BY TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
What does a district council do in St. Paul? The answer is as varied as the people who live in the district, Como resident Sarah O’Brien found out last year since she was hired to replace outgoing Hamline Midway Coalition Executive Director Kate Mudge.
O’Brien has always worked for non-profit organizations. She appreciates the mission-driven work she does at HMC.
“I love that everyone is working for this mission,” remarked O’Brien.
Learn more about her work.
Define what HMC is to someone who doesn’t know
O’Brien: I usually start with a bad joke about how I need a whiteboard, 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 county government system in the general. Yet this bad joke captures something important and somehow wonderful about how stimulating and interesting I find the work.
The Hamline Midway Coalition is truly the hands and feet and sometimes the voice of our neighborhoods – serving our neighbors and working together to solve every possible problem, create opportunity and improve where we live, work and play. However, it’s a lot of hands and a lot of activity for many different endeavors.
Our mission covers many areas: “Hamline Midway Coalition (HMC) is an action-oriented, neighborhood-based organization that develops and supports community-led initiatives in community building, transportation, economic development and neighborhood improvement.” It’s hard not to start with just that to list (and map on these whiteboards) all the ways we empower and connect neighbors and initiatives.
Whiteboarded and short and sweet, I want someone who doesn’t know anything about the Hamline Midway Coalition to know that their voice really matters and is heard, and we (HMC) are a great starting point for solving local problems. and opportunities and ideas brought to life.
Together we can shape the wants and needs of our neighborhood, and HMC is an important link between the City of Saint Paul and the neighborhood.
What brought 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 corner of Saint Paul and the great neighborhood pride of its residents. At the time I applied for the Executive Director position, I was working as the Development and Communications Director for The Open Door, an Eagan-based famine relief organization serving all of Dakota County. I have an incredible passion for hunger relief initiatives and could have done this 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.) drew my heart 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 a great community.
I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for almost 20 years, and much of that work strives to ensure a better community for all. I was excited for the opportunity to work for an organization dedicated to the same.
What goals did you set for your first year and how did that guide you during your time?
O’Brien: To learn from the people who make up this great neighborhood, to plan our desires together and to initiate those ideas.
It was and still is important to me to listen to the wants and needs of our community so that I truly represent our community. I’m grateful for the people who took the time to meet me for coffee, a walk, or a chat in the park and teach me about this great neighborhood. Our committees (Environment, Development, Transport) 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 attend the monthly meetings.
This is where ideas become action.
What were you looking forward to in your first year at HMC?
O’Brien: Where are my whiteboards? There are so many exciting initiatives, projects and programs happening at the Hamline Midway Coalition in partnership with so many great organizations, people, businesses and the City of Saint Paul. It would be difficult to list them all in one newspaper due to word restrictions, but a few 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 Flea Market, the Annual Meeting and Winter Solstice events.
An example of the complex, detailed and intricate nature of this work took place in the first week of work. I was invited to Pierce Butler Meadow to celebrate the hard work and dedication of numerous volunteers who have worked countless hours over several years to restore the area to a pristine prairie. Upon arrival I learned and witnessed that it had been mowed.
I was then asked what I would do about it.
Working with community members, the Capitol Region Watershed District, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the City of Saint Paul, we ensured “No Mow” signs were installed. Community members such as Steph Hankerson, Steve Mitrione, Paul Nelson and countless others and partners have worked hard over the four seasons to restore the plantings and an informational sign will be on display shortly so passers-by can learn more about the prairie and its importance in conservation, management and improvement of local water resources in the neighborhood.
What have you learned in the last year?
O’Brien: I’ve enjoyed drinking from the fire hose for the past year. I have learned that many people invest 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 learned the importance of a tree canopy in the city, what a parklet is, what happens when Pierce Butler Meadow is mowed, what it takes to ensure a traffic light is installed at a busy intersection, what to do and what to do not to do is host a hybrid meeting, gather community input to inform a 10 year neighborhood plan, the blood, sweat and tears, passion and commitment that goes into the life of a small business owner, how to listen and making sure the residents are heard – I will be a lifelong learner on this one.
What’s coming up?
O’Brien: So many great things! I’m excited to tell you about the newly formed Midway Investment Cooperative – a group of neighbors who have come together to form a Real Estate Investment Cooperative to pool resources to collectively buy, rehabilitate and renovate commercial and residential real estate administer.
HMC is also working on setting up a tenant advisory forum to connect tenants with each other and give them the opportunity to express their views on the issues at hand.
Please keep an eye out for our draft Neighborhood Plan – it needs your input! The Neighborhood Plan is our community’s vision for what Hamline Midway is – and will be – in the future. Once completed, it will be included in the City of St. Paul’s comprehensive 2040 plan.
I genuinely invite the residents of Hamline Midway to continue to be involved in the work of their Borough Council. What you think of your neighborhood and what you would like to see change or improve or stay the same is something I should hear about. I encourage you to attend the Hamline Midway Coalition Annual Meeting on Thursday evening, November 17th. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with neighbors, local businesses and community organizations, ask questions and hear about the great things happening in your neighborhood, and eat free food.
If you can’t wait until November, attend a committee meeting or stop by my office to say hello. I’m in the basement of the Hamline Midway Library (1558 W. Minnehaha Ave.).
Email email@example.com or call 651-494-7682.