Creating a Legacy of Service: How to Engage Citizens

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This is a guest post by Mayor Dayne Walling, Flint, Mi. This post is part of the NLC Community Service Series, and originally appeared here.

cities of service 1 - flint, miWith the support of a Cities of Service Impact Volunteering Fund grant in 2013, Mayor Dayne Walling and the city of Flint, Mi., were able to implement neighborhood revitalization projects based on the Love Your Block Blueprint. (image courtesy of citiesofservice.org)

The city of Flint is making great strides in transforming the city block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Our Cities of Service Love Your Block initiative is a critical component of our strategy to harness the power of service and citizens to make a real, measurable impact on the ground as we aim to win the fight against urban blight. As an AmeriCorps alumnus, I believe in the power of citizen service and understand the significant impact of people working together toward a common goal. In Flint, we aren’t only engaging community members to volunteer, but also asking them to help us plan. We want to make sure the things we do are answering the needs of our citizens. The more time and effort we invest up front, the more invested our community members will be for the long term.

Flint became a member of the Cities of Service coalition in 2009, when I signed the Declaration of Service and committed to using impact volunteering to tackle the challenges of neighborhood blight and emergency preparedness. I joined the coalition because I value the role that Cities of Service plays in helping mayors engage citizen volunteers, forge connections across cities, and bring awareness to the issues that cities are facing.

To accelerate neighborhood revitalization efforts and address the massive challenges related to urban blight in Flint, I launched the Love Your City campaign in 2012. With the support of a Cities of Service Impact Volunteering Fund grant in 2013, we were able to implement neighborhood revitalization projects based on the Love Your Block Blueprint all over the city.

We are sustaining and advancing Love Your City through new partnerships with businesses, as well as community and faith-based organizations. Because of our demonstrated success in the first year, we received a second round of funding from Cities of Service and the latest outcomes speak for themselves: to date, citizen volunteers in Flint – in partnership with city agencies and local nonprofits – have revitalized 95 city blocks, cleaned and maintained nearly 300 blighted properties, hauled away more than 2 million pounds of yard waste and trash, and created 116 green spaces and community gardens. Love Your City is truly a movement that is making long-lasting change in the livability of our city and in how citizens feel about their blocks and neighborhoods.

Love Your City is now part of implementing Flint’s new master plan, Imagine Flint, the city’s first comprehensive, long-range plan in over 50 years, developed with input from a diverse group of more than 5,000 Flint residents and community stakeholders. With Imagine Flint as our guide, we will continue to address challenges across our city, including improving public safety, emergency preparedness, opportunities for youth, health, and reducing blight with service-fueled solutions like Love Your Block.

We continue to face significant challenges and our road to recovery will not be easy. However, I am confident that with engaged citizens, targeted opportunities, and dedicated community leaders, Flint will emerge stronger than ever before.