By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
What does a district council do in Saint-Paul? The response is as varied as people who live in the district, Como resident Sarah O’Brien discovered last year since she was hired to replace outgoing Hamline Midway Coalition executive director Kate Mudge. .
O’Brien has always worked in non-profit organizations. She enjoys the mission-driven work she does at HMC.
“I love that everyone is working for this mission,” O’Brien remarked.
Learn more about his work.
Define what HMC is for someone who doesn’t know
O’Brien: I tend to start with a bad joke that I’ll need a whiteboard, maps and charts, and about 45 minutes of person time to properly explain the job. Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) complex and the district council system in general. Yet this bad joke captures something important, and rather wonderful, about how energizing and interesting I find work.
The Hamline Midway Coalition is truly the hands and feet, and sometimes the voice, of our neighborhood – serving our neighbors and working together to solve all kinds of problems, create opportunity and improve where we live, work and play. However, it’s a lot of hands, and a lot of activity, for a lot of different efforts.
Our mission spans many areas: “Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) is an action-oriented, neighborhood organization that develops and supports resident-led initiatives in community building, transportation, economic development and neighborhood improvement. It’s hard, when asked, not to just start listing (and mapping on those whiteboards) all the ways we empower and connect neighbors and initiatives.
Without any whiteboards, and more succinctly, I’d like someone who knows nothing about the Hamline Midway Coalition to know that their voice really matters and is heard, and we (HMC) are a great starting point for resolving issues premises, and opportunities and ideas launched.
Together, we can shape the wants and needs of our neighborhood, and HMC is a vital link between the city of Saint Paul and the neighborhood.
What attracted you to HMC?
O’Brien: Tucked away in the Hamline Midway neighborhood are some of my favorite people, my favorite restaurants, my favorite parks, and my favorite hobbies.
I appreciate the eclectic composition of this pocket of Saint Paul and the great pride of the district of its inhabitants. At the time I applied for the Executive Director position, I was working as Director of Development and Communications for The Open Door, a hunger relief organization located in Eagan, serving all of Dakota County. I have an incredible passion for hunger relief initiatives and I could have done this job forever. However, visiting and/or driving around the Hamline Midway neighborhood multiple times a day (to and from work, eating, sightseeing, exercising, etc.) my heart was drawn back to this great neighborhood, this big city. I live in Saint Paul, I play in Saint Paul, I wanted to work in Saint Paul and be part of supporting a great community.
I have been involved in the nonprofit sector for about 20 years, and much of that work is focused on ensuring a better community for all. I was looking forward to the opportunity to work for an organization committed in the same direction.
What goals did you set for your first year and how did that guide your time?
O’Brien: To learn from the people who make up this great neighborhood, to plan our desires together and to initiate these ideas.
It was and continues to be important to me to listen to the wants and needs of our community so that I truly represent our community. I am grateful to the people who took the time to meet me over coffee, for a walk, for a chat in the park, to teach me more about this great neighborhood. Our committees (environment, development, transport) and the volunteer leaders of each of these committees have been a great support for our work – I encourage everyone to connect with these committees and attend the monthly meetings.
This is where ideas turn into action.
What were you excited about working on during your first year at HMC?
O’Brien: Where are my whiteboards? There are so many exciting initiatives, projects and programs taking place at the Hamline Midway Coalition in partnership with so many organizations, individuals, businesses and the City of Saint Paul. It would be difficult to list them all in a newspaper due to the limited word count, but some that come to mind are: Midway Investment Co-op, Gravel Tree Bed to provide free trees to neighbours, The Bee Line, Neighborhood Plan, Tenant Pledge, Midway Project, First Annual Ice Cream Social, Neighborhood Garage Sale, Annual Meeting, and Winter Solstice Events.
An example of the intricate, detailed and intricate nature of this work occurred in the first week of work. I was invited to Pierce Butler Meadow to celebrate the hard work and dedication of the many volunteers who worked countless hours over many years to restore the area to native prairie. When I arrived, I learned and witnessed that he had been broke.
I was then asked what I was going to do about it.
Working with community members, the Capitol Area Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the City of Saint Paul, we ensured “no mowing” signs were posted. Community members such as Steph Hankerson, Steve Mitrione, Paul Nelson and countless others and partners have worked hard over the four seasons to restore the plantations, and soon an information board will be posted so that passers-by can learn more about the prairie and its importance in protecting, managing and enhancing local water resources in the neighborhood.
What did you learn last year?
O’Brien: I’ve enjoyed my time drinking from the fire hose over the past year. I have learned that many people devote countless hours of their personal time to ensuring that the Hamline Midway neighborhood continues to be a great place to live, work and play. I learned about the importance of a tree canopy in the city, what a parklet is, what happens when Pierce Butler Meadow is mowed, what it takes to make sure a traffic light is installed at a busy intersection, the do’s and don’ts of running a hybrid meeting, gathering community feedback to inform a 10-year neighborhood plan, blood, sweat and tears along with the passion and the commitment that comes with being a small business owner, how to listen and make sure residents are heard – I will be a lifelong learner on this one.
What awaits us?
O’Brien: So many beautiful things! I’m thrilled to share with you the new Midway Investment Co-op – a group of neighbors who have come together to form a real estate investment co-op to pool their resources to collectively buy, rehabilitate and manage commercial and residential properties.
HMC is also working to form a Tenant Advisory Forum to connect tenants with each other and give them an opportunity to have their voices heard on issues.
Please also keep an eye out for our neighborhood plan project – it will need your input! The Neighborhood Plan is our community’s vision for what Hamline Midway is – and will be – in the future. When complete, it becomes part of the City of St. Paul’s overall 2040 plan.
I really want to invite the residents of Hamline Midway to continue to reflect on the work of their District Council. What you think of your neighborhood and what you want to see change or improve or stay the same is something I should hear about. I encourage you to attend the annual meeting of the Hamline Midway Coalition on the evening of Thursday November 17th. It’s a chance to reconnect with neighbours, local businesses and community organizations, ask questions, hear about the great things happening in your neighborhood. , and eat free food.
If you can’t wait until November, attend a committee meeting or drop by my office to say hello. I’m in the basement of the Hamline Midway Library (1558 W. Minnehaha Ave.).
Email [email protected] or call 651-494-7682.