Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.

Housing Then and Now: Trends in buying and selling across 35 years

Lance Evans

In December, I gave you some of the highlights of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 35th Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. When NAR released its first profile in 1981, mortgage rates were over four times higher than they are today, and first-time buyers made up a much larger share of overall sales.  While many home buyer and seller behaviors and preferences have changed, some have remained constant over the last 35 years.

                “When the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers made its debut in 1981, consumers and Realtors navigated a much different real estate landscape. The internet hadn’t been invented and the average monthly mortgage rate was 15.12 percent,” said Debbie Gilson, president of the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. “One important constant during this time has been the Realtor’s role as the leading advocate for homeownership and a trusted expert in helping buyers and sellers close the deal.”

                With the recent release of the 2016 survey, it’s a great time to look at some of the data and trends in this year’s edition and how they stack up to the last three-and-a-half decades.

                The quickening pace of home sales over the past year included a small rebound from two key segments of buyers who have been missing in action in recent years: first-time buyers and single women.

                After slipping for three straight years, the share of sales to first-time home buyers in the 2016 survey ticked up to 35 percent, which is the highest since 2013 – when it was 38 percent – and a revival from the near 30-year low of 32 percent in 2015. In the 35-year history of NAR’s survey, the long-term average of first-time buyer transactions is 40 percent. 

                Married couples once again made up the largest share of buyers (at 66 percent) and had the highest income of $99,200. However, the survey revealed that single women made up more of the buyer share than in recent years, based on household composition. “After falling to 15 percent of buyers a year ago, which tied the lowest share since 2002, single females represented 17 percent of total purchases, the highest since 2011 at 18 percent,” noted Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie. “Thirty-five years ago, single females represented 11 percent of purchases.”

                Despite the internet’s growing popularity over the past 20 years, buyers and sellers continue to seek a real estate agent to buy or sell a home. “In NAR’s 2016 survey, nearly 90 percent of respondents worked with a real estate agent to buy or sell a home. This has brought for-sale-by-owner transactions down to 8 percent, their lowest share ever for the second year in a row,” said Ms. Staie.

                Since NAR’s inaugural survey, consumer preferences have evolved and housing costs have gotten more expensive. In 1981, the typical buyer purchased a 1,700-square-foot home costing $70,000 ($201,376 in inflation-adjusted dollars). In the 2016 survey, purchased homes were typically 1,650 square feet and cost $182,500.

                In 1989, when NAR started collecting buyer data on down payments, first-time homebuyers financed their purchase with a 10 percent down payment and repeat buyers financed a loan with a 23 percent down payment. As low-down-payment mortgage programs entered the marketplace and credit standards eased, the typical amount of money put down fell to as low as 2 percent for first-time buyers both in 2005 and 2006. “For repeat buyers, the smallest median down payment was 13 percent both in 2012 and 2014, which is likely due to reduced equity in the home that was sold,” observed Ms. Gilson.

                In recent years, down payment amounts have remained mostly unchanged, coming in at 6 percent for first-time buyers the last two surveys and either 13 percent or 14 percent for repeat buyers in the past four surveys. 

                Contact a member of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors (jlbor.com) or the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors (slcmls.com) to connect with a Realtor to learn more about buying or selling a property.

 

National Radon Action Month, Realtors Give Back in Their Communities

  

Lance Evans

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month.   The EPA notes that “Exposure to radon is a preventable health risk and testing radon levels in your home can help prevent unnecessary exposure. If a high radon level is detected in your home, you can take steps to fix the problem to protect yourself and your family.”

   Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that can seep into your home from the ground.   It is the second most common cause of lung cancer behind smoking.  Basements or any area with protrusions into the ground offer entry points for radon.  Radon tests can determine if high levels are present.

   The EPA suggests testing your home for radon during January.   You can purchase a kit and do it yourself or hire a professional.   In New York state, the Department of Health (www.health.ny.gov) has a list of certified radon testers on their site.  In addition, state residents can fill out a form and mail it with $11, to the department and receive a test kit in the mail.   There is other radon related information on the site also.


