Mary Koontz and Pam Fernald have been living in their neighborhood for a long time.
Long enough, in fact, to feel a pang of ownership when they notice unsafe road conditions near their Riverton Heights neighborhood. Or the gradual shift from family-owned homes to rental homes, where the residents are more transitional and properties sometimes aren’t as well-tended.
Or the splitting of their neighborhood down the middle, with one half on the Tukwila side, and the other half on the SeaTac side.
That’s why their grassroots organization, Neighbors Without Borders Action Committee, has the name it does, and the mission it does.
“We’re just trying to improve our neighborhood, that’s all,” said Fernald earlier this month as the two women sat down for a chat over coffee and breakfast at the Pancake Chef on International Boulevard.
Fernald, who also is a member of the SeaTac City Council, has been living in their neighborhood more than 60 years – her whole life. Koontz has been residing there since 1981, coming from St. George, Utah.
Both women got to know each other as neighbors – “we knew other neighbors, so we talked,” Fernald explained – then they began to share their concerns about what they were seeing in their neighborhood.
“It was a very nice neighborhood then (back in 1981) but it has changed drastically,” said Koontz, noting the shift in ownership of homes, and in some places, deterioration of residences and yards.
Fernald and Koontz started Neighbors Without Borders in 2007, organizing their fellow neighbors to meet and discuss how to make things better in Riverton Heights. Each meeting starts on a positive note.
“We try and start with the new and the good,” said Koontz. “It can be about anything.”
There’s also plenty of discussion about the not-so-good.
For instance, the group devoted much time to raising community awareness about a four-way stop at nearby Cascade View Elementary School. But the awareness-raising didn’t just stop at the neighborhood level: using the clout that comes with being an organized group, Neighbors Without Borders worked hard to lobby for a flashing beacon at the stop. Fernald even located a grant that could be used to purchase the light.
Today that light is a reality.
“It took us three years to get a flashing beacon light at that four-way stop,” Fernald said.
The group has made a point of contacting city councils on both sides of its borders when other things aren’t quite right: truck traffic speeding through, pedestrian issues, and the accumulation of trash, among some of those concerns.
They’ve also organized crime-prevention meetings with local police, and a special community meeting at one point when a drive-by shooting occurred in the area.
“Because it was a drive-by shooting, everyone was afraid – they hadn’t caught the guy yet,” Fernald said, noting police helped alleviate anxiety that residents were feeling.
The two women happily report the group likes to pitch in on community-service projects.
When there was a fire at Emerald Place Apartments in Tukwila, Neighbors Without Borders had a fundraiser that generated more than $5,000 for residents who had lost belongings to the fire.
Every Earth Day, the group organizes cleanups at nearby North Seatac Park. They’ve done it for the past three years, and according to the two women, have helped collect a “tons” of debris from the park.
Fernald said her involvement through the group was enough to inspire her for a try at public office: she ran for a seat on the Seatac Council, and she won.
“The issues were the impetus that made me decide to run,” she said.
Not every neighborhood has the the connectedness to organize as a group, but for those neighborhoods wanting to organize, Fernald and Koontz say they would be happy to work with them, provided they’ve done some legwork first.
“We just say to people, ‘have you contacted your city, the police?’” Koontz said. “If they have done that, and they still want us to help them, we’ll work with them.”
Neighbors Without Borders Action Committee meets the fourth Thursday of each month. Locations vary. To learn more, including meeting locations, call 206-242-2690.
View the blog at http://blog.nwobac.org