Flint residents are incredibly committed to restoring their neighborhoods.
It’s something the Neighborhood Engagement Hub recognizes. The nonprofit organization works to improve the quality of life for communities by working directly with residents and neighborhood organizations, helping them get their projects from the starting point to the finish line.
“They have been a part of this for a very long time,” says Ashley Everhart, the agency’s director. “What we want is to help create a plan for them, and establish a vision for the long-term, and provide resources for them to get there.”
The latest effort in the group’s push for community development is “Neighbors Changing Flint: The First Step is Yours,” a series of free leadership and neighborhood improvement workshops to be held every Wednesday in March. The meetings take place at the Asbury United Methodist Church, 1653 Davison Rd., and will offer residents ways to identify problems and form a game plan to solve them. Practicalities, like writing up a budget, planning meetings, setting an agenda, and even securing resources and funding, come first, Everhart says.
The focus of the first “Neighbors Changing Flint” meetings will be to set an agenda and formulate a template for building an action plan. Both are essential to help a community create a roadmap that will make each project.
“Coordination and implementation support are a must, so groups don’t lose sight of their goal,” she says.
The idea for the series had its genesis in the actions of a like-minded coalition of groups in the area, some of whom also provide neighborhood services like the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Habitat for Humanity, Flint Public Art Project, Flint Neighborhoods United, and the Genesee County Land Bank.
“Not only did this series start with the community, we were able to connect with other key organizations on the trainings they had already set up for the spring and summer,” says Everhart.
One of those organizations was Kettering University. Tom Wyatt, a project manager for the school, had already laid plans for classes in crime prevention though environmental design and placemaking. That training sessions will take place in April.
The Crim Fitness Foundation will hold three trainings in May under the Safe and Active Genesee Coalition, an effort by local advocates, nonprofits, and private and government organizations.
In addition, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint had already conducted a technical assistance program for neighborhoods.
It’s Everhart’s hope a collaborative group of agencies will be successful in improving neighborhoods.
“I said, let’s all work together on this and provide it as a series that residents can take all the way through, or take just one at a time, depending on which class they feel is most relevant to them,” she says.
Smaller more focused trainings may happen throughout the summer on more specific topics as well. Everhart plans to possibly work with even more groups throughout the city. She is, of course, open to adding different topics to the new workshops.
“We got on board to try to figure out how to put together a neighborhood development series,” Everhart says.
The conversation evolved into one that was much more about process and leadership. “(It was) more about how to run an effective meeting or how to turn problems in a neighborhood into a project, and then prioritizing things to get it going,” she says.
The Neighborhood Engagement Hub is particularly focused on providing those process-oriented pieces to community organizations as well as more real-world items a group might need to improve their neighborhood, like rakes, saws, and mowers. The organization runs a tool shed that passes out the equipment.
Besides these raw materials, the Neighborhood Engagement Hub provides communities with education, advocacy, and facilitation processes they need to restore themselves.
The group was founded in October, 2014. At that time there was only a board and a small staff. Everhart became its first director last October.
“I love it. I get to come to work every day and be inspired by people who are doing really wonderful things for their community,” she says. “I’m inspired by the people I meet.”
She’s used to putting in long, 12-hour days to do community work. Prior to taking on her current role, she worked in funds development for Habitat for Humanity and for a small firm doing economic and community development state-wide.
As they move into the future, the Neighborhood Engagement Hub will continue to support communities so they can build upon what’s already happening where they live.
“Residents and neighbors know what they need much more than we do,” she says. “We’re here to walk alongside them, to help them get where they want to go.
“At the end of the day, we’re better together than we are alone.”
For more information about the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, please click here.