SPRINGFIELD — In a city the size of Springfield, people might feel like they do not have a voice in decisions that affect their own neighborhood. That is why each of the major neighborhoods in Springfield has a neighborhood council or civic association that organizes events, keeps residents informed and acts as a liaison with the city.

Founded in 1963, the Forest Park Civic Association is the oldest neighborhood-based organization in the city. It is also the largest, representing more than 26,000 residents over nearly four square miles, including all the 01108 zip code and a sliver of 01106.

Membership varies from year to year but has been trending downward. With 106 people in 2022, the association hit its lowest level in more than two decades. The association is actively seeking new members but needs the city’s help, said Katherine Post, Forest Park Civic Association Board member and co-chair of the Membership Committee.

“The city recognizes it has been difficult for councils and associations because of COVID-19,” Post said. Considering this, the city is offering Council Stabilization grants to those neighborhood councils and civic associations that apply and demonstrate a need.

Post said City Hall employees have been “very encouraging” of the association’s grant application.

According to the grant documents, the association has identified three goals that can revitalize the association and boost its membership. The first goal is to improve communication and outreach to the residents and businesses in the neighborhood using tools and strategies such as improving the association’s website, effectively using social media, collaborating with schools and businesses, and hiring translator services for communication with the diverse population it serves.

The association is also looking to provide relevant programming with a focus on improving physical and mental health, safety and quality of life for residents.

Neighborhood. Some of the ways it would achieve this include enhanced seasonal celebrations, collaborating with police and health professionals on public health and safety events and encouraging people to get to know their neighbors. Post said the association would like to host educational workshops on topics such as aging in place, maintaining historical homes, landlord/tenant issues or police relations.

The final goal of the association is to strengthen and update the association’s administrative functions. Post said the organization is considering becoming a federally recognized nonprofit and adopting software programs to streamline the behind-the-scenes workings.

Post said the association needs the financial support of the city, in part because civic associations do not qualify for Community Development Block Grants, the way neighborhood councils do. The organization charges an annual membership fee of $15 per person or $25 per household of two. New residents are eligible for free membership in the first calendar year. Post said the association also accepts donations.

The group meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month, between September and June at Forest Park’s John J. Shea Bright Nights Technical Training Facility. The annual meeting will be on March 3 at the park’s Clifford A. Phaneuf Environmental Center.

More information about the Forest Park Civic Association can be found at forestparkcivic.org.

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