Energetic Conimicut group looks to renew village activities

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Written by HOWELL, JOHN

It may not have much money after 22 years – about $460 – but the Conimicut Village Association isn’t lacking enthusiasm.

At a second meeting since village newcomer Guy Lefebvre took steps to reactivate the group, more than 20 area residents meet Tuesday night to discuss plans for an election of officers, its Dec. 1 holiday tree lighting and the possibility of bringing back the village Labor Day festival.

“I remember when these were mean streets,” Steve Insana told the group recounting how he and his friends would rumble with gangs from other sections of the city. “It’s a thriving village today. It’s come a long way,” he added.

President of the Buckeye Brook Coalition, Insana said he was impressed by the energy of those gathered in a meeting room of the Woodbury Union Church and urged “don’t wait, move ahead.”

But while interest has been rekindled in the association, a 3-member committee named at the September meeting has still to identify those willing to serve as the organization’s officers and board members.

“There’s a lot of interest, but people just don’t seem to have time,” reported Beverly Cotham, a member of the committee who had assisted in polling the 40 people that turned out for the September meeting.

Diane McLaughlin, who also made calls, urged people to volunteer for the leadership positions.

“I don’t want anyone to be afraid of doing it. It’s about an hour per month,” she said.

Lefebvre has sought to reenergize the association since its president for eight years, Alex Gray, resigned this summer. Lefebvre researched the history of the association, drafted membership applications and sent out notices for last month’s and this month’s meetings. Following the bylaws he has suggested that the association elect officers and board members at an annual meeting Nov. 14. However, he proposed if a slate can’t be selected by then that those willing to serve on the board meet and chose officers that the members could vote on in January.

“The association is in need of a little more structure than it has,” Lefebvre said. He said he hoped there would be a financial report for the November meeting.

“I haven’t received anything in years,” said Robert Kalunian, one of the association’s charter members. He speculated that many residents still think they are members although they haven’t paid dues in years. In fact, according to records provided by Henry Brown, the last dues notices for $5 memberships were sent out in 1997.

Kalunian suggested the fee be raised to $25 and members be issued cards entitling them to 10 percent discounts from area participating businesses. He said such an arrangement would benefit area merchants while boosting the association’s coffers.

Much of the meeting was spent discussing the possible revival of the village Labor Day Festival. Started in the 1980s, the one day event featured vendors that lined West Shore Road and entertainment performed by local groups. The day ended with speeches from labor leaders and a concert. It evolved into more of a crafts show and after the association couldn’t muster the volunteers, it was run for a few years by the Warwick Rotary Club.

Suggestions included holding the festival at Conimicut Point Park, having a clam bake as part of the event and involving the Narragansett Indians, as the tribe played such a role in the area’s history. Lefebvre reported the city’s department of tourism and economic development would be supportive of a festival and might provide financial assistance. Insana offered to share grant funds the Buckeye Brook Coalition has been promised as well.

The group agreed to support the efforts of the Warwick Land Trust to acquire the salt marsh off Conimicut Point Avenue with a letter of endorsement to land trust president Leo Garrity. Also, the group favored McLaughlin’s proposal to have a bench at the George Donovan Park in the village center dedicated to Gray in appreciation for his years of service. McLaughlin is hopeful of organizing a ceremony this fall that would be followed by a reception.

There was no lack of proposals to promote the village, and as it turned out some money to go along with them. People signed up and voluntarily upped their dues. And when McLaughlin inquired who would assist with the purchase of lights for the holiday tree, a representative for West Shore Carpet and Blinds stepped forward with a $100 check.

The donation brought instant applause.