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Community takes the reins

on May 4, 2010

She introduced herself unpretentiously, as “Mary,” but what she said didn’t lack impact.

“What’s really important to our community (is) we need to keep our jobs,” she said.

The words were simple, but the gravitas came from the young woman’s identity: Longtime resident of the neighborhood in question, the community surrounding Nystrom Elementary School.

Like others who gathered in the Nystrom school cafeteria Monday night, Mary Bragg served as an example of harnessing the power of enthusiastic residents in a community development project. Bragg’s focus was economic development.

Other residents gave presentations on education, health, public safety and other aspects of community life.

The “Community Engagement Roll-Out Meeting” dealt with issues concerning the community within a roughly 40-square block area in the southern section of the city’s Iron Triangle. Dubbed NURVE, which stands for Nystrom United Revitalization Effort, the project is a collaborative effort between the Richmond Children’s Foundation, the Bay Area Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and other city and county partners.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and County Supervisor John Gioia were among the political leaders who attended, along with more than 60 residents and program officials.

“We can dictate from the top down, but unless we are reaching the residents who are on the ground, we’re really not doing our job,” said McKinley Ross, one of the team leaders working on neighborhood economic development.

Monday night’s meeting was a culmination of a long-developing local “listening campaign” in the neighborhood, which comprises about 14,000 mostly low-income residents. Surveys and meetings were used over the past year to gather information about what resources residents need said Margaret Gee, Neighborhood Development Director for LISC.

The results were presented to the crowd by a series of speakers, often with the aid of overhead projectors and bullet-point lists.

The education team presented six month and one-year objectives, which included creating a “Parent Corps” team of volunteers to provide basic literacy teaching and to launch a neighborhood literacy festival.

The health team in Nystrom, which sits just blocks away from the emission-producing Chevron Corp. refinery, hopes to found a community health fair and to lobby for more fresh produce and open spaces in the community.

These and other plans unveiled Monday should begin their implementation phases within 30 days, Gee said.

McLaughlin gave a brief introductory speech in which she praised the neighborhood collaborative.

“Your work is really going to be a model for other cities,” McLaughlin said, referring to the approach of community leaders taking a lead role in neighborhood issues, then providing information, recommendations and requests for services from city and county government.

The effort is primarily funded by the Richmond Children’s Foundation and Bay Area LISC, which pays for two AmeriCorps staffers and a community organizer.

For more information on the Nystrom community effort, visit resources at the Richmond Children’s Foundation and the Bay Area Local Initiatives Support Coalition.

20100503_nystrom.mp3|Click here|Click here to listen to excerpts from Monday’s meeting.

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