Two Stony Brook University students help revive their community's civic associations
Though they are recently eligible to vote, Edward Schmidt of Poquott and David Viana of Baldwin already have taken leadership positions in their respective hometowns.
Schmidt, 21, and Viana, 20, are the presidents of civic associations that they revived after the groups dissolved as their members became older or moved away.
Schmidt also will be sworn in Monday as a Poquott village trustee. He was elected last month as part of a slate of challengers, including incoming Mayor Dolores Parrish and new trustee John Pesek.
In recent interviews, Viana and Schmidt -- both of whom attend Stony Brook University, though they never met until last week -- said they hope to preserve their communities.
Schmidt said he "almost felt obligated" to take charge as he watched the demise of cherished traditions in his 950-resident village on Brookhaven Town's north shore. He recruited new members for the Poquott Civic Association last year, then helped resurrect a fish-fry social event that once had been an annual rite of summer.
"Everything I had loved as a kid had disappeared, and I wanted to bring that all back to the village," Schmidt said. "It's very important. Poquott's a very close-knit community."
Viana was 17 when he started a Facebook page advocating revitalization efforts in Baldwin, a hamlet of 24,000 residents in Hempstead Town. He later restored the Baldwin Civic Association that folded years before.
"We've been without a major organization for a while," Viana said. "The community has felt that there was a lack of a voice for the community," referring to issues such as beautification.
Viana, an environmental design policy and planning major at Stony Brook, and Schmidt, who is changing his major from health sciences to political science, juggle their civic work around classes. Viana, who hopes to become an urban planner, said he has learned to work with people who hold diverse viewpoints.
"There's always a challenge between the naysayers and the real go-getters," he said. "You have to find the middle ground."
Residents and community leaders praise Viana and Schmidt for their precocious maturity. Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) said she was impressed with Viana's desire to learn complex planning issues.
"He sort of like turned this lark of a Facebook page into a thriving civic group," Curran said. "It might sound corny, but I think it's young people like him that will get our county back on track."
Poquott resident Sharon Abernathy said Schmidt saved the civic association from extinction. "He got it going in nothing flat," she said. "This kid has just done wonders."
Many local officials worry that young residents are fleeing Long Island, but Viana and Schmidt said they won't leave.
"I always tell people, when you find a perfect place, there's no reason to keep on searching," Schmidt said. "I would love to raise a family here and give them everything I've had."