Shedding Light on Long Island

Funder Site Visit, 2016

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. In March 2016, New York State Funders for Community Engagement saw a slice of the contradictions and collaboration evident on Long Island.


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The tour began breakfast and presentations at the Winthrop Hospital Welcoming Center. The group heard from community leaders and advocates working in Hempstead and the surrounding area. The discussion focused on the housing crisis, the economic and political landscape of Long Island, and local advocacy efforts to engage residents.

Speakers included:

Resources shared:

  • Long Island Index – a tool that collects and shares data about the state of Long Island

After breakfast, participating funders enjoyed a bus tour of the East End of Long Island, which encompasses much more than the Hamptons. Stops included:

  • Shinnecock Cultural Center and Museum
  • Bryan Polite, tribal leader, shared how the Shinnecock nation has been working to reverse the historical injustices his tribe has faced over the years and how they are working towards economic prospective through projects like the aquaculture projects.
  • Georgette Grief-Key, Executive Director and Curator of Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor, discussed the history of African-Americans in the region within the context of Long Island’s extreme racial and economic segregation.
  • Family Community Life Center, Riverhead
  • Shirley Coverdale presented the 15-year struggle to build the Family Community Life Center which houses over 100 working families. Most of the opposition to building the Center came from local government officials but the Town board approved the required zoning change to allow the project to move forward.
  • Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, North Folk
  • Sister Margaret Smyth, director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, discussed the organization’s efforts to engage immigrations 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.
  • 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 Ballone, Suffolk County Executive
  • Lisa McQueen-Starling, Director of HR for the Mental Health Association of Nassau County
  • Cerina Flippen, Advocate for better Wyandanch schools
  • Grace Johnson, Advocate for better Wyandanch schools
  • Dr. Susmita Pati, Division Chief of Primary Care Pediatrics at Stony Brook, Keeping Healthy Families