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Author Archives: Stephen Aguayo

For What It’s Worth

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • November 7, 2012

If you are reading this article, then I am no longer working at Northside UP. There is no need to worry though, I was not fired, but my AmeriCorps VISTA year is up, signaling the time for change.

For the past year and a half, the Northside UP office has been a place that has perpetuated my desire to learn about community organizing and its efforts toward social progress. The first thing I learned about, to my surprise, was how little I knew about my own community. Even as a life-long Syracuse native, albeit a relatively short life so far, there was so much for me to learn about this neighborhood. Prior to working here, the extent of my Northside knowledge was limited to how combining Thano’s meats with Columbus Bakery bread can get you one of the most delicious mixed Italian sandwiches in town. Yet, as the essence of this neighborhood began to unfold before my eyes, it cultivated my affection for urban living. I am not blind to the existing difficulties within urban communities, but it is impossible for me to be in this neighborhood without imagining its vibrant past and the potential for a similar future. In time, I began to view the whole city through this lens. Today when I walk into an older building, I always look at the ceiling, hoping to see tin. And when I find what I am looking for, it captures my imagination as I think about what we can miss when we just don’t look up.

While I began to discover more and more about my home city, I engaged in a crash course introduction to working at a not-for-profit agency. Northside UP, with its comprehensive revitalization strategy, did not make this task easy. It dips into the realms of workforce, community, and economic development, each having some relation to environmental sensitivity. It quickly becomes apparent that learning is a vital part of our work, as each member of the staff contributes their passions and knowledge to help reignite a once fading sense of community. I have come to realize that each of our unique partners and many of the active neighborhood residents representing the neighborhood of many nations, share this longing hope for a brighter future. And this shared goal is what truly unites this diverse ensemble. However, dynamic diversity does bring with it vast differences in race, religion, perspectives, whatever may have you, but this is the world we live in and it’s quite remarkable.

When I reflect back to spring of 2011, as I walked into Northside UP’s office during their staff meeting for my first interview, I remember the feeling of a coming change. And as this feeling starts to sink in once again, I realize it hasn’t really ceased, as I have been working around people who embraced change as an opportunity to create a more just and compassionate community. But no matter how the neighborhood changes, I will always remember how the Northside helped a very confused, yet eager, college grad live out his passions to help others, and (to my pleasure) I got to do it with a creative and passionate team. For this I am truly grateful…


Our staff, minus Dominic and Stasya, on Stephen’s last day.

Developing Justice

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • September 18, 2012

At the present moment, it seems as if our city is the site of an extreme make-over. From new hotels to the adaptive re-use of old hotels to the facility upgrades of our universities, hospitals, shopping centers, and business corridors, anywhere you go there is a good chance of encountering construction projects. Cities all across the country, especially along the rust belt, are reinvesting in their urban cores in an attempt to create a post-industrial identity. And Syracuse is no different, as this once industrial city is becoming a champion for environmental principles and the spirit of collaboration. A renewed focus on urban revitalization can help businesses flourish by attracting new middle-class residents and consumers with expendable income, but an influx of new money may alter a neighborhood’s identity. So, what affect does the rising cost of living have on long-term residents in these neighborhoods?

In Atlanta, Georgia, the FCS Ministry (Focused Community Strategies) has been working in the city’s core for thirty years. When founder Bob Lupton decided to move his family into the city, he quickly became aware of how urban revitalization has the potential to push out current residents. To that end, FCS Ministry was created. This organization focuses on identifying strategic neighborhood residents who can work collectively to foster neighborhood pride and leadership among both long-standing neighbors and newcomers, alike. In addition, FCS is the central link to a web of activity including, but not limited to: an economic development group that operates a market placebike shopcafe and refugee crafting group; a nationally recognized youth development programaffordable community housing developersentrepreneurial assistancea program to care for older residents; and service opportunities contributing to the overall revitalization efforts. FCS Ministries strives to create a mixed-income community “with both social and spiritual vitality as well as economic viability.” As our city moves forward, we must keep in mind FCS Ministry’s mission and build our community upon a sense of social justice and a respect for our neighbors.


