Kristen LaMarca interviewed Andrea Bonilla, who recently joined the Chamber Board. Andrea works as the Community Liaison for Source the Station, the CSPM (crowdsourced placemaking) arm of Renaissance Downtowns project right here in Huntington Station. Here is what she had to say…
Q: What made you want to stay local and work on Long Island as opposed to commuting to Manhattan and working for a larger company?
A: I was freelancing and working locally after college and when Sandy happened the company I was working for had to shut down. I already had a vacation planned for most of December of 2012 and when I returned in January, Renaissance Downtowns had been looking for someone bilingual for Source the Station. I was referred to them by a friend and local community member, and since then here I am - a great moment of happenstance. My colleague at the time was a fellow Walt Whitman Class of 2006 grad so we already knew we would work well together and in my high school life I was one of those super community involved kids so it was a good fit. Also - I am NOT a morning person so the 7 minute commute is one of the biggest pros.
Q: What do you enjoy most about where you work?
A: When people ask how long I have been a Community Liaison and I say five and a half years, most are shocked. They say something like, “oh wow don’t millennials change jobs like every year”? But honestly, there are so many things I like about my job. The role itself has evolved so much over the last five years and that’s probably one of my favorite things because I always want to do more and my mind is always spinning with ideas and connections to be made and the future of our community and politics. My truly favorite thing is that I get to interact with so many different community members, organizations, elected leaders and businesses who all have different methods and goals, but ultimately all want to see Huntington Station united and prosperous. In those interactions, I love being able to connect like-minded organizations and people and helping positive change happen and grow.
Q: What current projects is Renaissance Downtowns working on?
A: I kind of have two hats. Most people see me as a representative for Renaissance Downtowns, which to a certain extent I have become. Renaissance has 5 immediate opportunities at the moment (1) Northridge: a self-parked building with 5500SF of commercial space & 16 one bedroom market rate apartments. Officially completed May 2018!; (2) Gateway: a self-parked building with 13,500SF of commercial space & 66 market rate apartments (11 studios & 55 one bedrooms). Due to start Fall 2018 and completed in 14-18 months. (3) Artist Lofts: 49 affordable residences in an artist loft type model like ArtSpace in Patchogue (4) a 140 room hotel with parking, restaurant, and conference space - both of which were dependent on a NYS DOT land transfer that was just passed the State legislation after 3+ years of work; and (5) Office: up to 100,000SF of self-parked office space. For the commuters reading: all spaces will be replaced one for one! The other aspect of revitalization also has involved some intermunicipal work with the Town and County for bringing sewers to [the unsewered commercial portion of] Huntington Station and happy to say that’s also moving along.
On the other side, I have my Community Liaison hat where I truly believe all these Renaissance projects need a successful, unified, thriving community in order to be able to succeed, so I am always looking for ways to support the existing community. I am working with a local artist to bring more murals to Huntington Station because art is such an amazing way to revitalize communities and make everyone more proud of where they live; I am working with SEPA Mujer to foster more leadership and civic engagement with the Latino Community. I recognize that it’s a hard time for Latinos but Huntington Station has a significant Latino population so we need to find better ways to empower them to become leaders within their own communities. I help the Huntington Station Business Improvement District and the Huntington Awareness Day Parade & Fair year round as part of my role. I am also constantly reaching out to organizations like Tri CYA, the Library Station Branch, Community Gardens, Huntington Outreach Ministries, Leadership Huntington, 2nd Precinct, local non-profits, churches, existing and new businesses, and so many other organizations to see what the community needs are and how I can help or support them in their vision and work. Really if anyone calls me and says “I think we should do this for Huntington Station” and I think I can help and it’s a good idea, I’m happy to help make it happen!
Q: If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
A: You would think that after living in the Northeast for 20 years I would have gotten used to winter - and maybe mentally I have but not physically - and it’s such a bummer for me; short days, super cold months and snow storm after snow storm just aren’t my jam so I dream of moving to either the Mediterranean in Spain or France, or Latin America back to my roots. There is a lot of political and economic change going on worldwide so that’s to be determined, but ultimately I want to be somewhere warm. My brain just works better when there’s sun and warmth.
Q: What inspires you and why?
A: So many things - a funny podcast, a good book, a fun vacation, a community emergency, social injustice, a delicious meal, friends and family. I am inspired when I see that my work can positively affect many people. I am inspired when I see others have such commitment to their community and I want to do more. I am inspired knowing my family can be proud of who I am and what I do. Lately I am very inspired by politics and civic engagement. As an immigrant who’s had so many opportunities in life, I think I have to pay it forward somehow and try to foster similar opportunities for others. I am totally inspired by good weather - I love to garden and be outside in the summer; I find it therapeutic and such a great thing to learn about. I recently installed motion sensored solar lights in my garden so I can work in it even at night when I get home late from work. Finally, a good beach day is always inspiring in that you can clear your head from so much while also getting physically tired by the sun and ocean and it kind of resets you for another day. (see the theme here?)