Rev Joseph Salerno v2

For more than 40 years I have been a part of this community. I have been your pastor, your chaplain, your spiritual support, your neighbor, and your friend. For the past five years I have also served on the Board of Trustees at the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, the last eight months as the board chair. I have watched this community change and grow over time, and I am honored to stand with a deeply rooted organization that is effectively changing and growing with it.

As I reflect on the work we’ve been involved in, I often think about a drive downtown to visit the fire department about a year and a half ago. It is a drive I have made thousands of times before, but this trip was different. There at Oneida Square, right on the edge of Cornhill, I noticed something I had not seen before: A group of people huddling together to stay warm with everything they owned right there at their feet. They, like a lot of people in this community, needed help.

I learned that parishioners in my community, as well as many others, had been helping to feed and house these individuals. It was a start. But this group, and the surrounding community, needed more.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it was clear to me in that moment that we as a community and a Community Foundation needed to “move beyond charity to justice” and create systemic change. I believe that the work we are doing is impactful and creating that change. It is tackling challenges that have plagued our community for many years while laying the groundwork for a vibrant future.

The Cornhill neighborhood, for example, has a strong history and is an integral part of our community, but for decades it has lacked access to necessary programs, services, and resources to address the root causes of poverty, homelessness, health disparities, gun and gang violence, and food insecurity — just to name a few. Our neighbors in Cornhill have distinct needs and with those come unique opportunities. Pope Francis says, “Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect for the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion, and proposal.”

The Community Foundation has spent the past 10 years — and even to this day — learning, listening, and having ongoing dialogue with neighborhood residents, stakeholders, and partners to collectively turn challenges into progress. We have been asking our residents directly what they want their neighborhood to be in the future, and we are listening. I believe Pope Francis and Dr. King would be proud of our commitment to understand, and directly meet the many needs of our neighbors in Cornhill, as well as the many opportunities for vibrancy and revitalization.

The West Street and James Street Impact Centers will serve as anchors to this community’s transformation. They are the catalyst for that systemic change. They are the neighborhood hubs that will fill long-awaited gaps in educational and entrepreneurial programming, recreational opportunities, affordable housing, and create a better, safer, healthier quality of life. Most importantly, these centers are the shared vision of the community members we are speaking with daily, and we are eager to make them a reality.

The Impact Centers will be enhanced by other neighborhood planning work that is just getting under way, including park improvements, lighting and pedestrian safety upgrades, development of empty lots, the creation of an urban fitness trail, among others. The centers will also complement other neighborhood focal points that have seen recent growth, such as the Empowerment Center on James Street, the Johnson Park Green Community Center, Mid-Utica Community Center, and our collective Green and Healthy Homes initiative.

I am pleased to say that the Community Foundation has supported all of these project partners and initiative work in meaningful ways, not simply as a funder, but a true community collaborator.

Looking back, we have much progress to be proud of, and looking ahead, we have many more exciting opportunities to look forward to. We are committed to being a collaborative partner to create a vibrant region with opportunity for all.

Join us.

— Rev. Joseph A. Salerno (retired), served as the longtime pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica and Our Lady of the Rosary in New Hartford. He has a master’s degree in Divinity from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Maryknoll College in Glen Ellyn, IL. His community involvement has included work on multiple community boards, including Catholic Charities of Oneida and Madison Counties, Hope House, Notre Dame Schools, St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, and he served as chaplain for the Utica Police and Fire departments. He is currently the board chair of the Community Foundation.

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