Photo Credit: http://fcsministries.org/


Youths BUILDing Businesses

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • September 13, 2012

Our city has a wealth of education advocates and organizations that offer programs for youth. We’re one of the first places in the country to implement a city-wide “Say Yes” program, which helps to eliminate the financial barriers that make college an unattainable dream. But even with easier access to education beyond high school, what makes students want to continue their education?  With all of the efforts within our city, it must be noted that every year 1.3 million young people drop out of high school. This is particularly relevant here, as the average four year graduation rate for all New York public schools is 74%, while the Syracuse’s City School District’s has a 52% graduation rate. This educational void hurts communities, making it difficult for individuals to find meaningful employment and creates the need for adult education and workforce training programs.

An organization founded in California is using a familiar driving force to motivate low-income youth to continue their education with the allure of entrepreneurship. BUILD now has satellites in D.C., the Bay Area, and Boston, taking at-risk and vulnerable students into their entrepreneurial training program. This program enrolls students into a credited course that prepares them for the rigors of entrepreneurship. Students, who were once contemplating dropping out of school or had little interest in academics, can now appreciate how learning is a vital component to personal growth. BUILD’s curriculum is designed to guide students through a multi-year program, which culminates during the student’s senior year.  Most BUILD graduates go on to college to realize their ambitions. Just as the appeal of entrepreneurship can inspire students, these aspiring entrepreneurs will the skills and potential to give back and affect their own communities.


Healthy Developments

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • September 4, 2012

When I first began working at Northside UP, I felt overwhelmed trying to understand the nature of our complex collaborative partnership. It is a true feat when a diverse group of entities are able to work together to address various challenges within our city, be they economic, social, health, or environmental. Across the country many national funders, community development experts, and health field professionals are recognizing how the physical and social environment can greatly affect the health of a community.  In this recent article, a Robert Wood Johnson senior fellow explains, “the solutions to health disparities really lie with the domain of community development.” As we identify communities as complex systems, it becomes reasonable to assume a wide variety of individuals and organizations need to engage in collaborative activities to improve the quality of life within them. Here on the Northside we are fortunate to have St. Joe’s, an institution eagerly engaging in and contributing to the revitalization efforts taking place on the Northside. And we’re proud to partner with them and many other local organizations in our work.


Ingenuity Trumps Apathy

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • July 16, 2012

The modern world can be depressing, especially as we hear news about mounting economic hardships. But dwelling on the troubles of the world can leave us exhausted and confused, instead we should think of innovative solutions to overcome existing challenges. One of those solutions has been the increased emphasis and support of small businesses, business incubator programs, cooperatives and developing robust local economies. Here in Syracuse many organizations encourage and assist small business growth, but there is always room for more collaborative and innovative ideas to help improve the overall quality of life.

Anyone who has stayed up to date on the World news has heard about the turmoil in Greece, which in many ways makes our political, social, and economic issues seem easier. Before the financial crisis really began to take effect, working for the government was one of the cushiest jobs for Greeks. But today, Greeks young and old have to be more creative to ensure some sense of financial security. Near the city center of Athens, a withering old building has become the home for creative entrepreneurs who are harnessing technology in order to generate financial opportunities in the form of start-up tech companies.  As one of the young tech developers said, “When you don’t have a job, that means you have plenty of time…You should do something with that time.” The way Greeks are re-imagining business and work shows a promise for a better future, overcoming freight and apathy by equipping themselves with creativity and passion.

Artistic Inspiration

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • July 3, 2012

You may have noticed that the arts have become a vehicle for creative happenings and growth here in Syracuse. Luckily, our city has a rich artistic community that’s been busy creating art parks, neighborhood inspired sculptures, art-bike racks, street paintings that celebrate our history, and even friendly creek protectors. These are just some of the creations from the vibrant art community which is already full of unique galleries, museums, and markets.

Let’s take all of that a step further. Try to imagine artistic social entrepreneurs who harness their creative spirit to reinvent the city’s physical, economic, and cultural landscape. That is what’s happening in Providence, Rhode Island.  AS220, the non-profit community arts center, has become a driving force in giving artists the opportunity and means to shape their city. AS220 provides open gallery spaces, performing arts space, youth programming, a print shop, a dark room, a lab to explore the connection of technology and art, creative live/work spaces, and they host numerous workshops and events. As if that was not enough, their Empire Street complex operates FOO(d) Restaurant and the AS220 Bar, which serve locally sourced food and drink. Not only have these venues become local “hot spots”, the restaurant also serves as a culinary training program and paid work experience for youth involved in their arts programming. There is no art for art’s sake here, as this creative organization has become a catalyst for physical and culture growth.


