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Grand Forks group begins talk of ‘social infrastructure’

Bret Weber1 / 2
Diane Knauf2 / 2

Members of Grand Forks’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Social Infrastructure brainstormed ways to improve life for the city’s residents at their first meeting Thursday evening.

The conversation surrounded three questions: “Why are we here?,” “What is it we think the community needs?” and “What outcomes define success for us?”

“We get to build this whole process here,” said Bret Weber, City Council member and one of two chairpersons for the 11-member commission. In first forming the commission with Mayor Mike Brown’s office, Weber said he kept in mind that “social infrastructure is not just for people of low incomes, just like economic development is not something just for businesses or people of higher incomes.”

The commission discussed needs that ranged from a lack of awareness of social-assistance programs, to a shortage of childcare, to a need for educating citizens on their rights and a need for a new library.

The commission intends to build its ideas around the “Grand Forks Promise,” which prioritizes safety, affordability, youth, health and engagement, Weber said.

While commissioners may not come up with solutions that can be carried out by government, they could still prepare ideas for other groups or government partnerships to carry out, said Diane Knauf, the commission’s other chairperson and Grand Forks County commissioner.

Brainstorming

Pat Berger, representing United Way on the commission, noted that many people and organizations are unaware of financial-support programs and other resources available.

For example, she said, United Way only had two daycares apply for grants recently and had to seek out other applicants. “It became difficult for us to ‘give the money away.’”

Others on the commission agreed.

“People don’t know what’s available,” said Bishop Michael Cole, representing Gospel Outreach Ministries.

That lack of awareness particularly affects new Americans, said Siva Dahal, representing Global Friends Coalition, because they’re new to the area and often can hardly speak English.

Another point the commission widely agreed on is a need to support youth, whether through providing childcare or emphasizing youth leadership.

Weber said he hopes commissioners can meet again in a couple of weeks to prioritize their ideas.

He noted that the commission’s meetings are televised on the city’s TV station on Channel 2 in Grand Forks. One of the commission’s goals is to hear about needs and solutions directly from people, he said.

Commissioners aim to have their work completed in four to five months.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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