BP New Connect is a community-led program that began in 2012, through which resident volunteers welcome new homeowners to the City of Brooklyn Park. These volunteers greet new neighbors with a reusable (City branded) tote bag filled with community information including recreation programs, library services, parks and trails maps, fire prevention tips, police safety tips, city events and programs and much more. Also included in the bag are some goodies and coupons for free items or services from local businesses.
This program helps to address former mayor Steve Lampi’s question: “When are we going to start doing things with our residents instead of doing things to them?” In the fall of 2009 the City held large brainstorming sessions, bringing staff and community members together to determine a clear vision and a set of core values for Brooklyn Park. Through these sessions, the City also created the Community Engagement Initiative (CEI), which was a response to the challenges Brooklyn Park faced during the housing crash that brought about thousands of foreclosures, rapidly changing demographics, and a huge expansion of police and code enforcement related cases.
As part of CEI, strategy teams comprised of both residents and staff were formed to address the identified challenges the City was facing at the time, including a lack of connection between neighbors, particularly neighbors of differing racial/cultural backgrounds. These teams included Measurement, Youth, Diversity and Resources. BP New Connect was developed by the Resources Team which focused on revitalizing neighborhoods and improving the moral and self-image of our city. Community and staff members worked together to build this program into a sustainable and successful method of resident engagement. Special recognition goes out to staffers Carrie Scully, Kim O’Hair, Pat Milton and Gerry Gibbs. CEI has now evolved from an initiative to an overarching philosophy of authentic and meaningful community engagement. Though the strategy teams tied to what was then an initiative are no longer active, the work that has come out of them and the commitment to keep their efforts going has continued.
The starting base of volunteers came from the existing crime watch captains group that our Crime Prevention Coordinator Gerry Gibbs has supported for many years. It has now expanded to residents who have never volunteered or engaged with the City prior to joining BP New Connect. The program was promoted on the City website, on flyers and brochures as well as word of mouth. The program has maintained a volunteer base of 80-90 members. In order to participate, residents go through a background check performed by the City’s police department and a short preparatory training session. Volunteers receive a photo badge that identifies their membership, and they wear these badges when delivering the welcome bags.
The first welcome bags were delivered after a training session of volunteers on Oct 22, 2012. As of today, volunteers have delivered a total of over 4,200 welcome bags. This doesn’t include the welcome bags that are requested by rental property owners or neighbors that come to City Hall to pick them up. We delivered 1,263 welcome bags in 2015 (our largest ever), and so far in 2016 approximately 450 have been delivered and as new residents continue to come to Brooklyn Park we anticipate this number will grow. An annual volunteer appreciation dinner for BP New Connect members is held every fall. At this dinner new volunteers are welcomed and current volunteers celebrate their successes.
This program continues to be successful in spite of some limitations including budget constraints, the difficulty of scheduling and maintaining an engaged volunteer base, and reaching out to local businesses for their sponsorship. There is an incurable amount of effort that is required but effective planning and a core team of committed individuals makes it possible.
BP New Connect is helping to create a cultural norm of residents welcoming new families into their neighborhood. The City continues to promote the importance of building connections within neighborhoods and encourages residents to take an active role in achieve the community’s vision for Brooklyn Park collaboratively.