   During December, both the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors and the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors raised money and awareness for local charities.

    In the early part of the month, both held their annual holiday parties that included fundraisers for their respective community service funds.

    On December 8, the St. Lawrence County Board distributed $2100 to the Neighborhood Centers in Canton, Gouverneur, Massena, Ogdensburg, Potsdam, and Waddington.   The Centers are overseen by the St. Lawrence County Community Development Program.   Each center has a food pantry and assists with food and other emergencies such as utilities, fuel, and shelter.   They work with families in the area of family development, budgeting, education, and job search. Similarly, the funds raised from the Jefferson-Lewis Board’s event went to support the Salvation Army, the Watertown Urban Mission, and other area charities.   In addition, offices served as collection points for toiletries, food, and clothing that were distributed to the Jefferson County Children’s Home, Salvation Army, and Urban Mission.

   On the 13th and 14th of December, Realtor members from both associations assisted at several area events.   The St. Lawrence County membership volunteered their time at the seventh annual “Lights on the River” in Lisbon on December 13th.   While there, they collected donations of canned goods and cash and helped direct the visitors viewing the displays.   Contributions from the visitors go to about a dozen food pantries throughout the county.   In its first six years, the event raised more than $100,000 and contributed approximately 28,000 pounds of food to area pantries.

   December 14th saw Jefferson-Lewis Realtors brave the winds and snows to man some of the Salvation Army kettles in Watertown and LeRay.   Members were helping the Salvation Army reach its goal of $115,000.

   As you can see, Realtors do more than just work with buyers and sellers.   They live in the communities and give back to the communities too.   In addition to these charitable efforts, Realtors work all year volunteering their time and energy with various charities and community organizations.      


   During the respective holiday parties, the 2017 Board of Directors of each Association was installed.   The role of the Board of Directors is to oversee the Association and set overall policy and direction.

   The St. Lawrence County Board will be led by Debbie Gilson. Other officers will include Cheryl Yelle (Vice President), Doug Hawkins (Secretary), and Amanda Kingsbury (Treasurer).   Directors will be Gail Abplanalp, Joel Howie, and Richard J. Wood.  Rounding out the Board are Brittany Matott, State Director and Korleen Spilman, Immediate Past President.      

     Leading the Jefferson-Lewis Board will be Vickie Staie.   The rest of the officers will be Alfred Netto (President-Elect), Britt Abbey (Vice President), Mary Adair (Treasurer), Nancy Rome (Recording Secretary), and Lisa Lowe (Corresponding Secretary).  Directors include Tyler Lago, Elizabeth Miller, Gwyn Monnat, Cindy Moyer, and Randy Raso.

 

FDRHPO picks Erika Flint as its new executive director

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization has picked Erika F. Flint to become its new executive director, the group said on Monday.

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business
The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization has picked Erika F. Flint to become its new executive director, the group said on Monday.

[Read more…]

February 2016 Cover Story: Auto Industry

North Country’s Auto Industry Rolls with Change

Construction continues on the interior of F.X. Caprara Honda off interstate 81 at Bradley Street in Watertown. The dealership is on schedule to open to customers in April, marking the return of a Honda franchise to the north country after the former DealMaker Honda closed its doors in 2010. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Construction continues on the interior of F.X. Caprara Honda off interstate 81 at Bradley Street in Watertown. The dealership is on schedule to open to customers in April, marking the return of a Honda franchise to the north country after the former DealMaker Honda closed its doors in 2010. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

With Honda franchise set to open after years-long hiatus, dealerships across the north country invest in growth

By Joleene Moody, NNY Business

Traveling south on Interstate 81 from the north country to Syracuse, one can’t miss the F.X. Caprara car complex just south of the Pulaski exit. Less than two years old, the campus is the Caprara family’s largest dealership to date. It’s not their first family-owned dealership and it won’t be their last. Charlie Caprara, president of F.X. Caprara Chevrolet Buick and Ford in Pulaski is proud to add a shiny, new Honda franchise to the portfolio of auto dealerships. [Read more…]

ReEnergy chief warns biomass plant could close in 90 days

A load of wood chips is unloaded in 2012 at ReEnergy Lyonsdale’s cogeneration plant on Marmon Road in the town of Lyonsdale. Watertown Daily Times photo.

