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Hamptons Life

Aug 13, 2017 7:55 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Volunteers Take Matters Into Their Own Hands

Aug 14, 2017 10:56 AM

Call them the beauty vigilantes.In Hampton Bays in the 1980s, a small group of private citizens decided to take matters into their own hands. They felt that their community was lacking the quaint feel of other East End villages. And so, slowly but surely, the Hampton Bays Beautification Association, or HBBA for short, transformed their beloved hamlet into the picturesque center that it is today.

Adopting eyesores as pet projects, the HBBA has installed medians, planted the hundreds of planters and urns that line the streets, even championed a contest for the hamlet’s flag. Many people don’t know about their efforts, but that’s okay with the group.

“We try to figure out what in the community needs our help,” said Susan von Freddi, the president of the association. “The town does help … but if it has a flower on it, it’s HBBA.”

Hampton Bays is not an incorporated village, she noted. “That’s why we have this core volunteer group—we want our town to be beautiful.”

One of the original members, Ms. von Freddi, 66, has been with the organization since its inception in the ’80s. The members revitalized their efforts in the mid-1990s under then-President Maud Kramer. They officially formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, sponsored membership drives and began to hold monthly meetings.

Now, HBBA boasts more than 900 participants, about 50 of whom are active members. A mix of summertime and full-time residents, the supporters fundraise, solicit corporate sponsorships and install nearly all the hamlet’s holiday decorations.

The group works in conjunction with the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department—department workers water all the planters and trees—as well as the Southampton Town Highway Department. The volunteers apply for state and county grants for the work, subsidizing their efforts with donations and their own sweat equity.

“We’ll work with any citizen group that takes their town into their hands. It’s a pay-it-forward situation,” said Alex Gregor, the superintendent of highways. Explaining that the highway department has a close relationship with HBBA, he said, “We’re always happy to have citizens alerting us to illegal dumping or a sign that is knocked down.”

Mr. Gregor, 58, feels that as the population on the East End soars, the work of individual community groups to keep hamlets and villages clean is even more important. “It takes a community,” he said.

Founded in 1985, HBBA was inspired after a newspaper article badly characterized Hampton Bays.

“It wasn’t very flattering,” Ms. von Freddi recalled. And so a group of citizens led by Matt Dwyer, Marie Mulcahy and Betty Fallot pulled together and raised money to install whiskey barrels filled with flowers on Main Street. HBBA was born.

Initially, they planted the flowers themselves and the local Boy Scouts built additional planters.

As time has stretched on—and the median age of membership has matured—HBBA realized efforts would be better spent fundraising and soliciting community support. Now, most of the projects are contracted out to groups like Mother Earth Design Co. or Coastal Management LLC, although HBBA members still hang nearly all of the hamlet’s holiday decorations themselves.

In addition to partnerships with various town departments, they also work with high schoolers on cleanup projects. Most recently, Vice President Valerie Zuccarelli led a graffiti cleanup with local students. “The kids were horrified with what they saw,” Ms. Zuccarelli remembered.

Recently, the group spruced up the post office, a project that included planting lilies, an opening of the entryway and planting of large, colorful urns. Describing the former grounds as her “pet peeve,” Ms. von Freddi said that the group “adopted the post office.”

However, the volunteers’ efforts at the postal center are not done. Coordinating with Marc Fasanella of the Ecological Culture Initiative, they plan on tearing up a small patch of asphalt driveway that is no longer in use to create a small, sustainable rain garden.

“The ladies [of the Southampton Garden Club] comment to us, ‘We love what you’ve done with Hampton Bays,’” Ms. Zuccarelli, 74, said.

The group has become so popular that now community members will call with their complains about the hamlet—whether it be a street needing to be repaved, a problem area with litter or an eyesore.

“There’s a pride in Hampton Bays,” Ms. Zuccarelli said.

And, as you hear the stories of how local business owners, citizens and government entities have embraced HBBA’s efforts over the years, it is clear that the group has coalesced this sentiment.

“This is a 20-year process,” Ms. von Freddi said. “The most important thing to me is that if you do something, you maintain it.”

“If we didn’t have people give us money, we couldn’t do this,”she continued. From local businesses like Weber and Grahn, Boardy Barn or Villa Paul to bigger companies like Bridgehampton National Bank, HBBA’s efforts are well-supported.

Thinking back, HBBA is proud of how far it’s come from when the group installed its first planter. Ms. von Freddi recalled a passerby stopping to remark that someone would just steal the flowers they were growing. But, Ms. von Freddi said, “Because it looked beautiful, no one took them.”

And now, those hundreds of bright planters lining the highway are synonymous with the quaint hamlet of Hampton Bays.

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