by Alyssa Copeland
It has been a common occurrence since I have moved to Long Island four years ago to hear many of my friends and family members (particularly the younger ones) say, “I can’t wait to get off of this island.” Their reasons range from the high cost of living, to the public school systems, the local environment, but the results are usually the same: eventually, they decide to move elsewhere. With a large percentage of Long Island young adults relocating to other parts of the country after graduating from college, there is a serious need to address their concerns. That is what Vision Long Island is attempting to do. A local advocacy group, Vision Long Island’s aim is to preserve local communities and improve the island so that people want to stay here. Their mission statement reads: “Vision joins with others to promote more liveable, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible growth on Long Island through Smart Growth. Smart Growth focuses on infill, re-development and open space preservation… A key objective is to strengthen communities from the start by actively involving local stakeholders in planning.”
For the last decade, they have held the Smart Growth Summit in order to gather civic, student, and community leaders in order to pave a path towards a successful future Long Island. On June 17th, the 10th Annual Smart Growth Summit was held with over 600 attendees representing a wide spectrum of organizations, along with business, education, labor, and government groups from the area. Some of the issues discussed at this conference included making housing affordable, transportation concerns with the Nassau County bus system, and the lack of North to South rail lines. The keynote speaker was New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, who spoke on the importance of preserving the local environment, supporting Smart Growth throughout the island, and pushing for necessary infrastructural projects. It was also at the Summit that the Smart Growth Awards were presented to honor community members and leaders who promote their efforts in growing and preserving Long Island for the future.
Dowling College was well represented at this year’s conference, with James Rhodes, our SGA President, receiving the first ever “Youth Leadership” award given by Vision Long Island. The organization recognized James’ efforts in improving both the Dowling community and his involvement with local initiatives that affect young adults, along with honoring West Islip High School senior Kelly Douglas for her contributions to her school.
The Youth Leadership was created to show appreciation towards those who, even at a young age, are extremely active in their community and show initiative and leadership through the Smart Growth program. When asked how he felt about receiving this honor, James stated that he “was absolutely shocked to receive the award… I was very honored and humbled to see that I was appreciated for voicing my concerns for Long Island’s future.”
Also representing Dowling College was Interim Provost and Vice President for Corporate Programs and Continuing Education, Elana Zolfo, who along with various other members from local organizations participated with the awards ceremony. The new President of Dowling College, Dr. Jeremy D. Brown, was also in attendance, supporting our college along with James in his moment of glory. According to Dr. Brown, “James excels beyond the classroom as President of the Student Government Association and advocates for important initiatives that affect all young adults within the region. It’s gratifying to see students recognized by members of the Long Island business community. We’re proud of him for his commitment to engage and empower his fellow students to reach their potential.”
After attending this conference, James Rhodes is hopeful that the things he and other members of the Dowling College, who attended the Summit, have learned will benefit our own community. Specifically, he cites that the conference gave him a chance to see that, despite differences in agenda and ideals, community leaders can come together and work towards a common goal that benefits all, rather than some.
James’ achievement and the Summit in itself show that Long Islanders’ concerns for the future are being addressed. It is through the mutual effort of everyone involved in Vision Long Island that issues we face will be resolved, and that our area continues to grow into a community that we can be proud to be a part of, rather than the current situation we face with young adults seeking to live elsewhere. For those students interested in Smart Growth and Vision Long Island, the organization can be reached at http://www.visionlongisland.org/.