Wednesday, 06 June 2018 23:12

ORA Founders Receive Oswego Mayors Award

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From left: ORA Founders Steven Phillips and Paul Stewart and Oswego Mayor William Barlow From left: ORA Founders Steven Phillips and Paul Stewart and Oswego Mayor William Barlow Submitted photo

Mayor Barlow presented Steven Phillips and Paul Stewart, Co-Founders of The Oswego Renaissance Association (ORA), the “Mayor's Award” at the ORA’s Annual Awards Reception where more than $250,000.00 in home improvement grants were awarded to more than 20 neighborhood blocks.

The Mayor’s Award highlights extraordinary efforts by citizens of the City of Oswego. In the case of Phillips and Stewart, Mayor Barlow recognized them for multiple contributions to the city of Oswego including the historic restoration of the Conde house at 53 West Seneca Street and founding the Oswego Renaissance Association (ORA). The latter is now in its 5th year of operations and has leveraged more than $2M in private investment in targeted Oswego neighborhoods.

Phillips and Stewart purchased a run-down former Fraternity house on W Seneca back in 2008 with the intention of doing a simple remodel. The simple remodel turned into an historic restoration.

Phillips and Stewart noted the ripple effects of their home restoration on the whole neighborhood. "Almost immediately their new neighbors would stop by with a bottle of wine, home-made cookies or cake or simply kind words. They also noticed that as they were investing their time, money and effort in the “worst house in the neighborhood” that their neighbors began doing the same thing to their own homes.

Phillips and Stewart began leading local initiatives to improve the neighborhood. Neighbors banded together and cleaned up West Park; repainting the wooden playground, repairing broken park benches, weeding and planting flowers, and getting the old "rocky fountain" turned back on at the south end of the park.

During a conversation with neighbors one evening on his front porch Stewart said; “If this can happen in our neighborhood why couldn’t it happen throughout the city?” The Oswego Renaissance Association was born.

Stewart, a professor at SUNY Oswego reached out the local institutions, including the Shineman Foundation, Pathfinder Bank and SUNY Oswego, to support the development of a strategic plan for City of Oswego neighborhoods. The plan included working with an Alexandria- based revitalization company called CZB who one of its founders started something called the “Healthy Neighborhood Approach” which paralleled their experience in their new neighborhood.

The Richard S. Shineman Foundation had recently formed with a mission to be “A Catalyst for Change” and were persuaded by the need for such a strategy.

Stewart & Phillips recruited nearly a dozen "Block Leaders" from around the City if Oswego, founding the Oswego Renaissance Association (ORA). Based at SUNY Oswego, the ORA applied for funding to The Shineman Foundation who agreed to fund a $50,000.00 analysis and strategy for Oswego neighborhoods.

The study, which analyzed all 6,000 plus homes in Oswego was completed and the “road map” was created. It established 4 targeted neighborhoods that had the best possibility of revitalization which was where their efforts should begin.

Now celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the ORA it has engaged more than 400 Oswego Home Owners and leveraged more than $2M in private capital for exterior improvements in these targeted neighborhoods. The unique approach required that neighbors join together in clusters of 5, or more., houses and apply for funding in groups. The grants require matching funds from neighbors, and neighbors typically invest 3-4 times the awards.

Additionally the ORA has triggered new social activities throughout the city including the return of neighborhood Block Parties "and the creation of events like “Oswego PorchFest”.

Mayor Barlow said; “Steve and Paul along with the ORA were the spark that started the “Renaissance” the City of Oswego is experiencing. They started a new way of thinking about the City of Oswego… building on its strengths.” He went on to say that Phillips and Stewart deserve much gratitude from the City of Oswego and that their efforts will benefit the city for decades.

Phillips and Stewart explained that they were thankful and humbled by the Mayor’s Award but went on to explain that they are only part of the success of the ORA. “Most of ORAs success belongs to the more than 400 homeowners who have stepped put to the plate and working in their own homes and neighborhoods: people like; Karen Brower Doten and Catharine Early who have been part of the ORA since day one; people like Tanya Miller, Cindy Pauldine, Lisa Glidden, Lorrie Molinari, John Fitzgibbons and Kelly Mosher who have been leading their neighborhoods since the second year and newer Residents Leaders like Janet Anderson, Kristin Binder, Mary Potter, Heather Livingston and many others… who have more recently joined the ORA team and are improving their neighborhoods dramatically.

The ORA is a complete volunteer organization supported in part by The Richard S Shineman Foundation, SUNY Oswego, Pathfinder Bank and several additional sponsors. For more information visit their website at: www.oswegonyonline.com or follow the ORA on FaceBook.

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