Time to ‘evolve’ Grand Forks
Launch of UND-partnered Main Street GF Challenge brings students and community leaders together
By the time Evolve Grand Forks’ Collin Hanson was ready to emcee the Main Street GF Challenge launch ceremony at 4:30 p.m., he and the challenge winners in attendance already had a full Wednesday (June 13).
“The cohort has been here since 7 a.m.,” he said with a smile. “We’ve been meeting with civic leaders and actors all day… we dressed comfortably.”
Nine students (three high school and six from UND) had their ideas for civic projects chosen from a pool of 40 applicants, which earned them a project-funding cash prize, a six-month membership to Evolve GF’s 701 Coworking space and access to the June 13 launch event, among other perks. Throughout the day, the students heard from various Grand Forks “movers and shakers” about the paths to affecting change.
The evening’s ceremony brought the winners, their families, community leaders and organizers together to recognize the beginning of a new venture, and to impart words of wisdom to up-and-coming civic leaders.
Holly Holt, senior manager of strategic initiatives for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, and Krista Nightengale, managing director of Better Block, were the keynote speakers for the evening.
“Tonight we are witnessing history being made,” UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo opened in his welcoming remarks. “We are turning over the keys to the city of Grand Forks to the next generation.”
DiLorenzo discovered the recipe for enhancing the community while listing other “change-makers” of Grand Forks, including Mayor and Altru physician, Dr. Michael Brown; former director of UND’s Center for Innovation Bruce Gjovig; and food columnist Marilyn Hagerty.
“You start with a base of public service, add vision, sprinkle in a bit of audacity and layer on a plan,” he said. “What do you get? The Main Street GF Challenge.”
He followed by saying it takes individuals and institutions to help bake the creation. And having an innovative university like UND as a leading partner in the Challenge is certainly a good start.
Tackling big ideas
The goal of the Main Street GF Challenge is enabling younger citizens to address the tenants of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative: healthy, vibrant communities; smart, efficient infrastructure; and a 21st century workforce.
UND senior Sayjen Aldridge, who is triple-majoring in honors, communication and international studies, wants her project to connect New Americans with the community at large. Though originally from Arizona, Aldridge moved to Bismarck to finish high school and decided to continue her education at UND. While in Grand Forks, she has become closely aligned with the needs of refugees and New Americans.
“I started volunteering my freshman year with Global Friends and last year I interned with Lutheran Social Services in the refugee resettlement department,” she said. “After my internship I gained more insight into what the needs of New Americans are, especially in Grand Forks where transportation is subpar.”
Her project, titled “New Wheels for New Americans,” seeks to bring old and new bicycles to those lacking access to timely transportation. Money is a big factor, according to Aldridge, and the bikes could provide a freedom to access jobs or even explore other areas of town. Overall, she wants New Americans to feel more welcome and as a part of the Grand Forks community.
The launch day and working with people such as Hanson, Evolve Grand Forks’ executive director, and Brandon Baumbach, an Evolve Grand Forks board member, helped her feel more comfortable with the idea of tackling the creation of a new initiative.
“Coming in it was a little intimidating… they opened up their whole world to us and said they’re here to be our support and connection to the community,” she said. “Now I’m pumped up to see the people I can meet and what ideas I can gather to make this thing happen.”
Camden Larsen, a sophomore at Red River High School, was one of three winners from his age group. His project involves installing birdhouses along the Greenway and creating signage describing the varieties of wildlife to be seen along the Red River.
“It’s been a really busy day and I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “We talked earlier about some keys to being successful, we painted benches and pots this afternoon that will be featured downtown next month.”
Larsen was referring to an activity led by Nightengale’s group, Better Block. As managing director of the Texas-based urban design nonprofit, she travels the country “reshaping and reactivating built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.”
“I have had an absolute blast here,” Nightengale told her audience. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know the students and seeing the work that’s being done. I’m excited to see where you guys go with all of this.”
Grand Forks’ own
In addition to UND, the Main Street GF Challenge was made possible through a host of public and private sponsors: UND Student Government, UND Alumni Association & Foundation, Knight Foundation, Community Foundation, City of Grand Forks, Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, Altru, JLG Architects, PCL/Community Contractors, EAPC Architects Engineers, AE2S, ICON Architectural Group, Johnson Controls, Xcel Energy and Construction Engineers.
Holt, who travels the state focusing on Gov. Burgum’s Main Street Initiative, thinks the Challenge’s approach to addressing the initiative is “fabulous.”
“Grand Forks has made Main Street their own initiative,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s so important to remember it’s not a program. As an initiative, our job is to help support and champion these communities, but it’s really about them creating the projects and momentum, as well as the measures of success.
“I think what’s so impressive is these are high school and college students who truly understand what it takes to build community. I love the fact that it’s also tying in the University and downtown. That’s a powerful combination. If we can bring our young students downtown, it can inspire them to stay and that’s important.”
Hear more about the Challenge by watching the video below: