District 11: a place where your voice matters

One year in, Hamline Midway Coalition Executive Director Sarah O’Brien shares what she appreciates about her work


What does a district council in St. Paul do? The answer is as varied as the people who live in district, Como resident Sarah O’Brien has discovered in the last year since she was hired to replace outgoing Hamline Midway Coalition Executive Director Kate Mudge.
O’Brien has always worked in non-profits. She appreciates the mission-driven work she’s doing at HMC.
“I love that everyone is working for that mission,” remarked O’Brien.
Learn more about her work.

Define what HMC is for someone who doesn’t know
O’Brien: I tend to start out with a bad joke about how I will need a white board, some maps and charts, and about 45 minutes of the person’s time to properly explain the intricate work of the Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) and the district council system in general. Yet that bad joke captures something important, and kind of wonderful, about how energizing and interesting I find the work.
The Hamline Midway Coalition is truly the hands and feet, and sometimes the voice, of our neighborhood – serving our neighbors and working together to solve all sorts of problems, create opportunities, and improve where we live, work, and play. However, it’s a lot of hands, and a lot of activity, for lots of different efforts.
Our mission covers a lot of ground: “Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) is an action-oriented, neighborhood-based organization that develops and supports resident-led initiatives in community building, transportation, economic development, and neighborhood improvement.” It’s hard, when asked, not to just start listing (and mapping on those whiteboards) all the ways we empower and connect neighbors and initiatives.
Without any whiteboards, and more succinctly, I would like someone who doesn’t know anything about the Hamline Midway Coalition to know that their voice truly matters and is heard, and we (HMC) are a great starting point to get local issues solved, and opportunities and ideas launched.
Together we can shape the wants and needs of our neighborhood, and HMC is a vital conduit between the city of Saint Paul and the neighborhood.

What drew you to HMC?
O’Brien: Nestled in the Hamline Midway neighborhood are some of my favorite people, my favorite restaurants, my favorite parks, and my favorite hobbies.
I enjoy the eclectic makeup of this pocket of Saint Paul and the great neighborhood pride of its residents. At the time I applied for the executive director position I worked as development and communications director for The Open Door, a hunger relief organization located in Eagan, serving all of Dakota County. I have an incredible passion for hunger relief initiatives and could have done that work forever. However, visiting and/or driving through the Hamline Midway neighborhood multiple times a day (to and from work, eating, visiting, working out, etc.) my heart was being pulled back to this great neighborhood, this great city. I live in Saint Paul, play in Saint Paul, I wanted to work in Saint Paul and be part of sustaining a great community.
I have been dedicated to the nonprofit sector for just about 20 years and much of that work has been striving to ensure a better community for all. I was eager for the opportunity to work for an organization committed to the same.

What goals did you set for your first year and how did that guide your time?
O’Brien: To learn from the folks that make up this great neighborhood, plan together our desires, and initiate these ideas.
It was and continues to be important to me to listen to the wants and needs of our community so that I am truly representing our community. I am thankful for the people who have taken the time to meet with me over coffee, a walk, a conversation in the park, to teach me about this great neighborhood. Our committees (environment, development, transportation) and the volunteer leaders on each of these committees have been a great support to our work – I encourage everyone to connect with these committees and to attend the monthly meetings.
This is where ideas turn into action.

What were you excited to work on during your first year with HMC?
O’Brien: Where are my whiteboards? There are so many exciting initiatives, projects, and programs taking place at the Hamline Midway Coalition in partnership with so many great organizations, people, businesses, and the city of Saint Paul. It would be hard to list them all in a newspaper due to word limitations but some that come to mind are: the Midway Investment Cooperative, the Gravel Tree Bed to provide free trees to neighbors, The Bee Line, the Neighborhood Plan, Renter Engagement, the Midway Project, the first annual Ice Cream Social, the neighborhood garage sale, Annual Meeting and Winter Solstice Events.
One example of the complex, detailed and intricate nature of this work took place the first week on the job. I was invited to Pierce Butler Meadow to celebrate the hard work and dedication of numerous volunteers who have worked countless hours over multiple years to restore the area to native prairie. Upon arrival I learned, and witnessed, that it had been mowed.
I was then asked what I was going to do about it.
Working with community members, the Capitol Region Watershed District, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the city of Saint Paul, we ensured that “no mow” signs were placed. Community members such as Steph Hankerson, Steve Mitrione, Paul Nelson, and countless others, and partners worked hard over the four seasons to restore plantings, and shortly, an informational sign will be on display so passersby can learn more about the prairie and its importance in protecting, managing, and improving local water resources within the neighborhood.

What did you learn over the last year?
O’Brien: I have enjoyed my time drinking from the firehose over the past year. I have learned that numerous people commit countless hours of their personal time to ensure that the Hamline Midway neighborhood continues to be a great place to live, work and play. I have learned about the importance of a tree canopy in the city, what a parklet is, what happens when Pierce Butler Meadow gets mowed, what it takes to ensure a traffic light is installed at a busy intersection, the dos and don’ts to running a hybrid meeting, gathering community input to inform a 10-year neighborhood plan, the blood, sweat and tears as well as passion and commitment that go into being a small business owner, how to listen and ensure that residents are heard – I will be a life-long learner on this one.

What’s ahead?
O’Brien: So many great things! I am excited to share with you about the newly launched Midway Investment Cooperative – a group of neighbors who banded together to form a Real Estate Investment Cooperative to pool resources in order to collectively buy, rehab, and manage commercial and residential properties.
HMC is also working to form a Renter Advisory Forum to connect renters to one another and provide a chance to advance their voice on issues being faced.
Please also keep an eye out for our draft Neighborhood Plan – it will need your input! The Neighborhood Plan is our community’s vision for what Hamline Midway is – and will be – in the future. Once it is completed, it is incorporated into the city of St. Paul’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
I really want to invite the Hamline Midway residents to continue leaning into the work of their district council. What you think about your neighborhood and what you want to see change or improve or remain the same is something that I should be hearing about. I encourage you to attend the Hamline Midway Coalition Annual Meeting the evening of Thursday, Nov. 17. It is an opportunity to reconnect with neighbors, local businesses, and community organizations, to ask questions, to hear about the great things happening in your neighborhood, and to eat free food.
If you can’t wait until November, attend a committee meeting, or stop by my office to say hello. I am in the basement of the Hamline Midway Library (1558 W. Minnehaha Ave.).
Email director@hamlinemidway.org or call 651-494-7682.


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