East Isles Residents Association transformed by new leaders

Organization is finding new ways to engage neighbors

East Isles residents Beth Kehoe and Kate Lynch are sitting outside on a warm day with their young children, who are crawling around the deck behind Kehoe’s 1880s-era house that faces Lake of the Isles.

They’re talking about the changes that their neighborhood group, the East Isles Residents Association (EIRA), has undergone since last year. Kehoe is the EIRA secretary and Lynch is the president – volunteer positions. Until recently, Kehoe had served temporarily as president after all four previous officers stepped down, including former President

Sonja Tengdin.

A slate of new officers has recently been elected, including Vice President Ross D’Emanuele and Treasurer Harvey Ettinger (alongside Kehoe and Lynch). D’Emmanuele, an attorney who has lived in East Isles for six years, is proud of how things are picking up. “There’s a trend of new and younger folks getting interested in the group and in neighborhood issues. That’s promising,” he said.

Already, EIRA is attracting more members, formulating goals and identifying key neighborhood issues. The group has a laid-back style that focuses on “consensus building.” Plans are also underway to make childcare available during the monthly meetings at Grace Trinity Community Church, 1430 W. 28th St. so that even more people can come.

During the past several months, a committee revised the organization’s bylaws to be approved by the fall. The bylaws hadn’t been updated in so long that the document had been typed on a typewriter and contained archaic phrases like, “here ye, here ye.”

The major change to the bylaws is the board’s structure. EIRA is adding seven at-large officers to join the board – more than doubling its current manpower to include more neighbors in broader policy issues. The group has formed new committees devoted to creating community, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), traffic issues and zoning, among other things.

Driven by passion for community

East Isles is a somewhat secluded Uptown neighborhood, tucked away by the picturesque Lake of the Isles. It’s characterized by historic homes that range from small frame houses to elaborate mansions built by some of the city’s foremost architects.

Key issues for residents are historic preservation, zoning, land use, taxes, crime, NRP and traffic. Especially as city development progresses, neighbors worry about the congestion that leads to more cars on the road. Mainly, they want to protect the area’s neighborhood feel, Lynch said.

As EIRA President, Lynch, a musician, dancer, choreographer and community organizer who is a seven-year East Isles resident, said she’s especially looking forward to conversations about transit.

She cited city information that indicates about 3,200 cars pass by her house daily.

She hopes to begin strategic planning for the neighborhood. “I want to help create systems that will outlive me,” she said.

For fellow East Isles resident Christina Melloh, an avid biker, enhancing the greenway is an important transit issue. That’s what got her involved in EIRA in the first place, seven years ago. “I love the proximity to lakes, Downtown, and the fact that I can hop on a bike and be on the greenway. It connects all neighborhoods. I feel very fortunate to live here,” she said.

A city initiative called the Uptown Small Area Plan also hits home for East Isles residents because it’ll help determine the future shape of Uptown. When it came time for sending a neighborhood representative to the steering committee, the board ended up conducting interviews to single out a candidate.

Kehoe, who has a marketing background and has lived in East Isles for four years, said it just shows that community leaders can have an impact.

“We’re promoting the betterment of the community and trying to figure out what people want,” Kehoe said.

Getting the neighborhood involved

Lakes Area Realty Realtor Rachel Winckler, 23, lives in a condo in East Isles. She got involved with EIRA when she moved into the neighborhood a year ago and soon become chair of the Membership Committee.

Winckler has hosted Roaring 20s parties – dinners for various residents in their 20s and 30s.

“I have a very strong vision of a time when we’re very interconnected as a neighborhood. When one neighbor gets sick, another neighbor brings a bowl of chicken soup, that kind of spirit,” she said with enthusiasm.

Liz Whitbeck, 85, who serves on the Crime & Safety Committee, is the only person remaining from the original EIRA. She has been involved in the neighborhood group for 25 years. Whitbeck and her husband William were the youngest couple in the neighborhood when they moved in 57 years ago. Now they’re among the oldest resident in East Isles. Whitbeck said the neighborhood has only gotten “prettier and prettier.” She continues attending EIRA because, “It’s a good way of keeping track of neighbors and greeting new neighbors,” she said. “I’m glad to see children coming back.”

Anna Pratt can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4391