By Annette Hinkle
John Botos, executive director of the Peconic Institute which officially opened its offices in the library building on SUNY’s Stony Brook Southampton campus just this week.
What precisely is the mission of the Peconic Institute?
Our mission is to support sustainability and resiliency in the Peconic region and beyond. We do that by being the connector – connecting individuals, organizations, businesses, municipalities — and getting them talking to each other.
Sustainability means something different to all people and industries. On the environmental front, it can be about being a locavore, going to local markets and spending money here. Another step could be engaging the Hispanic community. Part of making the area more sustainable means everyone should be able to read, write and communicate in language we share.
There’s also the notion of coastal resiliency and climate resiliency. We could do health care roundtables — how can hospitals incorporate sustainability into their practices? We haven’t decided what it means for us – it’s really whatever the community feels is the need — that’s what we’re here for.
How did the formation of the Peconic Institute come about?
The institute came about from the closing of the Southampton campus and the sustainability major. After the closing, the elected officials and former students on multiple fronts felt there needed to be a community based organization to bring significance back to the community of the Southampton campus. Sort of memorializing what was here — a vital and environmental resource to the community.
There is a critical need for the Institute on multiple fronts. We’re bringing life to the campus and affording students the opportunity to learn while also letting the community learn and use our space to further their own initiatives.
How will the institute function?
We’re providing a space first and foremost. We’re also providing expertise. I don’t know everything, but I do know a lot of people and we’ll help you with everything and anything — if we don’t know about it, we’ll find someone who does. If you have something you’re passionate about we’ll do our best to help you achieve outcomes and goals for what you’re looking to do. I may not have the capacity to do it, but I might say “Here’s four or five names of people who have the same interest you do.”
So the way I see it, the Peconic Institute will be neutral ground where issues — including controversial ones —can be explored free of agendas that might be linked to other venues. Like a think tank for exploring topics and solutions without interference from political purpose.
It’s a better solution and we must maintain our neutrality. We want to engage elected officials, but we’re all equal, we all need to learn more from each other.
It’s providing that safe place and safe space to exchange ideas without being told they’re crazy or out there. Three years ago this was a crazy idea — but we need to think outside the box because the status quo is not working. We need to be creative and demonstrate successes. We have to think about how we as a region can work together — community organizations, individuals, corporations. How do you tap into all those synergies and get all the creative ideas you can and how do we as a region say take step one and walk the walk?
Ideas – that’s what we’re here for. An idea that can become a reality … a personal passion. We want the ideas and the community involvement. We know we will be fulfilling a specific niche, serving as a connector, a clearing house mechanism for information being shared with the region and that think tank where we’re talking and echoing ideas, creative solutions and actually implementing them.
In the coming months, the Peconic Institute will host an official launch day on the Stony Brook Southampton campus with speakers from the area discussing sustainability and resiliency. For more information, visit peconicinstitute.org.