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Social campaign seeks to connect University City residents

UCityNeeds.me director Chris Paavola, (left), speaks with a resident during a results party Saturday at the Heman Park Community Center. Paavola and other University Center organizers launched a campaign to link residents with causes they care about.
Kameel Stanley | St. Louis Public Radio

Organizers of UCityNeeds.me had a simple goal in mind when they launched their interactive social campaign this summer:

Find out what residents in University City want and need from their community. It didn’t take long to get the answer.

Over a 30 day period, residents submitted more than 2,000 responses to this prompt: “My #HopeForUCity is…”

The top three issues of concern were education, youth and commerce. People wrote that they wanted to feel safer; wanted more development along Olive and Delmar boulevards; and needed more mentoring programs for young people.

“Our tag line all along has been 'For change we need action. For action we need conversation. And for conversation we need you.'” said church pastor Chris Paavola, who directed the effort. “People love U City. They choose to live here. They love it for the things that it it has to offer, the arts, the diversity and just the opportunity the city has.”

But there is still work be done to make it better, Paavola said.

This past weekend, some of that work began.

Groups and volunteers that helped with the UCityNeeds.me campaign hosted a results party Saturday at Heman Park Community Center. Residents were encouraged to stop in and sign up with organizations working on issues they care about.

There were neighborhood non-profits that focused on urban gardening, teen mentoring, early childhood development and services for the elderly. The school district sent representatives, as did the library.

 “Really, the driving force behind the whole thing was going, 'OK, how can we find out what the community needs and then find out who’s meeting those needs, and see to if there’s any gaps in there?'” Paavola said.

City Council member Rob Jennings, who represents the third ward, said he first met Paavola a couple of years ago during a Delmar cleanup effort.

Back then, he said, Paavola talked about doing things.

“He talked about doing things in the community. And he kept his word,”Jennings said. “I think he’s really going to challenge the community, that now that you’ve told us what you want, let’s see if we can work toward completing what you want.”

University City Mayor Shelley Welsch said it helps that the campaign is being driven by local organizations, not officials.

“This gives residents an opportunity to share ideas that they may hesitate to share with the city itself, but that we can use as we move forward in our strategic planning for this city,” Welsch said. “I love to see grassroots efforts.”

Follow Kameel Stanley on Twitter @cornandpotatoes

Kameel Stanley co-hosted and co-produced the We Live Here podcast—covering race, class, power, and poverty in the St. Louis Region—from 2015 to 2018.

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