Column by Jeff Katz
Where Are You From?
If you’re from White Plains or Scarsdale and someone asks you, “Where are you from?” you’d likely answer “Westchester County.” If you’re from Hauppauge or Port Jefferson and the same question is posed, you’d probably say “Suffolk County.” But if you live in Otsego County, what do you say?
Due to the prominence of Oneonta (regionally) and Cooperstown (nationally and internationally), we all tend to answer, “Where are you from?” using either Oneonta or Cooperstown as our reference point. Yet we all know every village and town in Otsego County has its own unique and special history. Why not start answering “Otsego County?”
Otsego County often feels disconnected. The distance between Cherry Valley and Unadilla is large, geographically and psychically. Edmeston doesn’t feel any shared sense of place with Worcester. Cooperstown and Oneonta are, as stated, dominant in name recognition.
Yet when we consider the issues most on our minds they are not specific to one municipality. Food insecurity? There are over 20 food pantries in Otsego County. Insufficient housing? There’s not one place in Otsego County unaffected by this. Population decline and youth flight? The entire county struggles with that.
The Community Foundation of Otsego County helps connect county residents. We recently gathered all the food pantries to hear their concerns about their day-to-day operations and challenges. Many of the issues that short-staffed and dedicated volunteers encounter, as they go about their work, were not isolated to their pantries. By convening the pantries the Community Foundation heard, in real time, where connections could be made to help fulfill the pantries’ core mission—feeding people in need. We worked on how to do it easier, better and with an increased sense of unity.
In another example, earlier in the year the Community Foundation awarded $18,000.00 to System of Care to begin an extensive training program identifying mental health issues in our schools. Our schools, meaning every district in the county. The Youth Mental Health First Aid Kit sessions are in full swing and show there’s a place for productive county connectivity in education.
We all know the challenges to become a more unified Otsego County. There are decades, sometimes centuries, of old rifts that still exist for some, including school closings and intermunicipal rivalries. The tensions are real, but shouldn’t prevent us from working together for a better future.
I learned many things from my experience in local politics as mayor of Cooperstown. On numerous occasions, what I saw was that people didn’t necessarily expect the final outcome to be what they wanted. What they did expect, and what they wanted to know deep down, was that they had been heard. The most alienating thing for any of us is to be acted upon and to feel that no one is listening, whether they agree with us or not.
The Community Foundation is optimistic about Otsego County’s future. We are positive better days are coming. Essential to that is increasing our sense of county togetherness and understanding each municipality’s role in this future. Not separately, but where it can help us all. It may be a difficult goal, but it’s worth the effort for the benefit of all who live here. After all, we’re from Otsego County.
Founded in 2019, the Community Foundation of Otsego County works to lead and inspire community-wide efforts that significantly improve the quality of life and the prosperity of the Otsego County, New York area.
I have asked that question “ where are you from ? “ from people who live here in Otsego Co. Invariably I get hesitation before I get an answer. Certainly Otsego Co. Is where we live ( unless we live in Delaware Co. ) our southern neighbor.
I also ask what river system do we live in ?
Most often people don’t know.
It would be great if folks who live here would
respond “ I live in the Upper Susquehanna River System, Otsego Co. NY. “
Our area has so much Pre- History & History to make it an important place.
An effort needs to be made to inform the residences of this fact
What can be done ?
Buzz Hesse, Otego NY