The data was clear. Of the 119 active neighborhood associations in the City of Peoria (as of January 2019), not even one member was under the age of 21, while the vast majority were over the age of 30.
A neighborhood association is a group of citizens who live or work/attend school in the same geographical area and meet regularly to resolve issues and advocate for that neighborhood. Because youth are a part of and directly affected by the area in which they spend their time, our group of four Bradley University students knew we had to give youth their own space and voice in the community.
The capstone course for Bradley’s senior public relations majors requires students to implement a fully actualized public relations campaign throughout the semester. Split into teams of three or four, they must work with a for-profit and not-for-profit entity to develop a community project. The projects are judged on several factors, including quality and strategic application of research, integration of for-profit and not-for-profit partnerships, media coverage and overall replicability of the process.
MK PR—the team made up of Meghan Anderson, Kristin Drew, Misa Nagase and Kyle Powers—partnered with Peoria Magazines and the City of Peoria Community Development Department to tackle the lack of youth participation in neighborhood associations. Through this process, Peoria’s first youth neighborhood association was born.
Building Interest and Engagement
The boundaries of the new neighborhood association, known as West Bluff HomeSpace, are marked by University Street, Armstrong Avenue, Sheridan Road and Gift Avenue. These streets encompass the area between Quest Charter Academy High School and Peoria Central High School, our two main targets in finding interested youth of the West Bluff.
The early stages of this project involved informing youth, parents and community leaders about the lack of youth participation in neighborhood associations, then engaging them in surveys on this matter and their interest in being a part of West Bluff HomeSpace. Throughout the semester, if our team members were not on Bradley’s campus, chances are we were at Quest or Central High School. Or at a neighborhood association meeting or another community event. Or calling, emailing and meeting with local leaders. Or distributing hundreds of informational flyers to houses within the West Bluff HomeSpace boundaries.
Stacks of completed surveys and the accumulated paperwork grew taller week by week and month after month—quite unlike the houseplants we no longer had the time for (oops!). We kept in constant contact with our partners and gave regular in-class presentations on our progress while posting updates on the new West Bluff HomeSpace Facebook page for the public to track and follow.
A number of problems did arise. Many of the high school students expressed they were too busy with other activities or did not have transportation to meetings. Some community leaders, as involved as they are, felt they did not have time to commit to any more initiatives. Finally, though, we were able to put together an executive board, comprised primarily of freshmen dedicated to community service, with a willingness to continue growing the organization in the years to come. Community leaders who had previously shown interest began to sign up to mentor the group. And with that, we had formed Peoria’s first youth neighborhood association.
Onward and Upward
Finally, it was the day of the first meeting of West Bluff HomeSpace. April 30, 2019 announced itself with thundering clouds and heavy rains, but we did not let that dampen our spirits. The morning was full of errands and jittery nerves, but mostly excitement. We wondered how many people would show up, or worse, if anyone beyond our executive board, mentors and partners even would.
To our great pleasure, the first meeting ran smoothly. Thirty-four community members arrived to support the event, which featured remarks from our partners, mentors, a City Council member, ourselves and most importantly, the president and vice president of West Bluff HomeSpace. Adorned with sashes and proud grins, the inaugural executive board delivered passionate speeches to the room of supporters. When the president thanked Peoria for providing her a home and the mentors expressed their commitment to these students face to face, we knew the newly-formed neighborhood association would not soon fail.
This campaign was always designed to be sustainable. To ensure the future of the neighborhood association, the executive board and mentors each received a copy of an “Operating and Best Practices Guidebook,” which we created from material received from other successful neighborhood associations, as well as lessons in recruiting, fundraising, etc., that we learned from the experience.
Peoria Magazines offered a magazine subscription for the president and vice president of West Bluff HomeSpace to keep them informed and aware of what is happening in the community. The mentors have connections and resources to make things happen, while support from the City of Peoria Community Development Department has created a strong and capable force.
As West Bluff HomeSpace begins and carries on, all they ask of their community is support—support for this group of inspired and inspiring youth who want nothing more than to support that same community back. PM
Check out West Bluff HomeSpace at facebook.com/wbhomespace to follow their progress.