Meet Kansas City’s New Community Engagement Coordinator

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Gary Jones is the city’s new Community Engagement Coordinator, where he directs the Office of Civic Engagement under the Department of Neighborhood Services. It will primarily focus on connected residents and local organizations with grants and funding.

rsugg@kcstar.com

Gary Jones’ first experience as a public servant was largely marked by long, hot days in the sun counting the number of bikes around Kansas City. In 2016, during his senior year of high school, he interned with the Kansas City Public Works Department and landed the important job of helping the city install more bike lanes.

Jones would travel to different neighborhoods to count the number of people on the streetcar and the number of cyclists in an area to get an idea of ​​where bike lanes would be most useful.

The following year, he returned from his freshman year at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff to find bike paths in the same neighborhoods he had cycled.

“I felt like I was part of it because it was one of the things I was responsible for during my internship,” he said.

Fast forward a few years, different jobs, and a degree later, Jones is now back in Kansas City serving City Hall. But this time, he’s tasked with starting and building a whole new office that’s made up of just him.

Jones is Kansas City’s new community engagement coordinator heading the Office of Citizen Engagement, a new office dedicated to connecting residents to city services and funding.

He said these days, counting bikes has shown him how resources are unevenly distributed from neighborhood to neighborhood in Kansas City, giving him a perspective he keeps in mind in his new concert.

“Kansas City aren’t lacking in resources, we can’t say that,” Jones said. “But what we can say is that accessibility is not on the table.”

He said that through programs like KCBizCare and others, the city has plenty of support available for residents, but getting those resources to the people who need them the most isn’t always easy.

“I’m working on it now to make sure accessibility is on the table,” Jones said.

As Community Engagement Coordinator, Jones plans to connect residents to as many grant and fundraising opportunities as possible, whether it’s the local homeowner who needs a grant to help with home repairs. or grassroots nonprofit organization looking for help with start-up costs.

What is the Citizen Engagement Office?

It is a new office, born out of a March 2021 city council ordinance. When it was established, the city gave the office a number of focus areas, including:

  • Inform residents of the city’s charter, ordinances and resolutions

  • Provide programs to help people understand city finances and grants

  • Perform outreach activities to inform residents of grants and programs

  • Maintain an app to help provide services and publicize grants and services available at other city departments.

  • Work with the 311 call center to better reach and help residents in need

Jones said there are basically two ways to describe the Office of Citizen Engagement: the transparency office and a one-stop-shop for citizens.

As the Transparency Office, Jones intends to be a liaison between the community and the town hall. It also hopes to act as a one-stop-shop by ensuring it can connect citizens to grant opportunities, information and services available at the municipal, regional and national level.

Fourth District Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said at the March 2021 council meeting that the program will “significantly strengthen and expand [the] 311 and really takes our city engagement efforts to the next level.

Jones will coordinate with other city departments to ensure he can promote all available city grant opportunities and direct residents to the right program or grant for their needs.

Its main objective will be to help residents access grants, but in general it plans to be an intermediary between the community and municipal services.

“We are a liaison between department heads and the community itself,” he said.

The office is hosted by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services, which previously shared an office with the Department of Housing and Community Development, but became a stand-alone department in 2021.

What is the Direction des Services de Quartier?

In addition to the Office of Citizen Engagement, the Department of Neighborhood Services also houses services such as the city’s 311 hotline, KCBizCare, and the Neighborhood Tourism Department Fund.

Since becoming its own department, Neighborhood Services has taken multiple initiatives to better connect with residents.

A few of these initiatives include improving neighborhood livability, developing community-centric solutions for how to enforce city codes, and supporting efforts to beautify neighborhoods and keep them safe.

For example, the neighborhood service traditionally deals with the application of the code. So if the weeds grow too tall and a neighbor complains, that complaint will ultimately go to someone in the neighborhood services department.

“So you call and a code enforcement person comes out and writes a ticket to your neighbor who has tall weeds, right? But what if the problem is really that Their lawn mower broke down last year and they don’t have the money to buy a new one?” said Chris Hernandez, Kansas City communications director.

“So if that’s the problem, how do we find out and actually help them. So it’s really like [shifting] department, ticketing and application focus to more like support and help and make sure you have access to the resources you need.

A database and coaching to connect residents to grants

Jones said her first step would be to make sure the Office of Citizen Engagement gathers as much information as possible about existing grants and programs. Next, he plans to ensure that the information is easily accessible to the public.

Going forward, he will work to develop a database where Kansas citizens can find local, state, and national grants to help with their respective projects or needs. He said the site will look like KCBizCare and will be available to the public in late 2023.

Jones’ office also plans to help people through the application process. He said many qualified applicants lacked funding when applying for grants because they did not have enough guidance.

“When applying for a grant, you need to make sure all your I’s are dotted and all your T’s are crossed out before applying for grants,” Jones said.

“Because if something is missing, the licensor can’t sign it or take it to the next step. So we want to make sure organizations don’t fall through the cracks.

Jones said he saw many members of the black and brown community lose their funding due to incidents during the application phase. To combat this, he plans to develop a tool that will also let applicants know where they could be improved in their application. Until then, he will work directly with people to make sure they get the advice they need.

Gary Jones to Ruiz.jpg
Gary Jones at the Irene Ruiz Branch Library Courtesy of Jenny Garmon Jenny Garmon

How to get in touch?

If you are a resident, organizer, or neighborhood association and need help finding funds or grants to support a project or effort, the Office of Citizen Engagement may be your first stop.

To get in touch with Jones, you can email OCE@kcmo.org.

If you have more general issues or community concerns and would like to get in touch with the Department of Neighborhood Services, you can visit here or call 311.

“At the end of the day, I want to make sure the community is helped and heard. That’s the end goal,” Jones said.

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