WATERLOO — Felicia Smith-Nalls is turning a passion for her hometown into a career.
The Waterloo girl who never missed the National Cattle Congress Fair and fondly remembers the former theme park system is now working to strengthen the neighborhoods in which she was raised.
Smith-Nalls was appointed last week as the city’s neighborhood services coordinator, a position she’s held on a temporary basis for the past 13 months as her predecessor Perry Goodman was out on medical leave.
“I was always working with people before, even in my free time, just trying to get them engaged in Waterloo,” she said. “Now I’m here to be a liaison between neighborhoods and the city, to try to get them information that can help them do what they want to do.”
Smith-Nalls received ringing endorsements from several neighborhood leaders, including Liberty Park Neighborhood Association founder and newly elected Councilman Chris Shimp.
“I can’t express what an excellent job she has done since taking that position,” Shimp said. “I can’t express enough my overwhelming support for that appointment.”
Mayor Quentin Hart said Smith-Nalls has the technical ability and personality needed to help give Waterloo’s neighbors the “collective voice they need.”
“In a very short time she’s been able to build incredible relationships with the neighborhood leaders,” Hart said. “She’s been able to help them organize and just enliven the enthusiasm in our neighborhood groups.”
Waterloo has 37 recognized neighborhood associations and several more organized informally, although only a dozen are really active and meet regularly.
The neighborhood services position was created in 1999 by former Mayor John Rooff and funded with federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. It is designed to help neighborhood groups organize and connect them to appropriate city departments and resources to resolve problems or make improvements.
“It’s not always the easiest to navigate (the city government) because there’s not always the natural connectors you would think,” Smith-Nalls said. “Information may not be passing as smoothly as we think it is.”
Not every neighborhood has the same needs or priorities.
One neighborhood may want help securing a vacant city lot for a garden. Another may have issues with tires being dumped behind a home. And another may want help forming a nonprofit organization to apply for grants on their own.
Smith-Nalls helped connect neighborhood associations to businesses to provide food and other resources during the National Night Out celebration in August.
“That’s our Super Bowl,” she said of the event that brought thousands of neighbors out to community gatherings. “That is what it’s all about, folks.”
Smith-Nalls is working on plans to set up a Waterloo Neighborhood Coalition as its own nonprofit organization so it can seek grants, accept donations and have a pool of funds outside of city government, whether it’s for a popcorn machine or face paints for events or flower seeds for community gardens.
“In city budget line items they look frivolous,” she said. “But to my neighborhoods and people wanting to make a small change, that could be great.”
She’s also hoping to put a focus on marketing Waterloo’s neighborhoods, which could include videos showing off areas as great places to live and to highlight positive changes.
“Waterloo gets dinged a lot and I’m not sure why, because there’s such cool stuff happening in Waterloo,” Smith-Nalls said. “You’ve got great neighborhoods. You’ve got people helping their neighbors and helping the woman down the street. You’ve got neighbors that have rebuilt fences for each other.”
Neighborhood Services is located at 620 Mulberry St. Smith-Nalls can be reached at (319) 291-9145 and Felicia.Smith@waterloo-ia.org.