Neighborhood Resources Connection awards technical assistance grant to Near West Side, Kennedy Park neighborhood associations

Organizations will co-host diversity and inclusion workshop Saturday, August 18

South Bend, Ind. — Saturday morning, residents of two very different neighborhoods will come together to better understand their differences. A free, four-hour Diversity and Inclusion workshop will be hosted for residents of the Near West Side and Kennedy Park neighborhoods by their respective neighborhood associations.

The officers of the Near West Side Neighborhood Organization (L to R): Secretary Amanda Ward, Treasurer Karl Edmonson, President Martin Mechtenberg, and Vice President Tammy Bell.

The workshop will take place Saturday, August 18 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Organizers hope the experience will increase partnerships between the neighborhoods and help participants build better relationships with their own neighbors and within their organizations.

“Right now, our organization does not reflect the neighborhood it represents,” says Martin Mechtenberg, President of the Near West Side Neighborhood Organization.

While the neighborhood the organization represents is racially and socioeconomically diverse, their active membership is mostly white professionals. Since taking the helm of the organization less than a year ago, Mechtenberg and other members have sought to change that.

“Since day one, I’ve told myself if we don’t make this neighborhood organization more diverse, I will have failed,” he says.

After hearing a member share her own experiences with building diversity in another group, Mechtenberg asked her to chair the organization’s first Diversity and Inclusion committee. “In this period of rebuilding, we want to stay focused on how important it is for the organization and its leadership to be reflective of the entire neighborhood,” says committee chair Andrea Crawford. The organization recently elected a new slate of officers for the first time in several years, and is currently revising its decades-old bylaws. “We want diversity and inclusion to be embedded in the DNA of the organization,” says Crawford.

Officers and members of the Kennedy Park neighborhood association celebrate the recent acquisition of their neighborhood center building at 1906 Linden, pictured.

The search for an effective and engaging diversity trainer from outside the neighborhood led Crawford to Eric Love, Director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion at Notre Dame. After an initial meeting, organizers knew Love would set the right tone.

“It’s not going to be four hours of getting scolded,” says Mechtenberg. “There will be laughter in the room. It won’t be about pointing fingers, but learning and digging deeper into each others’ experiences.”

Near West Side leaders also saw an opportunity to build bridges with communities of color in their own backyards. While participating in NRC’s Neighborhood Leadership Academy in spring of this year, Mechtenberg and other Near West Side neighbors connected with leaders from the adjacent Kennedy Park neighborhood, a predominately African-American neighborhood.

When leaders from Kennedy Park sought fundraising assistance last month to rescue their Neighborhood Center building from the tax sale, Near West Side neighbors stepped in to help. Kennedy Park is also undertaking a neighborhood survey to learn more about their own neighbors’ desires for the neighborhood, an effort which Near West Side volunteers are going door-to-door to support.

Members of the Near West Side and Kennedy Park neighborhood associations also cross-promoted their organizations at the Treasure Hunt North event in July.

These connections have led to an ongoing partnership between the two neighborhood organizations, including Kennedy Park’s co-sponsorship of Saturday’s diversity and inclusion training.

Near West Side organizers view their Kennedy Park neighbors’ perspectives as invaluable. “We need to understand how our lives are different, and what each others’ perspectives are.”

Though the co-organizers were able to negotiate discounts on some expenses such as the facility and speaker’s fee, the costs of the program still exceeded the associations’ available funds.

After some initial fundraising success from members’ own contributions and a GoFundMe campaign, the co-organizers applied for additional assistance from the Neighborhood Resources Connection, which doubled their efforts with a matching technical assistance grant of $1,000.

“The issue of diversity and inclusion is a big topic in this community,” says Diana Hess, NRC’s Executive Director. NRC’s technical assistance grant program exists to build capacity among neighborhood organizations, and Hess says Saturday’s workshop is a perfect fit. “We’re excited to see the collaboration between the two associations. Both of the organizations are trying to achieve better representation of their neighborhoods, and NRC is please to provide support.”

Mechtenberg acknowledges NRC’s assistance has been invaluable. “We wouldn’t be doing this without it,” he says.

Lunch has also been donated by Fiddler’s Hearth and Dee’s Backyard BBQ. Owners of both are residents of the Near West Side.

While priority registration for Saturday’s event is available to residents of the two neighborhoods, leaders of other recognized South Bend neighborhood organizations may inquire about the availability of seats by contacting the Neighborhood Resources Connection at (574) 287-0425, or Near West Side Neighborhood Organization leaders at nwsnorg@gmail.com or facebook.com/NWSNorg.