New Civic Institute grant project aims to strengthen Erie County neighborhoods

Civic Institute

The Erie Community Foundation (ECF) has awarded a Shaping Tomorrow Grant for $214,000 to Mercyhurst University to implement a Neighborhood Resource Organization (NRO) that would support and enhance the efforts of neighborhood watch groups and associations across Erie County.

The announcement was made at Mercyhurst University on Tuesday, April 8, during a 10 a.m. press conference as part of the 2014 Cycle 1 Erie Community Foundation Grants Reception. Mercyhurst hosted the event during which the 22 nonprofit recipients of more than $2 million in grant funds were announced. The Mercyhurst Civic Institute earned one of the top three allocations.

The Mercyhurst grant will be used as seed money to commence operations and hire a full-time executive director for the NRO, which will be housed at the Mercyhurst Public Safety Institute in North East. NRO steering committee members include Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, Erie City Police Chief Randy Bowers, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini, among others.

In addition to providing supports for neighborhood groups, the NRO will work to satisfy the community objectives written into the Community Action Plan, coordinated by Andrea Bierer of the Mercyhurst Civic Institute, who also wrote the grant.

She noted that studies show Erie has problems with health issues like obesity, a lack of civic engagement, violence, and low participation in volunteerism, all of which contribute to “community disorganization.” Community disorganization, she added, refers to the physical environment within a neighborhood, including blighted properties, graffiti, vandalism, poor lighting, and an overall feeling of being unsafe.

The NRO will serve to combat community disorganization through regular training, assistance with funding applications for individual neighborhood groups and information on available services. In addition, it will develop a mechanism for neighborhood groups to communicate and share ideas. The NRO will also work to increase more positive relationships between residents and law enforcement, as witness intimidation and lack of cooperation has become an issue in criminal cases in Erie County.

By providing these resources to neighborhood groups, Bierer said it is anticipated that volunteer efforts will be enhanced as well as a sense of community among its residents.

Structurally, each neighborhood group would be offered opportunities to learn how to secure a business partner, school partner, social service partner, law enforcement partner, religious partner, youth partner and community partner. Having a cross-sector representation of stakeholders will assist neighborhoods in maximizing their resources and implementing their own strategies to address community concerns.

 

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