By Jon Cronin
Life time Richmond Hill resident Bridget Bartolini is looking for the community’s help in composing a love letter to the neighborhood.
About two and half years ago Bartolini founded the Five Boro Story Project, which seeks to unite neighbors by the sharing of personal and community narratives.
Bartolini, said her project was heavily, “influenced by my experience of living in Richmond Hill, your parents grew up in Richmond Hill.” Her mother and grandmother both grew up in the house they live in now. “I feel very connected to the neighborhood. I feel a lot of love for it.”
This Saturday’s event in front of the Lefferts Library on the corner of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue will be the first in her own neighborhood.
In her teen years she commuted everyday to Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, which first exposed her to other boroughs. “It was a whole different experience for me,” she said.
Making new friends in each borough she began to believe, “it’s important to know the history of each neighborhood,” adding and, “to understand the propensity for change,” then coming to the realization that, “We have power in shaping how we want things to be.”
“My main goal is to bring neighbors together and connecting to share our personal stories.”
In the past two and half years she has held over 20 events that showcase featured storytellers, musicians and dancers. “I collaborate with a lot of people and lots of community members,” she noted.
“There’s always some performances at live story telling events,” said Bartolini. The performances by musicians, poets and featured story tellers talk about the neighborhood, loosen up the audience, trigger their nostalgia and get them ready for the participatory activities. “After listening, they want to share. It gets really responses,” she said.
“Each event is a celebration of the neighborhood,” she said. She reveals that often, “People request events.” The turnout often depends on the venue and borough, said Bartolini, noting that Staten Island is often smaller and Manhattan and Brooklyn seem to have larger turnouts.
Her largest turnout was at the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn, boasting over 150 participators at last October’s event. Bartonlini points out that the events are unique to the neighborhood; some are in parks, museums, cultural centers, theaters, bars, or book shops.
“The Staten Island Museum has some great people,” she exclaimed, adding, “They are people who believe in the power of storytelling. They know how to really connect though storytelling.
One of her favorite Queens’ venues is Terraza 7 in Jackson Heights. “It’s a bar, music and cultural venue. It’s a very special place in the community,” she said, adding, “They’re very supportive of the arts and artists. It just has a special vibe.” Which she believes is important because, “In Queens; eastern and southern Queens are very neglected,” in the arts.
Bartolini got her Master’s degree in Community Education at the Teachers College of Columbia University where she now works in administration.
The Five Boro Story Project, “is my passion project,” she stated. The Richmond Hill Love Letter event taking place this weekend is laying groundwork, generating ideas for what she plans to be a much larger event sometime in 2016.
One of her favorite stories from the past two and half years is of a woman, Mercedes Cano, a lawyer, told her story about how she came to New York as an undocumented immigrant, at times being homeless and riding trains to nowhere then enrolling in law school and “becoming a bad ass lawyer,” as Bartolini describes.
There was also a woman named Fly, who was part of the squatter movement on the Lower East Side in 1990s. She shared her struggles about her and others moving into abandoned buildings, putting up with no electricity, heat or plumbing, fixing the places up and then fighting the landlords for ownership in the 1990s. Bartolini pointed out that most squatters lost that fight, but she won’t forget that story and is grateful for Fly sharing it.
This weekend Bartolini hopes to find featured storytellers for her larger event next year; maybe some that share her childhood memories of running barefoot in Richmond Hills’ suburban streets as a child or dancing at backyard barbecues to Calypso, Reggae and Soca music.
“I’m gonna be out on the street,” she declares decorating the street around the table with chalk doing her best to illustrate a Richmond Hill story or two and in the end, “ use things people share to compose a love letter to Richmond Hill.
She hopes neighbors come out to share what they love and what they would love to improve .
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin