History of Lansing Neighborhood Council
A history of Lansing Neighborhood Council was written by Bette Downs in The Lansing Neighborhood Council and its Neighborhood Associations appears in the Michigan State University Center for Community Economic Development Community News & Views newsletter, Vol 17, No. 3, Summer 2015.(Available from Center for Community & Economic Development, 1615 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing, MI 48912, Phone (517) 353-9555 • Fax (517) 884-6489 • E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lansing Neighborhood Council and its Neighborhood Associations by Bette Downs (Summer 2005)
Fifty-five neighborhood associations, united through membership in the Lansing Neighborhood Council, engage in a multitude of programs designed to enhance their immediate social and physical environment; and, through the Council, they strive to make all of Lansing a vibrant, thriving city.
In 1980, Lansing had six neighborhood organizations. In Pricilla Holmes’ living room, their representatives decided to launch the L.N.C. In 1983, with the formation of additional groups, the Council acquired an office and a staff. Today, the Council has an active board and it sponsors events along with shepherding a steadily increasing number of associations.
Priscilla Holmes became the first director of L.N.C., a post she held until 1993. After brief stints by several directors, Cheryl Risner, the current director, began working for the Council in 1994 and was named director in 1996.
Still a community activist, Holmes manages the REO Town Commercial Association, a new enterprise which attributes much of its success to three L.N.C. associations, Fabulous Acres, Moores Park Neighborhood Organization, and River Point Organization. REO Town embraces the site where the Reo automobile, named for R. E. Olds, was manufactured.
People need a reason to organize,” Holmes says, “and it helps to have a population of the politically aware.”
The Eastside Neighborhood Association
One of Lansing’s earliest groups, the Eastside Neighborhood Organization, had a reason to organize. E.N.O. began about the time flooding threatened the area. E.N.O. gained momentum as friends and neighbors mobilized to assist the people affected by the high water.
Last April, E.N.O. celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of its most popular events, the Spring Souper fundraiser. Special features included a silent auction, a kids’ auction, and a live auction. David Wiener, executive assistant to Lansing Mayor Tony Benevides, helped serve soup. Lansing council members attended.
Rick Kibbey helped by bringing soup, adding to an array of homemade specialties. Kibbey, who attended E.N.O.’s founding meeting 1973, worked for Lansing’s Planning and Neighborhood Development Department.
“Our job was to build citizen participation and that’s what I’m still doing,” he says. Kibbey points out that when he first joined E.N.O., “Lack of rental housing made it tough for low-income families to find a place to live. Affordable housing is as big a problem now as it was in the past.”
“E.N.O’s relationships have improved,” Kibbey says. “It’s been years since we’ve had to introduce ourselves to the community. Community leaders give us more respect.”
Kibbey says that people turn to E.N.O. for advice because “Rising housing costs have put the squeeze on those who want to buy. If E.N.O. leaders don’t have answers, they know where to get them. This did not happen in the early days of E.N.O.” It appears that E.N.O. maintains the useful quality Priscilla Holms describes as “politically aware.”
The E.N.O. holds monthly open meetings and publishes a 24-26 page paper twice a year. Advertising covers the costs. E.N.O. president Nancy Parsons says, “If we make a profit we want to put it back into the community. In the past, we have donated to Ronald McDonald House.”
Prior to local and national elections, E.N.O. schedules a candidates’ night. “We want to provide a time when people can ask question. We don’t always agree but we try to work with everyone,” Parsons says.
E.N.O. maintains close ties with nearby Sparrow Hospital and Sparrow encourages employees to live in the neighborhood.
The Westside Neighborhood Association
Another early group, the Westside Neighborhood Association, also had a reason to organize. It began over 30 years ago because Ann Kron, its first president, saw the importance of an integrated area.
Our purpose was to make everyone welcome, and we still have a beautiful, welcoming neighborhood,” Kron says. “In the early days, we were working to keep the neighborhood from being destroyed. We spent a lot of time at City Hall. We wanted to keep schools from closing. We didn’t want undesirable changes in zoning. We were a very, very busy organization.”
The initial purpose broadened to include an Easter egg hunt, a July 4th parade, sponsorship of a baseball team, and discussion groups. “We held candidates’ nights at Sexton High School,” Kron said. “Over 200 people attended.”
Today, the Westside Neighborhood Association continues to thrive. A very professional newsletter, The Westsider, reports on W.N.A. activities but also covers other Westside events. One ongoing W.N.A program, Kids, Schools, and Scouts, offers tutoring for students with learning problems. Scouts deliver The Westsider.