A load of wood chips is unloaded in 2012 at ReEnergy Lyonsdale’s cogeneration plant on Marmon Road in the town of Lyonsdale. Watertown Daily Times photo.

LYONS FALLS — Without a power purchase agreement, the ReEnergy Lyonsdale wood-chip-burning cogeneration plant could close in 60 to 90 days, according to company CEO Larry D. Richardson. [Read more…]

Study outlines 5-year strategy to boost St. Lawrence County’s economy

Matt Warren, right, a customer support representative for Frazer Computing, Inc. provides phone support Wednesday at Frazer Computing, Inc., 6196 US-11 in Canton. Also pictured is Mike Burnett, left, also a customer support representative. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Matt Warren, right, and Mike Burnett provide customer phone support Wednesday at Frazer Computing Inc., Route 11, Canton. A five-year plan compiled for the New York Power Authority recommends small business growth among ways to boost St. Lawrence County’s economy. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

CANTON — A $4 million economic development study just released by the New York Power Authority lays out a five-year strategy for reversing St. Lawrence County’s stagnant economy. [Read more…]

Local experts discuss north country’s economic outlook at Chamber event

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country.

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country. Photo by Stephen Swofford, Watertown Daily Times.

Trying to get a glimpse of the local economic future is more like staring into an opaque globe than a crystal ball, noted Donald C. Alexander, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development. [Read more…]

STEM scholarship offers NNY students opportunity

CANTON – A full scholarship offered by New York state to attend college for science, technology, engineering and math related fields could be an important launch for north country students.

The state offers a full scholarship to the top 10 percent of graduating high school students to attend SUNY schools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and who pledge to work and live in New York for five years following graduation.

State Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, is encouraging area students to consider the STEM scholarship as a good step into their future.

“The north country is home to many high-tech industries and world-class universities,” Mrs. Russell said in a statement. “This scholarship is an excellent opportunity that I hope driven young people will take advantage of so they can write the next chapter of development in the region.”

Last year, statewide, there were 553 recipients for the scholarship totaling $2.796 million.

For the north country region, including Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton counties, there were 15 recipients totaling $84,208.

Students looking to receive the scholarship must graduate in the top 10 percent of their class; attend a SUNY, CUNY or statutory college including Cornell and Alfred Universities; and must maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher each semester.

For a high poverty area like the north country region, going to college could be tough to picture for many students, but schools in the region are beginning to push these STEM fields early in students’ education which could set them up for opportunities like the state’s scholarship.

“Considering the high poverty level in the area this scholarship could be a great opportunity for students who may not have the ability to go to college,” said Lisa J. Blank, the new STEM director for the Watertown City School District. “You are talking saving kids around $30,000 a year.”

Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, agreed that the scholarship makes college more accessible for students.

“By providing a full SUNY tuition, the scholarship would increase the equity for student access to college,” Mr. Burns said.

Mrs. Blank has worked with several area school districts including Sackets Harbor, Lyme, General Brown and Belleville Henderson to set up programs in science, technology, engineering and math and apply for grants from the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Mrs. Blank recently helped Watertown schools secure a $1.25 million grant from DoDEA to set up STEM programming in the district.

The grant money will be used for teacher training in technology, implementation of video lessons on the computer that can be bought or developed by teachers and several technology-based extracurricular activities, including robotics clubs for elementary pupils and engineering clubs for middle and high school students.

