We’ve written about neighborhood associations and their benefits of connecting neighbors, improving neighborhood security, fostering community connections and trust in public institutions, and creating a sense of belonging and shared identity. However, Omaha is unique in neighborhood organizing because larger coalitions called neighborhood alliances exist throughout the city, where neighborhood association leaders convene for a macro-view of their area of the city.
Neighborhood alliances serve as community forums where neighborhood associations can share their concerns, best practices, and current initiatives. They are also an opportunity to undertake collaborative projects between nearby neighborhoods. This framework allows leaders to discuss and discover resident demands. Neighborhood alliances also provide a way for residents to voice their opinions and concerns about issues affecting their communities, such as traffic accident prevention and pedestrian safety.
On April 26 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Southwest Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (SWONA) will host a session on traffic safety at Faithful Shepherd Presbyterian Church (2530 S. 165th Ave.). Attendees can learn and ask questions about our city’s plan to eliminate all fatal and serious injury traffic crashes from Jeff Sobczyk, Vision Zero coordinator for the City of Omaha. You can learn more about local traffic safety initiatives on the Keep Kids Alive Drive 25 podcast, hosted by SWONA member Tom Everson.
The boundaries of SWONA are generally acknowledged to be from Dodge Street south to Harrison and from 72nd Street west to the Elkhorn River. The alliance’s mission is to improve the quality of life in southwest Omaha through cooperative efforts of regional neighborhood and homeowner associations and to improve communications and relationships among neighbors and business owners in matters of public services and environmental protection.
SWONA is currently looking to recruit new members and fill leadership positions. We sat down with President Mike Hohnstein and member Tom Everson for a brief Q&A about the alliance and how residents can get involved.
Q: What made you want to join SWONA? And then lead it?
Mike: I joined because I like getting involved in community service, particularly spring clean-up.
Tom: I’ve been part of SWONA since its inception. I have worked with many neighborhoods around the city to support neighbors in traffic safety as the Executive Director of Keep Kids Alive Drive 25.
Q: Why are neighborhood alliances important?
Mike: Being a member of an association helps get the city’s attention when necessary. The more people you have, the more power you have. The alliances have even more influence than just individual neighborhood associations due to people power.
Tom: Alliances are important, especially in West Omaha, where neighborhood leadership tends to be older residents. If neighborhoods want to have political clout, they need to get mobilized. There needs to be a sense of urgency right now. Neighborhood alliances are more important than folks give weight to, and more neighborhoods could be involved. The work of a neighborhood alliance depends on how neighbors view their various needs, such as infrastructure that needs work.
Q: What kinds of projects/work does SWONA do?
Tom: Recently, we have focused on connecting neighbors to elected officials at town hall meetings and candidate forums. We held a mayoral forum a few years ago and had hundreds of people attend. But we haven’t had as high of a turnout at events since then. The Vision Zero presentation is an example of bringing our neighborhoods together to discuss important city issues that relate directly to their own area’s safety.
Q: What achievements has SWONA made?
Mike: We have had some good turnouts to different forums where folks have been able to hear from candidates running for office and in that way have increased people’s power through knowledge. We’re hoping for a good crowd for the Vision Zero presentation because traffic and traffic deaths are a problem for everyone in the city. We want to give folks a chance to speak up about something that they haven’t had the opportunity to speak up about yet.
Tom: What brings people out are the issues that affect them daily. We all hit potholes every day. The idea of the alliances is to serve as a vector between residents and decision-makers so that folks can have their voices heard and affect changes that are important to them.
Q: How does SWONA contribute to building strong neighborhoods in Omaha?
Mike: We are trying to figure that out, but we can only do it with the thoughts and opinions of the folks living in our neighborhoods. SWONA is structured and organized and can connect with issues concerning residents. At the beginning, middle, and end, it is about people.
Q: How can people get involved with SWONA?
Contact Mike Hohnstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-306-6715 or attend the upcoming meeting on April 26, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Faithful Shepherd.