More than forty people nearly filled the cafeteria of Jackson Elementary School October 14 for a discussion of community development initiatives. The meeting was one of many similar neighborhood meetings, this one being the first regarding the Promise Neighborhood Project since Saint Paul received the grant on September 21.
Participants filled out a “Neighborhood Questions for Improvement” survey, which included questions about positive or negative activities on their blocks, their personal interests, and how these interests could contribute to the development of the neighborhood. The Promise Neighborhood Project focuses on neighborhood input, planning, and community member involvement, a point that was reemphasized by community leaders present at the meeting.
“The only way to make this really work is to have constant contact with the community,” said Tait Danielson Castillo, director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. “There will be people knocking on people’s doors in the next few months doing surveys and talking to neighbors, and everyone’s willingness to fill out these surveys is very important for the planning to be successful.”
“If we share data we can serve people so much better,” said Saint Paul Councilmember Melvin Carter III. “We need to coordinate around children and coordinate around families.” Carter also spoke about the need to use resources already available to the community and to expand and coordinate them along with the current and upcoming efforts. “This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for,” said Carter. “This is potentially a real turning point for Frogtown and an opportunity to really make the most of all the resources we’ve got in this community.”
Community members were encouraged by their leaders, such as Danielson Castillo or Carter, not only to have a voice in the planning process but also to be a part of the new programs being installed, such as the Solution Action Groups. These groups will specialize in providing services and guidance for early childhood, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and community building.
St. Paul Public Schools Promise Neighborhood project director Hamilton Bell said, “It’s not only our initiative, it’s about your initiative. It’s about how we can recapture our neighborhood.” Bell spoke about how the collaboration between the city, the community members, and the school district will allow the neighborhood to plan “what a Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood will look like,” and ask each other, “what do you want to see within your communities, what can you do to make this one of the most viable neighborhoods in Saint Paul.”
Hamilton Bell is currently principal on special assignment from Saint Paul Public Schools and most recently served as principal at the University Academies for Boys and Girls at North End Elementary School. In the past, Bell was dean of students at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights and also served as a diversity specialist there.
A couple of people at the meeting spoke about concerns they had about the Promise Neighborhood, one being the level and frequency of correspondence with the community. This person said that her concern rises out of the fact that this meeting was the first community meeting regarding the Promise Neighborhood, but it had been almost four weeks since Saint Paul received the grant. Danielson Castillo noted that receiving the grant and conducting research as required by the federal government for the grant both happened very quickly, and now the community will be able to be more involved.
Another person was concerned about how the neighborhood could get Frogtown’s Hmong community more interested and involved in the Promise Neighborhood’s efforts. The demographics of the meeting showed minimal representation from the Hmong community. Door knocking is planned to help spread the word about the grant to this particular part of the community, and also sending out fliers to neighbors with contact information for a Hmong translator.
A draft of the Promise Neighborhood Plan will be ready after the community needs assessment and finalized in May or June. A formal kickoff for the Promise Neighborhood will take place in November at either the Rondo Community Library or at J.J. Hill Montessori Elementary School, hosted by the Wilder Foundation.