The Historic Northeast Midtown Association (HNMA) in Kansas City, KS, is now Groundwork NRG, and it reflects more than just a name change.

Northeast Kansas City, KS, residents may know HNMA for any number of its community projects. It’s an active organization in the community, working closely with neighborhood associations, youth and the Wyandotte Unified Government on numerous projects to produce sustainable growth in Northeast Kansas City, KS.

Now, they are Groundwork NRG – short for Northeast Revitalization Group – and they’re driving their mission of growing their community as part of a national organization, Groundwork USA Trust. Instead of being a standalone small community organization, they are part of a much larger group of 20 organizations helped and supported by the National Parks Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

$200,000 Funding 

Groundwork USA organizations are all located in “low-resource” areas and work to transform their community’s natural or built environment. According to the Groundwork USA website, the organization is committed to “breaking the trend of widening disparity between communities that are enjoying a renaissance and communities that are experiencing disinvestment, neglect, and deepening poverty.”

It’s a mission that aligned closely with HNMA’s mission and that’s why, through a competitive application, HNMA was selected as the one new organization Groundwork ads each year.

As a new Groundwork Trust, the organization will receive almost $200,000 in funding over three years from the National Park Service.

“The money is intended to help us build our capacity, to help us hire more staff if necessary, to build our programming a little bit more; to help us get the ball rolling,” said Synthia Isah, economic development and sustainability coordinator with Groundwork NRG. Isah led the HNMA/Groundwork Feasibility Study, the process intended to determine what a transition from HNMA to a trust of the Groundwork USA national network might mean for the organization and its work going forward.

“After the initial three years, they expect us to be mostly solvent and to be able to support our own work internally,” said Isah.

HNMA Projects 

As a trust member, Groundwork NRG will continue the programs it’s been working on and add on one new project specific to the trust.

In association with the Wyandotte County Unified Government, Groundwork NRG is one of eight designated Neighborhood Business and Revitalization Organizations (NBR) under a contract with the Unified Government, the non-profit NBRs provide services to residents, businesses and neighborhood groups in their designated service areas. Working in Northeast KCK as HNMA, had focused their efforts on growing the community in the areas of health, environment, businesses, education, and workforce development.

Some of their projects included the popular Learn to Earn program for youth ages 12-16 that engages them in workshops and activities that prepare them for real-world situations and offers paid job experience.

They are the lead organization in the CleanAirNow (CAN) Coalition, which is dedicated to improving air quality in the Kansas City region. Recently, the organization responded to high diesel exhaust levels found at a Kansas City Housing Authority apartment complex just off I-670 and I-70. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen and can cause numerous other health problems. CAN helped identify and implements both short-term and long-term solutions. The short term solution was upgrading furnace filters. The long-term solution was planting 25 trees to provide a natural barrier that will absorb some of the air pollution.

HNMA partnered with the National Organization of Minority Architects for Project Pipeline, an architecture camp to introduce youth to the world of architecture and work on projects located in Northeast KCK.

In 2019, HNMA received funding from Greater Kansas City LISC to hire a Community Connector in the HNMA service area to support neighborhood capacity building through neighborhood events/trainings, social media supports, and informational resource exchanges in three contiguous Northeast KCK neighborhoods along Washington Boulevard.

Neighborhood Grocery 

One of the organization’s largest undertakings is a multi-year project to bring a grocery store to Northeast KCK. The project idea came out of the UG’s Northeast Area Master Planning Process. Community members were asked to choose one project out of 10 options that they wanted to see pursued as an “Early Action Project.” Connected to the overall theme of “A Food Hub,” the development of a neighborhood grocery, specifically a cooperative community-owned grocery model, was selected.

HNMA has been the lead on the planning team for this multi-year project. Team members include the Unified Government Commissioners and staff, YouthBuild KCK staff, Dotte Agency staff, the Black Firefighters Association (PRIDE), and other invested residents and business owners. Together they’re creating a strategy for moving the project forward.

So far the team has identified a vacant building at 1726 Quindaro Blvd as the future site of a neighborhood grocery store and with grant funding cleaned out the building and updated the electrical and plumbing.

In March 2019, a community event was held to provide outreach and education around the consumer-owned cooperative grocery store model. In September 2019 a second community event was held to unveil a set of six holding space panels, supported by the American Institute of Architects. The panels, which are now windows of the future grocery location, are decorated to reflect the Quindaro area’s, past, present, and future.

More Environmental Focus 

With all of those projects, and many others, Groundwork NRG will add one more service area: the environment. As part of their partnership with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, all local Groundwork USA trusts implement youth development program designed to help grow their area’s “next generation of environmental leaders.”

As part of this program the KCK Trust will develop and offer quality environmental education, stewardship, employment and leadership opportunities for young people, most of whom are low-income and/or youth of color. Groundwork USA sees the program as an opportunity to invest in individuals and in their communities.

While programs can be offered for youth beginning as young as age 4, one of the standout programs is the Green Team model for youth ages 14-18. Youth in the program take on environmental projects, develop leadership skills and gain job training in conservation. There’s also a more intensely focused environment job training program for young adults ages 18 to 25.

Isah says the KCK group is still in the process of defining how they’ll build the environmental component into their programming.

“The prevailing idea is to develop a heritage trail or some kind of history catching project,” said Isah.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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