“On Roosevelt Island We see the future,” wrote an Island child as part of the On RI WE campaign, an initiative chaired by Leila Vujosevic on behalf of the Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association (RIRA) Social, Cultural & Education Committee.
As the initiative is structured now, Island children’s groups are given blank paper, with their logo at the bottom so Vujosevic can track what ideas came from which group. They are tasked with completing the sentence, “On RI WE,” and drawing a picture to illustrate their idea.
The ultimate goal is to engage adults as well. Through this engagement, Vujosevic strives to increase the awareness of belonging to the Island to establish community togetherness. From the platform of togetherness, she hopes to initiate Island-wide conversations about how Islanders want to care for their environment and neighbors, including children, elderly, disabled and those in need. Asserts Vujosevic, this project is much larger than designing posters; it will establish what it means to belong here and what it means to be together on this Island; our community will be stronger.
Why Start with Children?
Vujosevic says, “we are entrusting children at this stage” because she believes children are a “great entry point.” She says, “We listen to them more carefully. If this group [comprised of adults] or that group [comprised of adults] made a suggestion, many of us would have our spikes out.” “Right now [the adults] are all doing our little gigs without being together. I hope this will bring us together,” and also, “Children have great ideas, they are unrestricted in their views and understanding, they churn out ideas, have no ego, and keep coming up with new ones.”
Also, she says, “If we stopped at this point [with children], we’d be missing a great opportunity!” She believes these On RI We flyers are seeds initiating self-guided innovation, and that out of this, other projects will grow that can be scaled up to engage the entire community. Vujosevic is proud when she explains that, when the kids are working on their flyers, there are “no incidents and no fights; when they’re engaged, they behave.” It’s possible that could also be true for adults.
“We reach out to groups, we want to meet with leaders of groups and excite them, so they can work with their groups and teachers to produce these flyers,” Vujosevic said.
Erin Olavesen, PTA president, said, “At PS/IS217, several students submitted their ideas through the PTA, including an entire class of four-year-olds. These students love their home. They’ve got their eyes open and write about our buildings, and playgrounds, and trees. I’m looking forward to seeing more posters around the Island, promoting good citizenship, but also getting us to look at our home through a different lens. We often get hung up on all that we need to fix around here, and I’m certainly thankful so many folks keep focused on pushing for these things, but we have so much to celebrate about this place.”
Eva Bosbach, Roosevelt Island Parents Network (RIPN) coordinator explained that her group sought a common theme for their drawings. “First, we organized a special Playroom Share to brainstorm the On RI We initiative with RIPN parents and to plan a special craft workshop together, including the idea to have a common theme for our group for the drawings, which roughly became ‘Togetherness.’ ”
The Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance (MSTDA) took their interpretation off the page. Questions regarding how children can respond to the prompt in a way that is unique to their group emerged. Vujosevic said that in discussing the concept with MSTDA Director Kristi Towey, they decided to create a play. She said, “[Towey] is going to create a play with her children about Roosevelt Island. It wouldn’t make sense for them to draw. Each kid can [write and perform] a skit with a little story.” Therefore, the delivery is different but the goal is the same.
Roosevelt Island Day
One contribution, “On RI We take first steps,” decorated with a six-month baby’s footprints is considered “one of the jewels” by Vujosevic. She muses, “I didn’t know how to engage babies.” When she saw that one she said, “We have to do something with this. We decided to scale that up for Roosevelt Island Day, with fingerprints and footprints on a huge canvas by Blackwell Park.” Bosbach says, “A mom from the RIPN contributed the picture that sparked inspiration which lead to the RI Day event. Then the children took over and created colorful canvases lead by their imagination; two are still hanging on display across the Blackwell House on the fence.”
On RI WE are Creative
Vujosevic says, “I went to see the Girl Scouts. They’re very cute and very active. We were working on creating the flyers, and one girl said, ‘On Roosevelt Island we are creative.’ Then she mentioned the [Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge], and said ‘it’s so grey and dull, I would like to make it alive.’ ” Vujosevic printed large images of the bridge and put them on the wall.
Troop leaders Aiesha Eleusizov and Heather LNU scheduled a two-hour session and the scouts went to work on making the bridge in their vision. Eleusizov said, “This project was a great opportunity for the girls to begin to think about ways that we can make our community better. I will build upon this initiative in the future to help our girls think about other issues they would like to learn more about, and take steps to improve them.”
“Leila came to our meeting with two large printouts of the Queensborough bridge and a whole bunch of craft supplies. The girls spent two hours decorating and brightening the Queensborough bridges! Their creativity definitely shined through,” Eleusizov said. Vujosevic says, “Provide them with materials and space, they need room, and they’ll run with it.” Then, she says, “leave them alone.”
“Now we are trying to find a place where this can be displayed so the community can see it.”
The challenge they are facing is how to be noticed. Vujosevic says, “Once we have these ideas, we extract something that can be scaled up and can engage the community at that level. These are seeds; out of that can grow many projects that can engage the entire community. It doesn’t stop with posters, but must be followed by action. How? That remains to be seen.”
Children want a dock, a recycling center and want to be able to ice-skate here. They love soccer and their friends. They are fascinated by the helix, the bridges, and our various transportation options.
Many children mention Blackwell House. Vujosevic’s response is a charrette, similar to the Southpoint Park Project. Children have suggested it be used as a guest house, a venue for birthday parties, or that it is simply lit. Motorgate is another one. Vujosevic sees the children’s ideas as jumping-off points and hopes they lead to a larger effort encompassing more residents who ponder the future of the Island, and ask themselves how they, the residents, can help shape it.