By Alison Raffalovich, originally published in the February 2021 Front Porch Flyer
In your rambles around the neighborhood, you may have seen a few yards with the lovely banner or sign that reads “Community Builder.” These are folks nominated by their neighbors as members of our community who exemplify the spirit of Mueller and go the extra mile to help build community and bring us closer together.
For the 2020 Community Builder Awards, the Mueller Neighborhood Association is pleased to recognize four outstanding neighbors who will soon receive banners of their own to display proudly in their yards. Our first two winners, Jenn Adair and Naiara (Nai) Leite, live next door to each other. The neighbor who nominated them said, “Jenn and Nai coordinated the Black Lives Matter march in the neighborhood this summer. They are both advocates for a more equitable Austin and neighborhood. They also are both very generous with their neighbors, always willing to help or share what they have for someone in need. They are wonderful role models, and I’m so glad to call them my neighbors!”
I was one of the many neighbors who participated in the march this past summer and the subsequent remembrance ceremony at Lake Park. Nai and Jenn did a fantastic job organizing a moving and meaningful event that was COVID-safe and gave everyone the chance to participate. Jenn envisioned the march as an instrument to instigate debate about race relations among our youngest residents in the wake of the Floyd killing, and someone posted a video on Facebook of deaf children and adults doing just that.
As Nai says, “Our community was eager to show its social justice convictions, so it was humbling to channel all that energy.” Jenn notes, “I was so amazed by how many people came to honor the Black and bi-racial families living in Mueller and to show solidarity. I hope this helped everyone – especially those of us who are white – to take much more responsibility for racism and white supremacy.” Thanks to these wonderful neighbors for their leadership and for giving us the opportunity to meaningfully show up in support of our Black community members in Mueller and beyond.
Another winner we’re excited to announce is Carmen de la Morena-Chu. As her nominating neighbor explains, “Carmen is by definition what one might define as a community builder. She works hard to connect people as neighbors. She promotes goodwill and optimism through her personal involvement. I’ve been a recipient myself of Carmen’s goodwill. Because I’m in the senior age group that was advised especially to avoid unnecessary shopping at the beginning of the COVID shutdown, she personally checked on me to see if she could pick up grocery items. She was also very involved in getting out the vote, putting up signs and encouraging others in their civic duty. She encourages others through her display of actions to beautify and take care of our surroundings. Positive and uplifting, she’s an excellent neighbor for recognition.”
Carmen expresses her enthusiasm for Mueller and the folks who live here: “I feel so fortunate to live in Mueller, a walkable community that works diligently to build an environment that supports incidental interactions that connect us and allow us to build community.” Carmen noted that often cities and developers may not factor in the long view and human scale when they design developments, but in contrast, “Mueller is a community that challenges suburban sprawl. I love living here because I love people. I enjoy sharing herbs from my garden, spontaneous conversations with neighbors, resting on sunny slopes in pocket parks, taking long walks or bike rides on safe paths that meander throughout our neighborhood… We are all very fortunate.”
Our final winner in 2020 is Taylor Youngblood. Taylor is engaged on multiple levels in the community, as newly elected 2021 Chair of the MNA Steering Committee, as the Mueller Zero Waste Block Captain, and as Chair of the neighborhood-wide Block Captain Network. She brings great positive energy to all those roles and more. Her nominator says, “Taylor has generously given her time and abilities to form the block captain network and consistently attempts to keep our neighborhood connected. She is leaning into learning more about systemic racism and providing support to that cause. She is a neighbor committed to changing this neighborhood.”
Taylor notes that the birth of her son and thinking about his future “inspired me to really step out of anonymity and into the community. My passion for recycling and reuse led me to become a City of Austin Zero Waste Block Leader. Speaking up on that topic, especially for the curbside compost cart roll-out, led me to speaking at the MNA meetings. That in turn led to my interest in supporting the MNA and its efforts to educate, connect, share, and inspire our Mueller neighbors.”
In the spirit of “if you want something done, give it to the busy person!” Taylor received more requests for her time and support as she grew more visible. She welcomes the engagement, saying, ”It’s always been important for me to see and hear people, and as I grow more confident and outgoing, I want to make sure I know my neighbors, and that they know me, Mueller, and the MNA. I want us all to come together to feel like we all are connected, we hear each other, and we work to make this an amazing neighborhood experience where everyone feels welcome, can say hi to people by name, and can be proud of where they live and what they and Mueller have accomplished.”
In a year that has posed so many new and daunting challenges (I for one am happy to have seen the last of 2020), Jenn, Nai, Carmen, and Taylor have helped us all focus on what matters most: the value of neighborhood and community, commitment to full respect and inclusion for all our diverse neighbors, and the joy of living in a community where we truly value and care for one another. Look for the banners for these and other past winners of the Community Builder award, and if you see these neighbors, give them a big (socially distanced) shout-out for how they help to make Mueller such a special place.