A Letter to the Kingston Community 2022

Peter Buffett
6 min readAug 4, 2022

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Last year I wrote a letter on behalf of the NoVo Foundation because several questions and concerns were raised about NoVo’s presence and intentions in and around the City of Kingston.

This letter is a continuation of our commitment to strengthen dialogue between NoVo and the Kingston community. As are the ongoing Thursday Zoom conversations that began in September of 2021. We’ve also had conversations with various community members in a variety of ways throughout the year. All of these will continue. And we’ll always be looking for more ways to bring more voices into conversations — with us or with each other.

NoVo has no interest in centering itself or claiming to have the answers to every problem we face. We need to hear from people to improve our work. Work that is attempting to respond both thoughtfully and urgently in an incredibly uncertain time. We can’t be a solution to every problem. But we can continue to listen and learn as well as contribute what we’ve learned — and patterns we’re seeing — over many years and across a wide variety of grants and partnerships, locally and throughout the U.S.​; always drawing on and centering the lived experience of those closest to the problem. Together, I believe we can find solutions to some difficult issues. Often it will take time and patience. Things that don’t feel in ready supply in this moment.

We are beginning to feel the shocks that were all too apparently coming. Communicating with likeminded people as well as across seemingly intractable divides needs to happen. Not in an attempt to all get along but to possibly gain a better understanding of the necessity and complexity of being in relationship with each other as we all navigate very unpredictable waters.

We must also build up local infrastructure that can withstand the most difficult times still ahead. We applaud the City of Kingston and Ulster County for their efforts to strengthen key municipal infrastructure, including water and sewer upgrades, and a movement towards energy resilience. NoVo is committed to bringing the resources it can to help the community continue to prepare for the future.

Some of this infrastructure is already in place, like the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, now in its 8th year of operation since transitioning from a conventional farm operation to a non-profit agricultural center and organic farm. The farm’s rotation includes small grains, dry beans, vegetables, cover crops, soy and corn. Last year the Farm Hub donated 300,000 pounds of produce into the emergency feeding system and produced well over a million pounds of grains that were distributed into regional markets. In addition to food production, the Farm Hub is supporting the development of a localized food system through on-farm research and demonstration, farmer training, and a range of mission-aligned programming. The local food system will benefit from another resource currently under development — the Kingston Food Co-op’s design and building process is well on the way now that members have selected an architecture firm to help bring the vision of a community-owned grocery store to life, where local residents have access to high quality and affordable food grown and produced right here in the Kingston area.

Radio Kingston, WKNY, will be celebrating its 5th year as a non-commercial, community station with over 50 locally produced weekly and daily programs. In addition to serving as a platform for the diverse voices of Kingston to come together, Radio Kingston has become a core resource for other organizations and local government to share vital information through their technical support, both on-air and through social media via live video.

Most recently, we celebrated the opening of the Broadway Bubble, an affordable laundromat operated by Kingston Midtown Rising. In addition to offering low-cost laundry services, the Broadway Bubble and adjacent Community Hub space, opening in Fall 2022, will host children’s programming, educational and career services, financial literacy, housing counseling, and other free community programs and services.

Looking ahead, we’re thrilled to see the outlines taking shape at The Institute for Family Health’s new Pine Street Family Health Center, with construction to be completed on the affordable health clinic later this year for an opening in early 2023. Access to quality care, regardless of ability to pay, is the cornerstone of community health and wellness. We are confident that this new state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Midtown will serve as an invaluable resource for thousands of children, adults and seniors.

We will also start to see activity at The Metro, a 70,000 sq. ft. former warehouse set to be converted into a fabrication center, makerspace, and community hub, particularly for youth and young adults to explore meaningful careers through training, mentoring and other hands-on learning and employment opportunities. Youth and community design workshops and events are being planned this fall in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, and construction of the core (heating, cooling, electric, etc.) and shell (windows, doors, etc.) of the building is scheduled to begin in early 2023.

And yet, despite all of these major investments, we recognize that many things in our daily lives will probably not get better in the near term. It seems polarization has become a pastime. A wedge is being driven deep and wide and the anxiety that creates just continues the cycle. People fight for change while real lives are being affected every day a law doesn’t get passed or another one is repealed. Bureaucracy of all kinds is numb to the needs of what in philanthropy is often referred to as “people on the ground” — people that rarely have agency or voice. Children are rarely truly considered at all.

Too often, even “on the ground”, the loudest voices or the most compelling stories receive funding. And too often NoVo has found itself entrapped in a system that doesn’t allow for real change to happen at the pace necessary — now more than ever. We will continually strive to break through old patterns of behavior, both internally and externally.

The housing crisis is an example of a maze of complex, often bureaucratic stumbling blocks that seem impossible to penetrate. There are many forces beyond our control but we will continue to support multiple organizations and ideas that will keep people in their homes or provide housing for those that have been historically (and continually) denied a pathway to home ownership.

This is the time and place we find ourselves in together. Algorithms are trying to tear us apart to sell the parts they can. The human fabric stays together at scale. And while traditionally, success means “scaling up”, becoming larger and “more efficient”, we believe meaningful scale is that of the neighborhood…it’s children being able to walk from school to the Boys and Girls Club…CCE…The Hodge…the YMCA and Farm Project…and so many others. We’re grateful to all of our partners in Kingston for the work done every day to create and restrengthen the fabric of this community.

We hope that we can help support a shared orientation — not a strategy or dogma — to the new normal we must create together and continue to be the “risk capital” (as well as the dependable support) on ideas and activities whenever possible. It is my sincere hope that we can move from the ideology of “necessary struggle” to a shared commitment — first and foremost to the children of Kingston.

LIke any one of us, this community has a heart and soul. It has suffered great losses and expressed great joy. And it also carries the stories of its past just as we do individually. It would seem that, not all that different from 50 years ago, we are heading towards societal breakdown in some form. The pandemic surprised nearly everyone. No one knows how the next few years will unfold. But examining the stories that got us to this point… examining the beliefs that were ingrained and held tight to keep the current structures of power in place across a spectrum of institutions… that can be a pathway to a truly new normal.

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