Wisdom Keeper 2021
The Board of Directors of FOCUS Greater Syracuse Inc. celebrated our 2021 Wisdom Keepers and their message to “Get Involved, Make A Difference” at the SALTspace, on Oct. 28, 2021 at 5:00 pm, with the three Wisdom Keepers for 2021:
Honorable Van B. Robinson, Former President, Syracuse Common Council
Linda-Brown Robinson, Immediate Past President, Syracuse NAACP
Merike Treier, Executive Director, Downtown Committee of Syracuse
These Wisdom Keepers join a long list of people who have shown leadership, continual caring and an understanding of the importance of the vision for tomorrow.
Wisdom Keeper is the annual fundraiser for FOCUS Greater Syracuse celebrating efforts of a growing list of Wisdom Keepers who show leadership, continual caring and understanding of the importance of vision for tomorrow.
2021 WISDOM KEEPERS
Honorable Van B. Robinson is the former President of the Syracuse Common Council. Van retired as an executive of GHI- Group Health Insurance as a forty-two (42) year employee; while a union employee, he was a shop steward and organizer for his union. His political career began when the late Mayor Lee Alexander appointed Van to the City of Syracuse’s Board of Zoning Appeal. In 1999, Van was appointed by then Mayor Matthew Driscoll to fill a vacant Common Council seat – next election, he ran for the seat and served the council for seventeen years. In November of 2009 and 2013, he won four year seats each as the First African American President of the Syracuse Common Council. Van won five (5) city-wide elections, and formerly served as chair of the Democratic 12th Ward committee; he currently serves on the 5th Ward Committee. In 2011, he won the Democrat of the Year Award and he continues to serve his party proud.
Van loves to contribute to his city by serving on a number of community boards, commissions, and associations, including a past member of the Elmcrest Children’s Center’s Board of Advisors, a former original member of the Joint Construction School Board, and a previous member of the FOCUS Greater Syracuse Board of Directors. Van Robinson also served on the Red Cross Board Meals on Wheels and Inter-Religious Council (now known as InterFaith Works). Van is a proud Navy man who is a member of the USS Antietam Naval Association, and currently serves on the Syracuse Onondaga NAACP Executive Board.
Linda Brown-Robinson is the Immediate Past President of the Syracuse NAACP. A born and raised proud New Yorker and a native of Mt. Vernon, NYC, Linda’s activism first took hold upon relocating to upstate New York in 1968, where she joined a number of boards. She recalls that one of her first impactful boards was then known as the “Community Folk Art Gallery.”
Linda is an active and hands on member of a number of local boards, organizations, and commissions, serving as a Trustee on the SUNY ESF Board, New York Forward Reopening Board, NYS Fair Advisory Board, CNY N.O.W. (National Organization for Women), Boys and Girls Club of Syracuse, Living Community Alliance, Onondaga County Aging Services Advisory Board, Onondaga Elders, Inc., CBTU (Coalition of Black Trade Unionist) Board Member, and a Board Member on several Interfaith Works’ sub-committees. A former member of the FOCUS Greater Syracuse Board of Director and past member of the Executive Committee for the Onondaga County Democratic Committee, Linda currently serves on the Democratic 5th Ward Committee. She is frequently asked to serve on many local, state ad-hoc committees, forums, and celebrations. Linda is the immediate past President of the local Syracuse Onondaga NAACP and currently sits on the Executive Board; she is a 2021 InterFaith Leadership Award recipient. Additionally, she is an entrepreneur owning her own event planning business “In The EVENT Of…”. Linda was recently appointed as the NYS NAACP Western Region Director, where she will oversee 11 Upstate NAACP Branches.
Merike Treier serves as executive director for the Downtown Committee of Syracuse, Inc, leading her team to support a dynamic, vibrant downtown, and promote future growth through economic development and revitalization initiatives, marketing and events, security, and environmental maintenance. She started at the Downtown Committee in 2004 and was promoted to Executive Director in 2011.
Merike also serves as the president of the Downtown Syracuse Foundation, Inc., and as a passionate advocate for our community, she currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Gifford Foundation. She has previously served on the Boards of Housing Visions Unlimited, New York State Urban Council, Onondaga Citizens League, the Onondaga County Public Library, CNY Arts, and was a founding member of Adapt CNY, Inc. Merike has held appointed positions on the City of Syracuse Women’s Commission and Governor’s Young Leaders Congress. She is a Leadership Greater Syracuse Graduate (2007), a recipient of the CNYBiz Events 40 Under 40 Award (2008), and has been honored by Catholic Charities of Onondaga County with its Mover & Shaker Award (2017).
