Marcy-Holmes Neighborhoods Association tries to boost community participation, says getting students involved is tough

Marcy-Holmes is revamping its neighborhood association strategy to spur resident and student involvement, with changes that will take effect in early 2014.

In an area heavily populated by students, involvement has been a long-term challenge for the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.

In 2010, more than 61 percent of the neighborhood’s residents were between the ages of 18 and 24, according to data
from MHNA.

The proposals focus more on networking between existing organizations than previous outreach efforts. They include encouraging collaboration between MHNA’s student representatives and those of similar groups, like the University District Alliance.

University of Minnesota student and Minnesota Student Association representative to the MHNA board Clay Wagar said the initiatives are an opportunity to bring new students into the organization.

“In the past three or four years, they have definitely been making an effort to include the University [students],” he said.

Wagar said the two student positions on the board are evidence of MHNA’s commitment to including the University community.

The new initiatives are outlined in a Community Participation Program passed by MHNA’s board last month to complement the neighborhood’s small-area plan.

The program’s outline calls students “underengaged stakeholders.”

MHNA President Cordelia Pierson said the goal of the plan is to engage more community members, especially students, in MHNA activities.

She said the MHNA board will discuss details of implementing the participation plan at its Dec. 10 meeting.

Although she said plan implementation is in its early stages, MHNA hopes to let student representatives on its board play a lead role.

“It’s not so much us defining how it’s going to happen, but rather engaging [the representatives],” Pierson said.

MHNA executive director Melissa Bean said student engagement in the neighborhood has been relatively stable since the early 1980s, when current student positions, including Wagar’s, were created.

She said MHNA has tried multiple strategies for increasing student involvement — with mixed results.

“We’ve had in the past a student affairs committee, but it went nowhere,” she said.

But in recent years, Bean said, she’s noticed a change in the interest level and quality of the few applicants to the board.

“They actually sent in more qualifications on why they should be board members,” she said.

People are now seeking out the board positions, Bean said, whereas in the past, the neighborhood group had to approach MSA and other student groups to solicit nominations.

Wagar said he plans to recruit new student members for MHNA through MSA and other University organizations.

That may be a tough task, he said. Many students who live in the neighborhood don’t realize it, he said, citing his friends who live in 412 Lofts on 12th Avenue Southeast.

“They’re completely unaware that they live in Marcy-Holmes,” he said. “They think it’s Dinkytown.”

Bean said the neighborhood has focused on recruiting students to help with specific efforts, such as MHNA’s Earth Day River Clean Up, instead of seeking more long-term commitments.

“It’s just an easier time commitment, like a Saturday morning,” she said.

She said some of the students she’s asked to join MHNA as regular members said they don’t have the time.

“They said, ‘When we join, we really want to join,’”she said.

  • In January, we will be launching outreach to many stakeholders, including residents. Volunteers can help in many ways: connecting with the Mississippi River, making our community more creative and green, shaping developments and transportation, increasing housing diversity, and attracting economic development. - by Cordelia Pierson on Sun, 12/15/2013 - 10:37pm