Lansing residents have options for neighborhood involvement

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DeLisa Fountain is the director of the Neighborhoods, Arts, & Citizen Engagement Department for the City of Lansing. Spartan news reporter Samantha Ku recently spoke to Fountain about her job and what she does for the City of Lansing.

Q: Can you please introduce your job and the department you work for?

A: My name is DeLisa Fountain. My title is the director of the Department of Neighborhoods, Arts, and Citizen Engagement for the City of Lansing. Our department was created in 2018 when Mayor Schor first took office here in the city of Lansing. One of his initiatives was to create a department specifically for neighborhood and resident engagements. He wanted to make sure that residents had a place to come to where they had their voices heard.

Q: What does the department do to achieve the goal of engaging citizens?

A: We do a lot of engagement events, such as… On Feb. 20, we hosted a family movie day when kids were not in school. We’ll also be showing the Black Panther 2 free for Lansing residents.

We host a series of what we call Participatory Budget Nights, where residents can meet directly with Mayor Schor and his finance team to discuss our budget priorities for the next fiscal year.

We also host something called Citizens Academy in the fall. Each year we do a lottery drawing and take only about 16 to 20 participants. Those participants take a deep dive into city government … learn the processes of each department: how decisions are made, what is the chain of command in that department and how does that department fit into the overall goal of the city’s mission … We just wrapped up our 5th year, and are super excited about going into our 6th year soon.

Our neighborhood resource summits have about 30 to 40 vendors come with free resources and information for residents. We do ask our vendors to donate items for giveaways, residents are able to enter a raffle just by attending. And in the past neighborhood resource summits we’ve given away things such as meat bundles, full size cheesecake… I think the library has given away Kindles before.

We staff and manage two boards in Lansing, the Neighborhood Advisory Board and the Arts and Culture Board. The Neighborhood Advisory Board … funds neighborhood projects each year. Neighborhood and registered civic organizations within the city of Lansing are able to apply for grant opportunities up to $5,000 for projects that directly impacts neighborhoods.

We have our Walking Wednesdays. Those are walking tours through Lansing neighborhoods, where we bring out city officials who highlight assets in the neighborhood.

Q: Covid 19 has been a risk for outdoor activities since the past few years. How does it affect the department?

A: The LOVE Lansing event stands for Local, Organizations and Volunteer Excellence to celebrate our local organizations and volunteers who are doing great things in our neighborhoods and communities… We did stop for a few years due to the pandemic and back in person again this year on May 17. We chose that date because it aligns with our area called 5, 1, 7.

The Neighborhoods in Bloom program, where we grant out flower kits to civic organizations, to beautify their right of way spaces… Before the pandemic, neighbors would come and pick up their flowers and their mulch, now we have those items delivered directly to our neighbors, so it makes it a whole lot easier.

Q: So, you have told us a lot about the department programs. Do you have a favorite one? What is your most memorable experience?

A: One of my most favorite things that has happened over the last year is the launching of 311-call center. Instead of being bounced around City Hall and calling different numbers, 311 gives our residents one simple number to call from any landline or cell phone in the Lansing area, and they can reach an actual call center agent and share the concern directly with someone.

I’ve been with the city since 2014, and one of my favorite things is our field trip out to the wastewater treatment plant, where residents actually walk the entire plant from the beginning where your water comes in from your home to the treatment plant. The amount of care that goes into the water treatment centers and just seeing the people who work behind the scenes. And those are real people behind those jobs, right? We always think it’s just to push up a button, but those are real people who work very, very hard.

Q: Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

A: I strongly suggest that anyone sign up for our newsletter. We put a lot of our neighborhood and city related events in our newsletter, so it gives you a great idea of what’s happening throughout the city. That goes out every week on Fridays.

Come visit us sometimes. We’re located at 1220 West Kalamazoo St. We love to sit down and talk about the things that we’re doing.

And sign up for volunteer opportunities throughout the city. It’s a great way to get out and see the different neighborhoods.

Q: If someone would like to volunteer, can they just sign up online instead of going to your office?

A: They can sign up online at SERVE Lansing, and create a volunteer profile with the United Way, that’s for all of the tri-county area. And you can… keep track of your volunteer hours, and they will actually match you with opportunities based upon your interest.

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