Des Moines neighborhood officials say $1,000 would help them thrive

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Des Moines’ 51 neighborhood associations may be eligible to receive assistance from the city, according to a draft budget recently released Wednesday.

The preliminary proposal would award a $1,000 grant to each neighborhood association if city council approves the plan at the city’s public budget hearing on March 21.

Chris Johansen, director of Des Moines Neighborhood Services, said the initiative is the result of hearings from neighborhood associations requesting city funding to help with community engagement and outreach.

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Associations give residents the opportunity to meet, discuss, identify, and learn about city projects, crime, new businesses, and other events specific to their neighborhood. Some associations also organize community events like National Night Out or Easter egg hunts.

Neighbor dues don’t stretch very far

But organizing events and doing community outreach costs money, which not all neighborhood associations have a lot of.

“Some neighborhoods, if they’re along a commercial corridor, … can get donations. But there are neighborhoods that don’t,” Johansen said.

Associations that do not have access to trade corridors depend largely on resident dues to do their work. And those tend to go down, Johansen said.

Susan Wells, president of the Cheatom Park Neighborhood Association, north of downtown, told the Des Moines Register that means her association does “essentially nothing” when it comes to fundraising because of low membership rates.

“We could do more, once upon a time,” Wells said. “We used to give Thanksgiving baskets to families in need, we had a summer program for young people, and we helped with back-to-school.”

From hosting a “little community picnic” for neighborhood families to getting involved with National Night Out, $1,000 can go a long way, Wells said. But, more importantly, she thinks the extra money could help her association enable neighbors to build relationships with each other.

Webster Kranto, president of the Magnolia Park Neighborhood Association on the city’s south side, told the Register that the proposed funding lets him know the city actually cares about him and other neighborhoods on a hyperlocal level. The association currently has an annual budget of approximately $700.

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“It only makes us better citizens if we feel more connected to our city and the city genuinely cares about our well-being and the progress of the neighborhood,” Kranto said.

Kranto, like Wells, said association members had many ideas for community initiatives and events, but simply didn’t have the funds to launch them. He even said he usually contributes out of pocket to the neighborhood association fund so she can attend National Night Out.

“A thousand dollars isn’t a ton of money, but there’s a lot we can do to expand that…there’s a lot of need in our neighborhood and a lot of diversity initiatives to bring people together” , Kranto said.

If approved later this month, Johansen said the Neighborhood Services department would start working on the parameters of the program, hoping it would be ready to launch before the summer.

Melody Mercado covers the Des Moines city government for the registry. Join her at [email protected] or Twitter @melodymercadotv.

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