AAP staff report
ST. PAUL — A new online forum offers neighbors a way to interact in a hyper-busy world.
Angelina Nguyen is spending her summer encouraging Asian American families to develop a stronger sense of community. She is inviting people to participate in beneighbors.org, a constructive and useful online forum that is free and easy to use.
“We’re especially focused on diverse, multilingual neighborhoods and families,” said Nguyen, an outreach leader for the local chapter of E-Democracy.org. “The goal is to add 3,000 residents to the forums, using it as a community building tool.”
E-Democracy.org has a mission to harness the power of online tools that support more public participation as a way to strengthen communities and build democracy. The goals are for active citizenship and engagement in civic life.
The summer outreach project is funded by the Knight Foundation. The volunteers are out in the community door-knocking and attending events to sign up residents for the online neighborhood forums.
The team is presenting the online project as a way to engage in a more informed and diversified discussion on public issues. If people are empowered to discuss local issues and get to know one another, then it goes to show that their government will better reflect the community its serves.
It is important to realize that E-Democracy is non-partisan, said Nguyen. That is important when encouraging neighbors to join forums that discuss issues and build networks.
Several neighborhood watch groups have already started from the forum interactions, Nguyen said. So have community gardens and clubs based on hobbies, group dinners, block associations and other special interest groups.
Neighbors can post in any language and no one is excluded based on language skills. Another project goal is to promote community building of underrepresented groups.
“Cultural events and exchanges are encouraged,” she said.
“Neighbors can use it for simple, mundane needs,” she said. “For example, many people who lose their pets post to ask their whereabouts. A woman posted when her husband didn’t come home at 2 a.m., asking if anyone had seen him.
“People with free stuff to give away post about that, and those who are looking for free stuff also post,” she added.
Any forum member can post an opinion that is respectful and civil. A forum manager watched out for uncivil exchanges and will filter or delete inappropriate posts or remove an unruly member.
“We can’t and won’t remove posts based on their opinion,” Nguyen said.
“From those community outreach and community building experiences, I must say E-Democracy neighborhood forum is an innovative tool,” Nguyen said. “Unlike Facebook, it’s local and free of advertisements. Everything posted has local interest and relevance. It’s a great tool for the ordinary neighbor as well as community leaders, activists, and organizers.”
For anyone worried about getting junk emails, the user can control their settings to allow from one email notification per post, to one email per day, or a web-only view without emails.
Nguyen started out her grass roots work by campaigning in 2008, and she taught English as a Second Language for many years. She earned a master’s degree in development, including community development, from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, where she also earned degrees in political science and economics with a minor in math.
The link is beneighbors.org/angelina. By going to Nguyen’s link, she will help make her project goal of adding 300 people to the forum this summer.