The funding can be applied to 14 clubs.

The money also will buy two new laptop carts each for H.T. Wiley Intermediate School, Case Middle School and Watertown High School, as well as a new virtual learning system.

Mrs. Blank also put schools in touch with STEM programs including Project Lead the Way, which provides STEM curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Mrs. Blank also helped Lyme Central School District connect with the Full Option Science System program which provides hands-on learning science curricula for kindergarten through eighth grade.

“Seventy percent of the instruction is hands-on which increases kids’ interest in science,” Mrs. Blank said. “It is important to get kids interested in STEM at elementary school and middle school levels so they are on the right path for knowing what they want to do when they graduate high school.”

Stephen J. Todd, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis BOCES, said anything that encourages students to go to college to become STEM coordinators would be good for north country schools.

“There is a shortage of teachers in this area particularly in STEM related fields,” Mr. Todd said. “I think this scholarship is a wonderful thing for the state as a whole. It is a good incentive for students to go into STEM instruction which could benefit our schools.”

Mr. Burns said it is important that the scholarship requires commitment from students to stay in the state after graduation.

“Requiring the recipients to sign a service agreement to stay in New York in a STEM-related field not only promotes STEM-related careers but contributes to better economic development growth while helping to limit the out migration of young people to other parts of the state and country,” Mr. Burns said.

Both BOCES facilities offer career and technical classes for students attending member schools.

“We have been working on many career-focused programs at the BOCES, and again there are some possibilities with this scholarship to insure that students are both college and career ready when they leave high school and college,” Mr. Burns said.

Mrs. Blank said the only concern Mrs. Blank said she has heard from students was that there are not enough fields that apply as STEM-related under the scholarship guidelines.

According to the New York State Higher Educational Services Corporation, the agency that provides information on scholarship and financial aid options, some approved programs under the scholarship guidelines include computer science and programming, agricultural engineering, industrial and manufacturing engineering, solar technology and mathematics and statistics.

“In the long-run, this scholarship will benefit all New Yorkers as we encourage and cultivate tomorrow’s industry leaders and secure a bright economic future,” Mrs. Russell said.

According to the state Department of Labor the median wage for workers in STEM occupations in the north country region is $59,641.

The STEM occupation in the north country with the highest median wage is a physician’s assistant, $103,685, which employed 200 people in 2015.

The next highest median wage for the north country was earned by environmental engineers, $85,216, which employed 80 people in 2015.

The lowest median wage was earned by architectural and civil drafters, $31,250, which employed 80 people in 2015.

Scholarship requirements

Be a legal resident of the state and reside here for 12 months.

Be a high school senior/recent high school graduate who will be enrolled full-time at a SUNY or CUNY college, including community colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell University and Alfred University, beginning in the fall term following his or her high school graduation.

Be ranked in the top 10 percent of his/her high school graduating class of a New York state high school.

Be matriculated in an undergraduate program leading to a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Earn a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher each term after the first semester.

Execute a service contract agreeing to reside and work in the state for five years in the field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

By Richard Moody, Times Staff Writer

Despite trailblazing victories by women, many girls reluctant to enter politics

The midterm elections brought landmark victories for female candidates. North country voters elected the first female sheriff in New York and the youngest female congresswoman in U.S. history. Yet even with more women than ever sitting in positions of political power, a recent study by the Girl Scouts shows that only 32 percent of girls and young women see themselves as future political leaders.

“Here in the north country, a lot of good things are happening; it’s not just the old boys club that are running things,” said Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick. She said rather than look at the negative, everyone should look at the positive and encourage future growth.

Girl Scouts of the USA recently released poll findings showing that while the majority of today’s teen and tween girls are interested in politics — 67 percent — and most are engaged in political, civic or leadership activities — 93 percent — only a minority of them, at 37 percent, are interested in pursuing a career in politics. The poll was conducted in September by the Girl Scout Research Institute with a national sample of more than 1,000 girls in the U.S. between the ages of 11 and 17.

