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Melissa Cortes takes reins as HM Coalition Community Organizer

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Calvin

Photo and story by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
melissa-cortesMelissa Cortes (photo right) stepped into her role as the community organizer and communications specialist for the Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) in September.

A political science graduate of Hamline University, she said, “My college experience opened my eyes to what community could be. Even before going to my first class, it was clear that students were expected and encouraged to be part of this neighborhood.”

Cortes was born in Los Angeles, CA where she was raised by her mother—a single mom. “My mom got involved with community action early,” she explained, “and it made a strong impression on me growing up. One memory I have is of my grandmother, who was confined to a wheelchair. Our family lived near a city park, but my grandmother couldn’t enjoy it because the park wasn’t handicapped accessible. My mom got on that, and the necessary changes were made. I have a photograph of my grandmother sitting in the park in her wheelchair, and it continues to inspire me.”

“I moved to St. Paul to attend Hamline University,” Cortes said, “and soon found myself volunteering with Hamline Midway artist Lori Greene on community art projects. I also got involved with Hamline Midway Elders, shoveling snow and raking leaves for senior citizens. I started making community connections.”

Cortes was strongly influenced by a class at Hamline University taught by former St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel called People, Power, and Change. She went on to become a campaign manager for City Councilman Russ Stark.

“The Hamline Midway neighborhood has tons of energy,” she said, “and it can move in different directions very quickly. We’re in the process of changing the way HMC works. We want to get away from being so office-based. We want to get out in the community more and meet people where they work, rather than being administrators sitting in an office. We want creativity to be a bigger part of our engagement process.”

In this time of transition at HMC, the staff is working hard to listen to the diverse voices of neighborhood residents and business owners. Toward that end, HMC is hosting its first annual 0pen

House and Annual Meeting from 6-8pm on Tues., Dec. 13, at Hamline University’s East Hall #106. The Open House will feature food, beverages, a report on HMC activities, and board elections. The public is invited to attend.

HMC is an action-oriented neighborhood organization that develops and supports initiatives in community building, transportation, economic vitality, sustainability, neighborhood identity and more. HMC also coordinates participation in public policy decision-making and provides high-quality information to the community on matters of public interest.

In addition, HMC can provide fiscal sponsorship for neighborhood organizations.

It is one of 17 district councils in the City of St. Paul.

Cortes wears a lot of hats, including providing technical support and communications expertise for HMC events. The next one coming up is the Second Annual Hamline Midway Pop-Up Show on Sat., Nov. 26. It will be held at Celtic Junction from 11am-4pm, with a focus on Twin Cities small businesses providing artisan gifts for the season. 40+ vendors and artists will sell their wares, creating an authentic “shop local” experience, and Santa Claus will make an early season appearance.

Organizers for the event are HMC board member Greg Anderson and his spouse Christine.

“Even though all of my family is still in CA,” Cortes concluded, “something about St. Paul keeps me here. HMC has had a meaningful impact on this community. I look forward to being part of the team that is deepening the relationship between HMC and its constituents.”

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