Council of Neighbors and
By Eric Friedberg & Regan Foster
The Southeast Express
Julie Ramirez is a longtime Southeast resident, a graduate of Harrison School District 2 and a coach for the Harrison High School track and field team. She is a budding entrepreneur and a RISE (Resilient, Inspired, Strong, Engaged) Coalition Very Involved Person.
It’s safe to say Ramirez is familiar with the needs of Southeast Colorado Springs, which is why it’s a boon not just to the community but to the Council of Neighbors and Organizations (CONO) that she is a driving force behind the council’s Grow Your Own Advocate program.
“It’s a 10-week program where we try to connect residents of 80910 and 80916 [with] city officials and employees, nonprofit leaders, to build knowledge of how to become a better advocate for our community,” said Ramirez, the CONO Southeast community coordinator. “You don’t necessarily have to contribute to your community with money, but contributing with time and taking the time to learn about all the things that are happening around your neighborhood.”
CONO started out as a volunteer-led initiative in 1976. Over the decades, its focus has been educating Springs locals on how to implement the change they want to see in their neighborhoods and micro-communities.
Here are a few examples of CONO’s efforts in Southeast over the past year:
• Helped local street artist Rizzo and Monterrey Elementary School students create an environmentally conscious storm drain and sidewalk-beautification project.
• Hosted a community information session to determine whether the neighborhood would be interested in and support a Community Investment Fund.
• Secured dumpsters and supplies for a volunteer-led cleanup of the area of the Sand Creek Trail known as “The Dump.” That project, which launched in September, occurs once a month and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
• Celebrated NeighborUp! Month in September by helping community leaders secure neighborhood park permits and barricade fees for community block parties, picnics and neighborhood clean-ups.
• Hosted a city-wide block party to kick off summer.
• Partnered with Brothers Redevelopment, Next Step Ministries, the RISE Coalition and the city to offer free TLC to Southeast homes in need of some curb appeal.
And of course, CONO has graduated multiple classes of grassroots leaders through the Grow Your Own Advocate program in the past year.
It’s all part of the organization’s mission of “empowering neighbors and neighborhoods to take action in their communities through education and connection.”
CONO Chief Executive Diane Loschen pointed out that it takes more than just a nonprofit to affect that change.
“A courageous instigator is always needed, but (Springs residents) will soon find out that the simple act of an invitation is all it takes to get things started,” she said.
Lydia Andrews, who lives in downtown Colorado Springs with her husband Kevin Andrews, took that to heart.
They launched a block party called “Pancakes on the Porch” to network with their neighbors. The event, Lydia Andrews said, got neighbors excited about who they were living next to. Some revelers stayed for five minutes, some stayed two hours.
“I believe if you want to see change it has to start with your neighbors,” Andrews said.