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Re-imagining Community Engagement in Heartside/Downtown

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

“The key to success for neighbors having a high quality of life is getting people to connect”
Residents and volunteers in Heartside/Downtown during their 2018 Clean Sweep event

Residents and volunteers in Heartside/Downtown during their 2018 Clean Sweep event

Are you plugged in?

Stay connected to the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association by joining their Facebook group and newsletters.

Want to connect directly with HDNA and stay in the loop on neighborhood news, join them at their monthly potluck via Zoom! The next one will take place on October 20th at 6pm. 

Heartside/Downtown residents can reserve an HDNA Resource Bag, which is filled with goodies, activities, a scavenger hunt and chance to win a gift card! Reserve yours today!

Mugs, upon mugs, upon mugs! Find a mug in your Resource Bag to add to your collection this season!

Mugs, upon mugs, upon mugs! Find a mug in your Resource Bag to add to your collection this season!

Dwelling Place intern, Annika, sporting some of the goodies in the Resource Bags!

Dwelling Place intern, Annika, sporting some of the goodies in the Resource Bags!

“The key to success for neighbors having a high quality of life is getting people to connect,” exclaims county commissioner, Jim Talen. Talen was speaking to his involvement in the community and complexities in the Heartside neighborhood, which makes up a portion of the boundaries that the Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association (HDNA) serves. In thinking about the community and its interactions, he goes on to say, “I have always enjoyed the diversity of the population in Heartside and I think those interactions are powerful, [but] the community piece is really one we need to figure out and work on.” The Heartside Downtown Neighborhood Association has been working towards finding ways to build that sense of community through connecting neighbors to the association and each other during monthly potluck meetings (which are now hosted virtually via Zoom), but HDNA leadership has found it's been difficult to connect residents to those spaces and the association in general. In wrestling with this difficulty, the Board has pivoted their efforts and is releasing a new engagement event for neighbors to participate in, in hopes to provide that connectivity!
For the month of October, the association is handing out HDNA Resource Bags, which contain activities, resources from different partners, goodies, and a scavenger hunt that participants can engage in on their own time around the downtown area. In planning this event, the association had to reshape their understanding to past engagement events they hosted, such as National Night Out or Clean Sweep, but the Resource Bags intend to recreate similar elements from those events through providing residents with need-to know resources, fun engagement activities, and encourage connection with the neighborhood association, as well as other residents. For example, the scavenger hunt activity encourages residents to join the next HDNA Potluck on October 20th from 6-8pm (via Zoom) and meet local neighbors and board members, all the while adhering to the precautions of social distancing. Additionally, to make it more engaging, those who complete the scavenger hunt will be entered for a chance to win a gift card! These bags are being made available to Heartside/Downtown residents one of two ways: reserving one for pick up or distributions held by the HDNA Board the first few weeks of October.
HDNA is excited to connect with neighbors through this activity, but they want to note that the Resource Bags go beyond simple community building. “One of HDNA's goals from the beginning is advocating for neighbors on all different fronts. We want to try to be present in a lot of different ways, and sometimes that is making sure neighbors get the information they need and other times it’s showing up in meetings at the city level and neighborhood level to make sure they feel like they have a voice and a way to plug in,” mentions Alysha Lach-White, co-chair of HDNA. The hope is that residents who receive a bag will want to connect further with HDNA and their local community. HDNA strives to connect residents to local city officials and representatives in the community in order to create a streamline of communication and connection with those in power. It’s all about building collective community strength and voice.
Resident Wilma Banks, who has been a resident in Heartside for two and a half years but present in different advocacy spaces for much longer, is very familiar with the concept of community voice and strength. In fact, she first got connected with HDNA a couple years back through a resident engagement process called the Heartside Quality of Life Study. In talking about hopes she has for HDNA as it continues to grow, she mentions “I would like to see a few groups working for a common purpose that they enjoy and what they see as a betterment for the community.” This concept of working groups is a goal HDNA has been striving towards; they are just working to build the capacity necessary to make it a reality! Connecting neighbors to the association is the first step in seeing what neighbors are passionate about in their community and how they want to contribute to that collective voice!
Neighbors and community members interested in connecting further with HDNA and the work they do to support the Heartside/Downtown communities can reach out to them via email, [email protected] or visit their website and subscribe to their newsletter. Additionally, neighbors of Heartside/Downtown who want to receive an HDNA Resource Bag can fill out this form to reserve a bag. A team member will be reaching out with next steps about how/when to pick up the Resource Bag!
With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Thanks to Julia Ervin for her contribution of this piece. Julia is an AmeriCorps VISTA at Dwelling Place, an adventure enthusiast, community neighbor, and activist in reconciliation.

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