NORTH LIBERTY — A year marked by social distancing, isolation and quarantine has demonstrated the importance of connection.
With that in mind, the city of North Liberty — whose motto is “Connected to what matters” — is rolling out a citywide program that not only aims to connect citizens with the city, but neighbors with one another.
“Connection is something we’re valuing really highly,” said Jillian Miller, community engagement coordinator for the city. “The pandemic has shown us how important connection is.”
But the pandemic also has shown how difficult connecting can be these days. The city hopes to change that with its new Neighborhood Ambassador program. The city recently appointed 41 residents who will serve as volunteer ambassadors as part of the city’s Great Neighborhoods Initiative.
Volunteers have two key roles
Under the program, which begins this month, the ambassadors will have two roles, Miller said.
One is to help disseminate information from the city to their neighbors. Knowing that not all residents are signed up for city emails or follow city-run social media accounts, ambassadors will get the word out through their on social media, email, in-person meetings or the Nextdoor app.
“They’re making sure everyone is getting that information to the best of their volunteer ability,” Miller said.
Examples include informing neighbors about a snow emergency or an opening on a city commission, Miller said.
The neighbors also will be asked with building community engagement within their neighborhoods. While the pandemic can make that tricky, Miller said future endeavors could include planning a block party, organizing a book club or just making sure an elderly neighbor’s driveway gets shoveled after a snowstorm.
Connecting with city departments
The city also will be making the most out of these new connections, Miller said. Ambassadors can reach out to the library to organize a pop-up story time or library card sign-up or coordinate with the fire department to host a fire prevention presentation or visit from a firetruck. Miller said the recreation department can be tapped to organize games at area parks.
“City staff is really excited to engage with ambassadors and build those relationships,” Miller said. “There are a lot of opportunities for our departments to come into neighborhoods if they’re invited or reach out to see how we can be a really tight-knit community.”
Language Ambassadors will help others
Miller said there’s also a subprogram within the initiative called Language Ambassadors. Bilingual residents will volunteer to assist other residents having difficulty navigating city services. Already the city has volunteers who speak Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, French and Mandarin, Miller said.
Using data from Nextdoor, the city staff divided North Liberty into 34 neighborhoods, as well as two senior living centers that will serve as neighborhoods. The number of ambassadors per neighborhood is based on the density of that area, Miller said.
‘I wanted to invest myself a bit more in community’
Among the inaugural wave of ambassadors is Andrew Cole, a four-year resident of the community. Cole said North Liberty has been welcoming to him and his daughter and he saw the program as a way to give back.
“I’ve always done things out in the community, as far as volunteering,” Cole said. “I just kind of wanted to invest myself a little bit more in the community.”
Cole said he hopes to create more events, connect neighbors and make sure his fellow residents are well-informed about what’s going on in the community.
“To be able to have a little hand in that and be the spokesman for my community, I think that will help the city move on a lot of the things it’s trying to do,” he said.
Miller said the volunteers will begin their roles within their neighborhoods by mid-to-late January.
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