But eventually she came back to Richmond Hill with a renewed respect and enthusiasm for the place she always called home.
“Having been to different places helped me appreciate New York City and Richmond Hill even more,” she says. “There were many things that I had taken for granted, like the diversity of our neighborhood. I began to wonder why we weren’t focusing more on how culturally rich it is here.”
With that mindset Bartolini started the Five Boro Story Project, and began holding community storytelling events in order to bring New Yorkers together through sharing their own true stories about their neighborhoods.
“I really believe in the power of storytelling,” she says. “Sharing our personal stories has this incredible power to quickly create deep connections between people.”
The Five Boro Story Project has visited neighborhoods all over New York City, but over the past year it has focused on the neighborhood Bartolini calls home with a program called “Richmond Hill Love Letters.”
It is a collaboration with the Queens Library’s Memory Project, and made possible with the support of the New York Council for the Humanities and Citizens Committee for New York City.
“We held different workshops twice a month,” she explains. “One was a story circle where people shared their stories about the neighborhood, and the other was where they would write what they love about the neighborhood or even write about the things they want to see changed.”
After a year in which she has collected hundreds of notes and stories, they will all be put on display this Sunday, December 11, at the Indo-Caribbean Alliance at 131-12 Liberty Avenue. The event is open to the public and runs from 2 to 4:30 p.m.
At the event you will hear real-life tales from Richmond Hill storytellers, see dance performances, read through the neighborhood love notes that have been written over the past year, and view historical photos from the archives of the Queens Memory Project.
The event will be very interactive and you will have an opportunity to share your stories, either on the open microphone or by writing love letters of your own.
“We don’t have enough opportunities to appreciate and build on the wonderful things in our neighborhoods,” Bartolini says, explaining why this event matters. And though she looks forward to holding similar in-depth projects throughout the city, this one was extra special for her.
“I was inspired by all my experiences growing up in South Richmond Hill,” she says. “I grew up feeling very connected to my neighborhood because of my family history here.
“Both my parents were born and raised on 117th Street,” she continues. “And I grew up in the house my grandparents lived in, so I’ve always had strong roots in the community.”
And over the past year, Bartolini has found that a lot of her fellow residents have the same love for their community that she does, even those who are much more recent arrivals to Richmond Hill.
“A lot of people wrote about how it’s a warm and friendly place where people actually know their neighbors,” she says. “One thing that really shines through is that the people are what makes a neighborhood what it is.”