She is also an advisor to the Long Island Indigenous People Museum and Research Institute.


Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard


Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard. Source: Marie Smith, Long Island Community Foundation

During a stop on the East End’s North Fork, participants heard about the tough conditions faced by immigrant workers at local vineyards, nurseries, and farms. Sister Margaret Smyth, director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, spoke about the organization’s efforts to engage immigrants in advocating for better working conditions, proper health care, and education and job opportunities. She was joined by a leader who wanted to remain anonymous but described his work in a local nursery and his efforts to engage other workers in the struggle for farmworker rights. The panel also included Nathan Berger, an organizer with Rural and Migrant Ministries, which organizes agricultural workers throughout the state.

Other speakers:

sister-margaret-circle Sister Margaret Smyth moved to the East End of Long Island in 1997 after decades of being a teacher and principal in several New York schools. She is the Director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead, a ministry of the Diocese of Rockville Centre that primarily serves the immigrant community with a focus on heatlh, education, and parent-child programs in additiona to many other services.
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Hamlet of Wyandanch


The revitalization of Wyandanch is a development effort that integrates community engagement and leadership. While significant funds have been invested to upgrade infrastructure such as sewers and streets and create transit-oriented development around new rental housing, residents still struggle. They feel that the school district is not meeting the needs of students and they want more to be done to support local small businesses and homeowners. The group took a walking tour to hear from public officials, private sector participants, nonprofit providers, and community leaders. steve-bellone-circleSteve Bellone earned his Juris Doctor from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the New York State Bar Association in 1999.[1] As Suffolk County Executive, Bellone has focused on restoring structural balance, implementing government reforms, improving water quality, and ensuring a high quality of life for Suffolk County residents.


Wyandanch Village lisa-circleLisa Mcqueen-Starling is the Director of Human Resources for the Mental Health Association of Nassau County. In her spare time, she supports the National Kidney Foundation and is the Community Liaison for Long Island Head Start, the Site Coordinator for the Parent Leadership Initiative-Long Island, and is on the Wyandanch Community Engagement Team. cerina-circleCerina Flippen has lived in Wyandanch for over 31 years. She also graduation from all Wynadanch schools. Cerina became very concerned after learning of Wyandanch students receiving low test scores, the declining graduation rate, after-school programs cut and qualified teachers and staff terminated. After the school failing her son, Cerina began advocating and became an activist to be the voice for Wyandanch students and residents who were ignored, neglected, or pushed aside.

Other speakers:

susmita-circle Dr. Susmita Pati is a nationally recognized physician leader with expertise in population health analytics, innovation, and system transformation. Dr. Pati has served as Division Chief of Primary Care Pediatrics at Stony Brook since 2010. Her team’s work on health disparities has been published in top-tier scientific journals and is disseminating the positive impact of the Keeping Families Healthy program, whereby community health workers function as a direct extension of the pediatrician’s office to help families follow clinical care recommendations.


grace-circle Grace Johnson has lived in Wyandanch for 27 years. She is a mother of seven children, and four of her children have graduated from Wyandanch High School. Grace became an advocate and activist when she learned of Wyandanch students being short-changed by Wyandanch administration’s poor budgeting and misused funds. She started attending board meetings, insisting that the nepotism law be enforced and decided to run as a candidate in the 2010 and 2012 school board elections to call for positive change in the community. She addressed the board’s need for transparency and helped develop an improved school environment and curriculum.
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