January 22, 2013

In a place like Fondren, maybe unlike any other in the metro, it’s not uncommon to find neighbors in their yards playing catch with their kids. Nor is it uncommon here to know almost every one on your block. And on a Tuesday night in the front of the neighborhood’s organic grocery, you may find a group of neighbors whose sole goal is to make more of those neighborhood norms come to life. Meet the OurFondren Neighborhood Association (OFNA).

An elected board governs OurFondren, an association separate from others like Fondren Renaissance or SoFo, the neighborhood ladies social group. OurFondren’s stated goals are to deal with code enforcement, safety and communications among and for the neighbors of all of Fondren.

Neighbor members pay $40 per year and receive a member car sticker and access to the NextDoor community website. Founded in San Francisco, California in 2010, Nextdoor is a free, private social network customized to each local area they serve. Users find posts from yard sales to child care to suspicious persons alerts to invitations to upcoming events. OFNA President Susan Margaret Barrett says this website has been one of the keys to raising awareness of the neighborhood’s profile amongst its residents. “Nextdoor is fascinated to find out how much we use the site and what a great tool it is,” Barrett says. “Their marketing people were surprised to hear that even our police commander (McGowan) is involved on the site.”

Board member Sara Weisenberger says current stats say around 27% off the neighborhood is signed up for the site. Past president Kathy Clem thinks the number is too low and hopes, through quarterly meetings, OFNA will convince more neighbors to take advantage of the service. “The site is wonderful” Clem says. “If you go there, you can learn more about the people here. It gives us a great stepping stone.” She recounts a conversation with a neighbor in a restaurant just the other night. “This lady didn’t really understand the difference in all of our organizations. Over a burger, we were able to talk about it. There’s so much work to do because there are so many neighbors.”

Barrett tells us that OurFondren’s job is simply to be here for neighbors. She says “It’s communication, working together, and setting common goals. New members and new ideas are crucial to the lifeblood of the organization.”

That’s why the input of new board members like Marika Cackett is important. As public relations manager for the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau, Cackett looks at a healthy neighborhood from many aspects. “It’s not just about those of us who live here,” she explains. “We need to take care of this neighborhood for economic development and growth. This is a viable neighborhood that brings in millions in tourism dollars every year.”

Counted as a key factor in the success of Fondren is its diversity. “I can’t think of any neighborhood in Jackson that has more diversity than Fondren,” Clem says. “We try to be inclusive and that’s what people are looking for when they are looking for the place to play and shop and live. “This group is charged to help that, promote and shop that.”

New board member Langston Moore agrees. Fondren, he says, is a great place to make a difference — and it’s simple to do. “Helping with Fondren After 5 or (Byron Knight’s) Sneaky Fest is an easy way to say ‘I want to get involved.’ And things like Color Me Rad; there’s an opportunity to volunteer. There are diverse and easy ways to make changes.”

Barrett wraps it up like this: “OurFondren is more about the neighbors as a community,” she says. “Neighborly is our specialty.”

Learn how you can be involved in OurFondren Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:30pm, at the Fondren Town Hall at Broadmeadow United Methodist Church.