MINT HILL – South Charlotte resident Rebecca Herbert finds her work with Livable Meck lovable.
Herbert’s role as community engagement and strategy manager allows her to bring organizations together to tackle some of the county’s biggest problems.
“We have so many wonderful communities in Mecklenburg County, each with their own characteristics,” she said. “We recognize there are more things that bring us together than really separate us.”
Livable Meck uses what Herbert describes as “high-tech, high-touch techniques,” such as Engagement Cafe, Lunch & Learn and online tools, to connect with people.
“We tell partners by working with us, they are really expanding their reach,” Herbert said. “This really is impactful for some of our smaller nonprofits. They may not have a great network yet of donors, information data or volunteers.”
One of Herbert’s favorite success stories surrounds the mental health stigma.
Livable Meck invited Novant Health, Atrium Health and Forest Hill Church to participate in an Engagement Cafe to address the mental health stigma. From that collaboration, 16 organizations had employees certified in mental health first aid.
“Unfortunately with mental health, if you’re walking up the street and see someone who may be suffering, sometimes we walk on the other side of the street,” Herbert said. “We don’t know how to handle that. Mental health first aid certification empowers people to go back and offer an appropriate way to help those folks who may be suffering.”
Mecklenburg County and Red Ventures offered employment to adults served by Autism After 18 after Livable Meck highlighted the nonprofit during an Engagement Cafe two years ago.
Livable Meck’s 2019 progress report highlights how communities have gone about solving problems.
For instance, police departments in Matthews and Mint Hill have pooled resources during severe weather, while Pineville Neighbors Place worked with Digital Charlotte to deliver laptops and digital literacy to vulnerable residents.
Livable Meck will hold a Lunch & Learn program on nature’s benefits for health and wellness on April 9, as well as roll out a portal featuring Earth Day-themed events in April as part of the observance’s 50th anniversary.
Livable Meck held 50 engagement opportunities and heard from over 4,200 people in forums across the county from August 2018 to May 2019. It found that people across the region valued healthy, accessible, affordable and safe communities. Herbert also noticed the sentiment of togetherness and unity came up in sessions and surveys. She found that people in towns like Davidson understand affordability issues in Center City Charlotte affect them and want to help find solutions.
Mint Hill Mayor Brad Simmons participated in the Livable Meck events in his town.
“They really did a good job of trying to pull out of the citizens of Mint Hill what they really wanted,” Simmons said. “What Mint Hill wants is very reflective of the results found across the county.”
Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, who directs Mecklenburg County’s Land Use & Environmental Services Agency, said Livable Meck is not only about information and collaboration, but also about results.
“Typically, government is really good at doing a study and putting it on the shelf, but that’s not what we are about,” Gujjarlapudi said. “Livable Meck is about achieving results, so there is actually a measure that we are putting into place to ensure that we actually have successes and we celebrate them every year.”
He said estimates show the region will welcome one million more people by 2030 if it continues the current rate of growth. Currently, the county has 1.1 or 1.2 million people.
The Foundation of the Carolinas, City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County started the effort in 2012.
“The intent was not to force any decisions on local communities, but rather understand what their needs are and inform them what other communities within the region are thinking and how development is going within their communities,” Gujjarlapudi said. “But also have a forum where different points of view can come together and talk about it.”