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Building a ready and resilient neighborhood

Posted on 10 December 2015 by Calvin

What are the challenges to building resilience?
How can you increase readiness and resilience in your community?
How do people connect in the neighborhood?
How can we increase trust and communication face to face with neighbors?

Midway residents brainstormed answers to these questions and more at three community workshops held in October and November—the beginning of the Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway movement. The main purpose of the meetings was to better prepare the community for events of extreme weather like ice storms and heat waves. However, the overall mission expanded to strengthen connections between neighbors in Hamline Midway.

IMG_4831PHOTO LEFT: Neighbors brainstorm how to make Midway more Ready and Resilient in Snelling Cafe on Tue., Nov. 17. (Photo by Maria Herd)

“They’re really discussion-lead,” said Kyle Mianulli, the Director of Community and Engagement at the Hamline Midway Coalition. “We want to be able to learn from the from the elders in our community who might have experienced moments of adversity in their lives, and use their experiences to form a blueprint for similar situations in the future.”

Last May, five members of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group attended a day-long climate change resilience training put on by Macalester College at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The goal of the workshop was to empower St. Paul communities to be prepared for extreme weather events that are increasing in frequency in the face of climate change. Attendees had the opportunity to apply for a neighborhood grant, and Midway was awarded $1,500.

The need for community
At the training, a news clip covering the heat wave of 1995 was shown to the audience. The extreme weather event resulted in over 700 heat-related deaths in Chicago over a span of five days. The majority of victims were poor, elderly residents that lived alone.

IMG_4801PHOTO RIGHT: Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway Coordinator Julie Hellwich’s example of an emergency tool kit that she had on display at each workshop. (Photo by Maria Herd)

“A lot of people died in their homes because no one knew that they weren’t okay, and that video is what inspired us to try to connect more with the community,” said Ande Quercus, a four year resident of Hamline Midway.

Through discussions at the Ready and Resilient workshops, attendees began developing the language for a buddy system to implement throughout the neighborhood. Someone will be assigned to check in on an elderly or vulnerable person on their block during an emergency.

The purpose is that when disaster strikes, “instead of spreading out multi-directionally and connecting with everybody, you know that you’re supposed to connect with this one person to make sure they’re okay and tend to immediate needs they might have,” said Mianulli.

The elderly is not the only sector of the population that Ready and Resilient Midway hopes to both learn from and assist in emergencies. Immigrants and single mothers in the neighborhood may require special assistance during disasters as well.

“When we talk about immigrants or elderly people we think of vulnerability, but they’re also very rich assets,” said Julie Hellwich, Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway Coordinator. “We can learn from immigrants who come here if the pathways of communication are sensitive, and the is trust there.”

IMG_4813PHOTO LEFT: Neighbors discuss their concerns and suggestions to be better prepared in emergency situations at the third workshop in Snelling Cafe on Nov. 17. (Photo by Maria Herd)

At one workshop, attendees participated in a role play in which everyone was given a character to act out in the event of an emergency. For example, Mianulli was a single mother with three children whose native language is not English, and a big storm had cut off the power. He had to come up with what that person’s immediate needs would be, what resources are available to tap into and what kinds of community resources would be helpful.

“We realized that everyone has vulnerabilities and that we all need to be prepared,” said Lucy Hunt, President of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group and one of the grant writers for Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway.

How do we communicate when technology breaks
Additionally, finding a means of communication if there is no mobile or internet connection available is an unanswered question that was discussed at more than one workshop.
“I worry that in an emergency if the cell phone network went down, people would just be paralyzed and not know what to do,” said Quercus.

Mianulli noted the effect technology has had on personal relationships in neighborhoods.
“It’s an interesting dynamic that has risen in the past couple of decades,” he said. “As people get more and more plugged in and more and more connected—we are more connected than we ever have been before—but at the same time people have turned internally and are less likely to know their neighbors or be familiar with them on a personal basis.”

A continuing role for neighborhood block clubs
One portion of the grant is helping revitalize the Hamline Midway Block Club program. There are currently 25-30 active block clubs in Hamline Midway. Organizers decide the geographic parameters and level of activity, which can range from an annual block party to monthly potlucks.

IMG_4837PHOTO RIGHT: Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway Coordinator Julie Hellwich presents attendees’ thoughts on the challenges to building resilience in the neighborhood.  (Photo by Maria Herd)

“It was interesting hearing about how some people in the community have tried to set up block clubs, but there has not been interest on their block,” said Quercus. “How do you be a part of an involved community when no one else around wants to be in that with you?”
Ready and Resilient attendees collaborated ideas to further connect with neighbors, and revitalizing the block clubs will hopefully build stronger bonds throughout the Midway.

Mianulli plans to include the buddy system in the latest edition of the block club manual, which includes community and city resources, contact numbers, flyer templates and information on how to start and organize a block club.

“How we better connect the block clubs and organize people is a big part of this discussion because you’re most likely to know and go to your immediate neighbors in the case of an emergency,” Mianulli said.

Hellwich, a 15 year resident of the Midway, has formed close friendships with the neighbors on her block through monthly potlucks. At one workshop, she shared an emergency situation in which she was grateful to have those connections.

Her teenage daughter was home alone when an intruder broke into their home. Hellwich instructed her daughter to call 911 and then immediately called her neighbors, whose numbers were already programmed into her cell phone. The neighbors came over, and her daughter was able to find safety in the home of a close friend.

“It wasn’t just someone that she had waved at, it was someone that she knew, she had many meals with, it was a family person, and that was a great comfort to me,” said Hellwich.

Block clubs are not the only way Hamline Midway neighbors stay connected. Representatives from the Hamline Midway Elders, Hamline Midway Health Movement and African Economic Development Solutions were all present at the final workshop in Snelling Cafe.

“It’s interesting that we have so many things going on in the neighborhood, all of these groups and events. Now we have this group, and I don’t think I’ve met any of you before,” said Margaret Schuster at the third workshop. “The more that we have the opportunities to meet each other, it enriches our neighborhood.”

Surveying Hamline Midway to compile a community resource list is another possible solution to be more ready and resilient. This list could include physical items such as generators to provide electricity during a power outage or skill sets such as fluency in another language or emergency medical training.

This list would be so that people “know exactly where to go in the event of an emergency, and not have to get on Facebook assuming that it’s working, or search high and low for someone with a certain medical background,” explained Mianulli.

The next steps
But the next official steps for the Ready and Resilient Hamline Midway movement are still to be decided.

“One of the big questions the organizing group has asked as we move forward is how do we continue this momentum and turn these conversations and workshops into something tangible for the community,” said Mianulli.

However, Ready and Resilient attendees appeared passionate about carrying over this energy into the new year after the grant period is over.

If you’re interested in becoming more involved with Ready & Resilient Hamline Midway or a block club, contact Kyle Mianulli at kyle@hamlinemidway.org.