Thank you to our 2021 Wisdom Keeper Sponsors!
The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation; Syracuse University Office of Community Engagement; National Grid; Hueber Breuer Construction Co., Inc.; The Central New York Business Journal; Wegmans; Eckardt C. Beck
Pioneer Companies; KeyBank; Dannible & McKee, LLP; St. Joseph’s Health; Central New York Community Foundation; KS&R; Onondaga Community College; Brackens Financial Solutions Network, LLC; FM Realty and Don Radke; EDR; Partnership Properties, Inc.; George and Rebecca Barnes Foundation: The Mansion on James; The Gifford Foundation
Past Wisdom Keepers
Thank You Central New York
The year 2020 was like no other, and so is Wisdom Keeper 2020. FOCUS and the entire community made sacrifices to cope with a pandemic. That was particularly hard for the highly engaged people who work every day to keep our community running and embrace the FOCUS mission to enhance the quality of life and future of this region.
Because we could not celebrate in one place and because getting through 2020 required extra effort, creativity and cooperation from so many people FOCUS Greater Syracuse honors for 2020 the Central New York Community for Service, Resilience & Innovation in the face of COVID. FOCUS invited the entire community to acknowledge the accomplishment in a virtual recognition event January 27, 2021.
Here are the sponsors of the event who with their support have helped FOCUS provide its many community engagement efforts.
Wisdom Keeper 2019
The Board of Directors of FOCUS Greater Syracuse Inc. celebrated community strength at the Everson Museum of Art, Oct. 2, 2019, with the two Wisdom Keepers for 2019: Melanie Littlejohn and Maarten Jacobs. These Wisdom Keepers join a long list of people who have shown leadership, continual caring and an understanding of the importance of the vision for tomorrow.
Melanie Littlejohn is vice president for New York Customer & Community Management at National Grid and chair of the Centerstate CEO Board of Directors.
A thought leader and a visionary, Melanie joined National Grid in 1994 as the director of inclusion and diversity for U.S. operations responsible for the company’s overall strategy for inclusion and diversity and compliance, a mission she carries on today in community as well as business roles.
She is former chair of the CNY Community Foundation Board and has served on the Business Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, MACNY, Consensus Commission, boards at SUNY Morrisville Business School and St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Downtown Committee, and the Say Yes to Education Scholarship Board. She is a member of the OCC Board of Trustees and on the board of Pathfinder Bancorp. She has been active with HealtheConnections and other health organizations.
Maarten Jacobs is the Director of Community Prosperity at the Allyn Family Foundation. He is co-developing a Community Prosperity Initiative to disrupt concentrated poverty in neighborhoods by empowering residents to fulfill their potential, contributing to the wellbeing of their families and revitalization of their neighborhoods.
Before joining Allyn Family Foundation, he was executive director of the Near Westside Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to combine the power of art, technology, and innovation with neighborhood values and culture to revitalize Syracuse’s Near Westside, also known as the SALT District. In that role for seven years, Maarten worked to ensure that neighborhood residents were engaged in the revitalization. Early in the process in 2010, he was a featured presenter at a FOCUS Forum introducing the initiative.
He teaches Community Economic Development at the Syracuse University School of Social Work. In January 2016 he received the Martin Luther King JR Unsung Hero award at Syracuse University.
Tapping their creativity and drive to improve Central New York, Melanie and Maarten asked that the 2019 Wisdom Keeper event be a celebration bringing together all parts of the community in a community venue.
Wisdom Keeper 2018
WISDOM KEEPER 2018
The 2018 FOCUS Wisdom Keeper Sean Kirst celebrated with us by honoring the people of Central New York who made his storytelling career possible. A throng of remarkable people with memorable stories joined us in the Finger Lakes Ballroom of the Marriott Downtown Syracuse (Historic Hotel Syracuse) to tell their stories at the event.
You can see the plaque honoring Wisdom Sean Kirst “Storyteller” alongside the plaques honoring previous Citizen Trustee Wisdom Keepers in the mini-garden on the east side of City Hall Commons.