According to a news release by the Girl Scouts, 83 percent of girls have already participated in civic activities such as a cause or campaign, or engaged with an organization they believe in. Of those young women, they noted they do not envision a political career for themselves, even at the student government level, because they see politics as a man’s world.

Colleen M. O’Neill, who was elected Jefferson County sheriff, said the world isn’t perfect yet. She said throughout her career she hasn’t faced adversity because of her gender, but she said that wasn’t the case 100 percent of the time.

“I got the impression I had to work harder for equal amount of respect,” Ms. O’Neill said.

She said she hadn’t realized when she began campaigning that if she won she would be the state’s first female sheriff.

“No decision I’ve made in my career has been about gender. I’ve never seen being a woman as a benefit or an obstacle,” Ms. O’Neill said.

She said her reason for running for sheriff was to better serve the public, not to be a novelty candidate. Ms. O’Neill’s opponent in the race, John R. Bocciolatt, complained that coverage of the race was biased toward Ms. O’Neill because she was a “novelty.”

Ms. O’Neill said young women shouldn’t let fear or bias deter them from working hard and striving to achieve positions of authority.

“It concerns and saddens me that any young lady wouldn’t follow through with her dreams,” Ms. O’Neill said. She said everyone should be more concerned with their personal dreams and aspirations than another person’s negative opinions or bias.

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said running for office can be intimidating for a first-timer who doesn’t have seasoned colleagues to turn to for advice.

“When you run for office for the first time, you really don’t know how to get your foot in the door,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “Politics is kind of a scary business unless you have someone in your family or someone close to you that has already gone into it.”

Mrs. Ritchie said when she ran for public office for the first time, she knew the job and had colleagues encouraging her to run for the position. She said having peers that have already gone through the campaigning and election process can be one way to encourage someone that running for public office is an attainable goal.

She said that, in the near future, she hopes to launch a young women’s group where women in politics can talk one-on-one with young women in her district to see if running for office would be a good choice for them.

Elise M. Stefanik, who was elected to the U.S. House, said she learned a lot about the unique challenges women face while campaigning for public office, but said she hadn’t experienced bias because of her gender.

Ms. Stefanik said she never thought she would run for office, but felt her reason for running was similar to many women who campaign.

“I think the best way to encourage young women to get involved is to make sure there are examples, regardless of their political party,” Ms. Stefanik said. “The reason many women want to run is to encourage change on issues they’re passionate about.”

Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, stated in the news release that young women today want to make a difference in the world.

“They are just looking for the best path to do it. We know girls want to be leaders and to make a positive impact on the world, which makes them excellent candidates for future politicians making decisions to benefit society,” Ms. Chavez said. “If girls aren’t seeing a political career as an option, then it’s time to look at the messages we are sending them — and to change those messages.”

Mrs. Fitzpatrick said that women have always played a key role in politics, but not many women are cited in history books as they should be. She said more women now are striving to serve in higher positions and the roles of women in politics are changing.

“I think with so many women in the north country taking on higher positions, our young ladies are going to see that as an example,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick said.

Mrs. Ritchie said she isn’t surprised by the trailblazing victories of female candidates in recent elections, but there is still room for more women in political careers.

“We see a lot of women in civic positions, but not a lot coming into politics,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “We need to hear their voices in the local, state and federal government; young men and young women need to be contributing their voices.”

Kamia Modia, senior researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute, said the study results show real promise when it comes to girls’ political aspirations. It’s a good start, but there is still work to be done to create a welcoming environment for young women to join the political conversation, she said.

“We need to give girls more support and opportunities to experience and get excited about politics,” Ms. Modia said. “As the adults in their lives, we need to establish a culture that lifts up women in politics rather than pushes them down, so that girls — and all of us — can know a world where men and women are seen as equal decision-makers and ambassadors for change.”

 

By Katherine Clark Ross