Poughkeepsie is Alive: Report from April Community Meeting

Our last Middle Main Community Meeting on April 14 was a huge success. It really showed the strength and diversity of Poughkeepsie and our commitment to working together across differences to build a stronger Main Street for everyone. Thanks to Jim Milano and Hudson Valley FoodWorks for letting us use their space at 372 Main Street, where we hold monthly meetings every second Wednesday at 5:30 pm. Call us at 845-454-5176 if you want to get more involved in the work of Middle Main.


To begin the meeting, Elizabeth Celaya from Hudson River Housing showed a draft of the Middle Main local business map that will be printed this summer. The map will show the number and diversity of businesses on a stretch of Main Street that often gets overlooked. The maps will be available in businesses along Main Street, as well as in locations throughout Dutchess County, in partnership with Dutchess County Tourism.


Some other highlights:

Virginia Hancock from the City of Poughkeepsie's Shade Tree Commission announced tree plantings on the Clinton to Cherry block of Middle Main for Arbor Day, on April 30. This will bring some much needed shade and greenery to a block of Main Street more known for its large expanses of concrete and asphalt. More information on Arbor Day is on our Events Calendar and in the Poughkeepsie Journal.



Felipe Santos and Humberto Rodriguez Maya of the Benito Juarez Hispanic Association talked about their organization's work, providing positive and healthy opportunities for children, and establishing the Hispanic community as a vital part of the larger Poughkeepsie community. The children in the Hispanic community are American citizens, and it is important that they both value their heritage and are able to take advantage of the opportunities of this country. They meet every other Friday at 9:30 pm at El Dorado on 380 Main Street. Humberto also mentioned his radio program, Noche Latina, as a way to reach out to the Hispanic community. It airs on WHVW 950 AM, Monday through Friday from 8 to 9 pm and Sunday from 6 to 8 pm.


Gabriela Pragman from Somos la Llave del Futuro (We are the Key to the Future) described her organization's work developing Hispanic leadership in Sullivan County, particularly on health issues in the Hispanic community. They have been working in Sullivan since 2001 and in 2007 brought that successful model to Dutchess County with Somos Salud (We are Health). Educating people about health in their own language, as well as training established community leaders in bilingual education, has been essential to their success. Information is power.


Sukran Aziz from Cabaret Voltaire Arts Center at 358 Main Street described her challenges in renovating a historic buildingand establishing a space for avant-garde arts in Poughkeepsie. She spent her life in large metropolitan cities, but saw an article in the NY Times about revitalization in Poughkeepsie and came here a few years ago. She sees her renovation of the historic building as a gift to the city, and sees herself as its caretaker, not as its owner. She is very concerned about the fragmentation of Poughkeepsie, stressing that it has one identity and rises and falls as one city.


Humberto and others stressed that Poughkeepsie’s identity is made up of very distinct cultures and groups, each with their own unique and valuable identities. This is not something that will or should go away. In response to Sukran's concern that Poughkeepsie is dying, Humberto said strongly, "Poughkeepsie is alive!"


Debbie Suby from State Farm Insurance is working on creating a Hispanic Committee at the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce. Hispanic businesses are not very well known, patronized, or accepted by the Anglo community. Hispanic people are becoming well-established here in the Hudson Valley as in the rest of the country, and they’re not going anywhere, so it is important that we all work together. Debbie has been in the area for twelve years, and has seen Main Street in Poughkeepsie improve a lot since she first arrived. Among other businesses, there is a strong core of Hispanic businesses in the Middle Main area that deserve support and recognition.



John Testaiuti (standing) spoke about new opportunities for dry goods and food vendors at the Station Market at 58 Parker Ave. The Walkway over the Hudson is a big tourist attraction for Poughkeepsie, and local merchants can take advantage of this new market with a variety of leasing and rental options. There will also be a weekend farmer’s market on site.


Stephan Hengst (right, in blue shirt) is a new City of Poughkeepsie resident and runs BigGayHudsonValley.com with his husband Patrick. They are dedicated to helping the gay and lesbian community in the area connect. They’ve been on the walking tour of public art in Poughkeepsie led by Franc Palaia (left, in black vest), and are very interested in organizing another specifically for their community. Stephan is enthusiastic about the future of Poughkeepsie, but said he really wants to see people walking on Main Street, being visible and shopping there. Businesses thrive in the presence of other businesses, and those businesses need foot traffic.


David Auffarth from the Congress Tavern talked about the lack of connection among all the different groups in Poughkeepsie, and the troubles that many long-time Poughkeepsians have lived through. Many people have left the city. Poughkeepsie will only come back when people stay here and make it happen, not through anyone else’s efforts. The blocks of Main Street in Middle Main are the core of the city – if it’s not strong, nothing in the city is. David acknowledged Sukran’s many difficulties dealing with local government and emphasized that her words are being heard. There is strength in groups like Middle Main.


Larry Fauntleroy (right, in black) from the Poughkeepsie chapter of the Guardian Angels talked about the lukewarm reception his group originally got. When they started four years ago, nobody thought they’d still be around now, but they just graduated their junior corps, giving a group of young people a chance to contribute to their community by making it safer, as well as taking them on trips and giving them other positive experiences. The Angels get no funding at all outside from what they raise themselves, and people appreciate that the work they do all comes from them. Most of the Junior Angels are Mexican kids born in America. Larry and his co-leader Benjamin Cruz from El Dorado go on the different English and Spanish radio shows and translate for each other.


Steve Hopkins (left, in baseball cap) from the Poughkeepsie Main Street Farmer’s Market and the Hudson Valley Chronic newspaper was excited to see all of the good connections being made at the meeting, especially people who would not normally come together in the same room. The Farmer’s Market, which opens on Friday June 4th, is another place where people come for fresh vegetables and to eat lunch. They keep up with old acquaintances and meet new people.


Fred Bunnell from Christ Episcopal Church mentioned the Dutchess County Interfaith Council’s upcoming Poverty Forum at Beulah Baptist Church at 6:30 on Wednesday, April 28. He thought the forum could use a broader perspective on poverty, and perhaps Middle Main might be involved somehow. He also announced that the R.E.A.L. Skills program at the Family Partnership Center is having their 2nd Annual Hip Hop Theater production on April 30th.

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