Photos of AS220: shopdowncity.com and news.beloblog.com 

Cooking Up Edible Interactions

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • June 21, 2012

You’ve probably heard one of us rave about the diversity and potential that exists on the Northside. Or maybe you’ve seen it yourself. With a Multi-Cultural celebration, Syracuse’s World Refugee Day, taking place this Saturday it makes me consider what we – a mass of individuals with different stories, beliefs, and hopes – all have in common. World Refugee Day is a chance for our newest neighbors to introduce themselves to our City and build upon Syracuse’s already unique social and cultural fabric. When we recognize diversity we become exposed to the beautiful variety of life. However, understanding and taking part in this conversation can be difficult without a shared language. Music, art, and dance are capable of transcending these barriers, but the sharing of food can do this in a way that engages each of our five senses.

Culture Kitchen, a unique social enterprise in California, has brought together women from around the world to preserve and publicize their cooking traditions. In these classes, ethnic chefs – daughters, mothers, and grandmothers of all backgrounds – not only impart their knowledge of working in the kitchen, but also share the stories behind the meals they are preparing. The Culture Kitchen chefs transform kitchens into classrooms of the world where students not only cook and taste a wide array of culinary delights, they learn about the cultures and people that stand behind them. While there are no such cooking classes in Syracuse (yet!), our city has an impressive array of ethnic groceries and restaurants. And don’t forget that upcoming celebration where we can treat all of our sense to food prepared by Syracuse’s newest residents.


Photo Credit: Culture Kitchen Facebook page.

“Cuse Mob”: Shopping With Purpose

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • May 4, 2012

Today’s shopper can conveniently purchase everything they need at one place, but it’s no surprise that buying from the “big box” store provides a luxury that negatively impacts the local economy.

The movement to support local businesses is giving our money a voice and a means to truly support our community. But how do we celebrate this idea? All over the nation, cash mobs are emerging as a creative way to get behind this movement. Here in our city, Syracuse First, an organization leading the charge for a vibrant local economy, is coordinating the very first “Cuse Mob”. Northside UP gets excited about any event that helps the local business community, but we are especially thrilled to announce that the first Syracuse cash mob will converge upon a Northside business! Craft Chemistry, a consignment art boutique & gallery that sells handmade goods from local designers, crafters and artists, has been declared the first “Cuse Mob” destination.

So, how do you join in?

This Saturday, at 12 p.m., meet the mob at 745 N. Salina St. Bring at least $10 cash, wear something orange (it’s a CUSE mob, after all!), and be ready to experience and shop at this one of a kind Syracuse treasure– Craft Chemistry! For more information check out the Syracuse First Blog and the Cuse Mob Facebook event page.


Mobile Food

Written by Stephen Aguayo  • April 5, 2012

Well-planned cities can act as hubs of activity for entire regions. Syracuse is no different with its many concert venues, theaters, restaurants, museums, and the like.  Regardless of this wealth of culture and vibrancy, urban living can disconnect us from the natural world. Because of active citizens, Syracuse is lucky to be home to a plethora of community gardens, green spaces and public parks. We’ve even got an urban food forest in the making. And we’re not alone, as urbanites across the country are sprouting new ideas for urban agriculture and education.

One example of this would be Ian Cheney, co-creator of the documentary King Corn, who has co-opted a truck for the basis of an all new urban food movement. After moving to Brooklyn and finding little space to grow fresh produce, Ian refurbished his truck into a 21st century urban farm that doubles as an educational tool for both kids and adults. Truck Farm spawned a movie and a movement, with a nationwide fleet of 25 trucks and counting.


“Living” Spaces

Written by Stephen Aguayo2 Comments • February 24, 2012

Syracuse is brimming with possibilities, especially if you consider the many abandoned and neglected spaces in our city as sites of great potential. Hard work and creativity, applied throughout the city, have already transformed some vacant spaces into art galleries, creative work-spaces, and new businesses.

In Milwaukee, Sweet Water Organic has infused an abandoned warehouse space with new life. The founders of Sweet Water Organic utilized a “three-tiered, bio-intensive, simulated wetland” environment to grow various vegetables and raise fish. A vestige of a once thriving industry has become a bountiful testament to the untapped potential of human ingenuity by building a socially and environmentally conscious future. This project re-imagines vacant space, creates fresh economic opportunity and supports the local food system… who else is thinking we need hydroponics on the Northside?