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Neighborhood advocacy group installs young board leaders

Ashley Morales

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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch swore in a new group of Council of Neighborhood Associations leadership Wednesday night, the youngest in the organization's history. Photo: Ashley Morales.

St. Petersburg’s Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) made history Wednesday by swearing in its youngest president and board of officers to date.

CONA is a volunteer-driven non-profit organization with a mission to support St. Pete’s more than 60 active neighborhoods by representing neighbors’ interests before the City Council, and serving as custodians of neighborhood resources. The swearing-in of the new group of officers marks a notable generational shift in the leadership of CONA, signaling a new direction for the organization.

“This is a new chapter for CONA, and it’s a really big year,” said Aron Bryce, CONA’s newly appointed and youngest-ever president at 28 years old. “For a long time, it was very old, white leadership, to be quite frank, and St. Pete has changed quite a bit. I think it’s important that our neighborhoods and CONA leadership reflect the actual people of St. Pete. The city has become much younger and much more diverse, so I’m very proud that our board, for the first time in a very long time, is going to be much more representative of our city.”

Both Bryce and Mayor Ken Welch, who swore in the new officers Wednesday night, mentioned that participation in CONA has ebbed and flowed over the years. Bryce hopes this “changing of the guard” will drive renewed engagement as CONA’s new leadership works to uphold the organization’s legacy as a powerful advocate for neighborhood interests and a key partner in the city’s community development initiatives. 

“You all are the folks that are there making sure the neighborhoods are safe, making sure that issues that the city council needs to know about come to our attention and working with our staff,” Welch said at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s really about collaboration and working together.”

In addition to installing new leadership, CONA is also restructuring to create a District Affairs Committee for each city council district. Each committee will have a Chair who will serve as the point person to coordinate between the neighborhoods in that respective district and their city council member.

“It’s a tall order for CONA to try and engage with and participate in every single one of those neighborhoods, but I think we can accomplish a lot with the board I’ve put together and the new model that we’re we’re utilizing,” Bryce said. “In doing so, we can solve different issues that neighborhoods are facing or work collaboratively to help other neighborhoods.

“A lot of this stuff doesn’t happen until you put these people in the room together and have these kinds of conversations, and CONA exists exactly for that purpose: To bring neighborhoods together, have those conversations and find ways to support one another.”

The CONA officials on the new 2024 Executive Committee are as follows: 

  • President – Aron Bryce, Crossroads Area
  • Vice President – Dr. Byron Green-Calisch, Jungle Prada 
  • Secretary – Callie Barber, Northeast Park
  • Treasurer – Chris Griffin, Downtown
  • Membership – Brad McCoy, Lakewood Estates
  • Codes – Renee Schoenberg, Live Oaks
  • Leadership – Karen Carmichael, Downtown
  • Public Safety – Orlando Acosta, Euclid Heights
  • Nominating – Brad Bohnert, Allendale
  • Land Development & Historic Resources – Jerick Johnston, Allendale Terrace
  • Audit – Jake Moore, Downtown
  • Communications – Sierra Clark, Child’s Park
  • Events – Kari Mueller, Campbell Park

 

CONA’s new Vice President Dr. Byron Green-Calisch got involved with the organization after learning about it through his Leadership St. Pete class. Green-Calisch is also the Board President of St. Pete Pride and works full-time in the diversity, equity and inclusion space. He hopes his involvement with CONA will help drive equity throughout the city’s neighborhoods and ensure all residents of St. Pete can reap the benefits of organized community advocacy.

“So, for example, things as simple as planting trees; if the city has an opportunity to get trees planted in neighborhoods, but we don’t have neighborhoods that are organized enough to be able to employ those resources, that small thing like planting a tree is tenfold on property values 10-20 years down the road. It also does a massive amount of cooling the neighborhoods, and we’re in a place where being in a cooler community is a massive deal,” Green-Calisch said. “That’s a question of equity, making sure that all of our neighborhoods are organized so they can get resources from the city, secure grants or get support from larger organizations that want to give money to organized groups.”

As CONA works to address the evolving needs and concerns of St. Petersburg’s neighborhoods, this new group of community leaders believes their passion for civic engagement is a testament to the organization’s commitment to inclusivity and youth participation in local governance. Green-Calisch gave the example of increasingly frequent flooding events in Shore Acres, noting that mobilizing support from other Pinellas County neighborhoods is a crucial part of CONA’s mission.

“My greatest hope is that we can be a force for change and a massive voting bloc to really rally around individual neighborhoods’ needs. Our city administration has done an amazing job at helping neighborhoods, but the city can only do so much. We, as neighbors, locking arm-in-arm in the good times and in the bad is going to change what St. Pete means to people. It really does change the dynamic when you know that not only are your neighbors behind you, but the city is behind you as well.”

The Council of Neighborhood Associations is moving to a quarterly meeting schedule, with the next meeting scheduled for March 20, 7 p.m. at the Sunshine Senior Center, 330 5th St N. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

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    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    January 18, 2024at6:31 pm

    This is great news, CONA was due for an overhaul. Congratulations to all and I will be watching!!!!!!!

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