Jun-Li Wang, a transplanted Californian who came to Minnesota 13 years ago, discovered the secret of surviving winter last year: an Elmer Fudd hat, complete with ear flaps.
Now she wants to share her revelation with newcomers to St. Paul. And the Knight Foundation is giving her $67,288 to make it happen.
Not only that, she’s also getting another $37,960 from Knight to connect new St. Paul residents with one another to make them feel more at home.
“I’m a pretty sociable person, pretty extroverted, and it was really hard for me,” she said about meeting people when she arrived in the city.
Wang’s projects were two of four St. Paul proposals that won funding from the first Knight Cities Challenge, a national competition designed to make urban places more vibrant and livable.
Of more than 7,000 ideas, the foundation chose 32 to fund for a total of $5 million.
The city of St. Paul won a $175,000 grant to pay for a policy fellow for 18 months to help implement parts of the 8-80 Vitality Fund, established by Mayor Chris Coleman to invest in recreation and entertainment amenities for all ages.
And Greater MSP, the Twin Cities-area economic development partnership, was awarded $117,000 to sponsor one outdoor activity per season to be shared by all St. Paul residents in hopes of “changing the way people perceive the city and its climate.”
Since last year, Miami-based Knight has granted funding to several projects based in St. Paul, one of 26 communities where it invests because newspaper executives John S. and James L. Knight once owned papers there (in this case, the Pioneer Press).
The foundation has awarded about $5 million to large and small St. Paul arts organizations, part of an $8 million three-year commitment to the city. It’s also in the middle of a $1.5 million competition for the best ideas to enhance St. Paul neighborhoods along the Green Line light-rail corridor.
According to Knight, it has awarded a total of $20 million to St. Paul projects since 2008.
Other places that scored big in the cities contest were Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Lexington, Ky., and Philadelphia.
Wang, a community organizer for the nonprofit Springboard for the Arts and a member of the St. Paul Planning Commission, said the money would fund the organizing of a monthly event to welcome people to St. Paul and the rental of a place to hold it. She’s hoping an outdoors retailer will cover the cost of the hats.
The ceremony might be hosted by the mayor, a City Council member or maybe even the St. Paul Saints’ mascot Mudonna. Coleman and Council President Russ Stark have agreed to participate, she said, although she has not “talked to Mudonna yet.”
As for her get-together project, she wants to hire a chatty, friendly “ambassador” to get newcomers interacting while on an activity such as a walking tour or a pub crawl.
“A lot of people come here and they know that the quality of life is good, housing is affordable, but then they have a hard time breaking in and finding that community,” she said. “We’d rather have them stay.”