Recently, W.N.A. hosted “Awesome Friday in April and Silent Auction.” The even raised funds for youth activities and for a $1,000 scholarship awarded each year to a westside high school senior.
The W.N.A. undertakes other activities as part of a broader involvement. The closing of Linden Elementary School, widely recognized as outstanding, concerns people in the neighborhood. They value a small school and point out that their children will attend the larger Vivian Riddle School.
In June, W.N.A. members will join others to build a house as part of the Habitat for Humanity program. Also, W.N.A. has joined the City of Lansing and other organizations as part of the Westside Vision Team to address maintenance needs in the extensive area.
W.N.A. sponsors two fundraisers, the Westside Garden Festival and the Westside Home Tour. Both events benefit Advent House Ministries, a non-profit agency which has offered services for the homeless and people in transition for the past 18 years. The Garden Festival has grown beyond its initial tour to include a plant sale, raffle, music, refreshments, a marketplace, and the plein aire painters.
Caring Active Residents
A unique demonstration of cooperation spans four neighborhood associations. They mesh their resources to sponsor a four-pronged program. The Oak Park Neighborhood Association, Eastern Neighbors, Hosmer Street Neighbors, and Association for the Bingham Community (A.B.C.) have formed C.A.R.S., Caring Active Residents. Together they arrange four events with each association taking responsibility for one.
Spring brings an Easter egg hunt. In July, up to 600 people attend “Country in the City,” designed to give Lansing children a sample of farm life.
A.B.C. president Denise Kelley says, “We have door prizes, tons of food, and hay.” Her organization plans the Halloween party and her Cat in the Hat costume won a first prize. The year ends with a December event. It features horse drawn vehicles which travel through the neighborhood where volunteers distribute cookies, hot chocolate, candy canes, and good cheer.
C.A.R.S. president Jack Stauffer emphasizes the non-political policy of his organization. “We just want to offer something for our children,” he says. The Lansing Neighborhood Council sponsors three citywide events each year.
The Council also sponsors and co-sponsors public forums and seminars. On May 3, L.N.C. hosted a seminar presenting Richard Slining from the Ingham County Empowerment Project for Gun Violence Prevention. Sponsors included Lansing Mayor Tony Benevides, Lansing police chief Mark Alley, Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III, and Ingham County sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth.
The Council encourages each neighborhood association to “develop its won capacity and ability to address the common and sometimes uncommon problems and concerns of its residents.”
Any Lansing neighborhood group may seek L.N.C. membership. Applicants complete a one page form and attend a Council meeting. L.N.C. carefully assesses boundaries because some associations overlap.
The L.N.C. director and her two assistants not only oversee the 55 neighborhood associations, they also attend many events. When the Eastside Neighborhood Organization held its three auctions in their Spring Souper, L.N.C. director Cheryl Risner served as auctioneer. But her responsibilities extend far beyond this important personal contact. A partial list of her duties: she conducts a landlord-tenant program, helps write grant proposals, and speaks at the meetings of new associations.
Kathy Dunbar, whose energy and enthusiasm defy measurement, serves as president of Sagniaw Hill Neighborhood Association, secretary of L.N.C., and director of the recently formed South Lansing Community Development Association established to monitor southside development. Under Dunbar’s leadership, six new neighborhood associations have emerged in the last two and a half years. As south Lansing development expands, the new association members address related issues.
“I couldn’t do my job in south Lansing without Cheryl Risner and L.N.C.,” Dunbar says. She points out that the Council emphasizes person contact. “We want to connect people with people in a very personal way,” she says. “Older people especially value personal relationships. They prefer this to getting information from a Web-site.”
The Lansing Neighborhood Council’s strength lies in its ability to guide its member associations at the same time respecting their autonomy and encouraging innovation. Another strength has evolved as the Council joins other organizations in multifaceted events such as Neighborhoods-N-Bloom with its 65 participants. The ability of four neighborhood associations to develop joint programs as they have through C.A.R.S. further strengthens what could be called a neighborhood movement.
With increasing reliance on new technology, the Council and its affiliates can benefit through the use of computers and all they offer, yet focus on neighborliness. The Bea Christy Award dinner attended by 240 neighbors blurred the identity of the neighborhood associations by blending them through a single focus. Under the leadership of L.N.C., member associations can strengthen the fabric of the entire city. Individually, they can strengthen the fabric of their immediate environment.