Bettering neighborhoods one barbeque at a time

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When fall rolls around and a new semester starts, thousands of college students move back to Duluth, and quiet communities receive a fresh batch of new neighbors. The Better Neighbors program at UMD works to ease that transition for students and their neighborhoods.

"Better Neighbors is a program designed to maintain and improve relationships with the campus and community neighbors," said Lauretta Perry, adviser to the Better Neighbors program and chemical health educator at UMD.

To encourage students to get out and meet their neighbors, Better Neighbors created The Better Neighbors Barbeque program. Students who host a barbeque-style gathering in their neighborhood are eligible to be reimbursed up to $40 for money spent on supplies.

"We want people to meet their neighbors,” said UMD junior and Better Neighbors director Mia Johnson. “We want them to form good relationships."

Students can take their receipts to the Student Association office and turn them in to Johnson, who will review them. The money cannot be used for alcohol. Students also need to document the names of the people who attended the party and include their contact information.

In the past, UMD would offer money to students who collected contact information from their neighbors. Better Neighbors organizers wanted to bring in a more personal touch.

"We thought we could do better than that,” Perry said. “If we're talking about building relationships, just knocking on the door doesn't dig deep enough.”

Only a handful of students have participated in the program in recent years, but Johnson says she hopes more students will take advantage of it in the future.

The Better Neighbors Program provides several other community-building opportunities in addition to their barbeque initiative.

The program oversees the Hillside Clean-up event every spring. Organizers work with the UMD Facilities Management Department to help remove unwanted furniture from the neighborhoods around campus.

The program also developed the UMD Furniture Swap, which can be found on Facebook. It is designed to connect people looking for furniture with people looking to get rid of it.

Keg With a Cop is an event occasionally put on by the program. Better Neighbors teams up with UMDPD for the event where students enjoy a free rootbeer keg and have the opportunity to ask police officers any questions they might have regarding law or safety.

The student body elects a student to the Better Neighbors director position. The director works closely with Perry, as well as UMDPD director Scott Drewlo. The Better Neighbors director acts as the student liaison with the UMDPD. "It’s beneficial for the community to see a student leader as the face of the program,” Perry said.

The Better Neighbors program is handled almost entirely by Johnson, with Perry acting in a background roll. Johnson has been in the position since 2011.

"Mia is well respected by community neighbors, by police and the administration,” Perry said. “She's the right person for the job."


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