17STRONG continues to be made stronger with community involvement.
Near the end of 2022, the population of Hamilton, Ohio was estimated to be approximately 63,583 people. The City of Hamilton continues to create and enhance programs and services to accommodate the growing population, but one of the most impactful initiatives that has helped keep Hamilton’s neighborhoods safe, clean, and engaged is 17STRONG.
For more than 10 years, 17STRONG has been building a framework for communication and sense of identity to rally individuals, groups, and local organizations to take pride in our 17 Hamilton neighborhoods: Millikin, Enterprise Park, Taft Pl./Gov. Hill, Washington, New London, Armondale, East End, Highland Park, Jefferson, Lindenwald, North End, Prospect Hill, Dayton Lane, Downtown/CBD, German Village, Rossville, and Riverview.
Today, 17STRONG holds a calendar that is jam-packed year-round with recurring public meetings and community events. Each year, the 17STRONG Neighborhoods Micro-Grant Program serves residents by providing materials or reimbursable financial support for activities that engage, enhance, and improve within the community. Additionally, 17STRONG partners with resident-led neighborhood groups host clean-ups throughout the year in Hamilton’s neighborhoods. The “Community Clean-up Chest,” a.k.a. “The CUBE,” is Hamilton’s all-in-one neighborhood clean-up package, has become a tangible symbol of good things to come.
There are countless volunteers who drive 17STRONG, including two who are making moves this year to advance the mission of 17STRONG: Rachel Harding, New London Neighborhood Lead, and Kyle Cummins, Incoming Chair of the 17STRONG Advisory Board.
What and/or who first inspired you to become civically engaged in your community? When did you begin your service?
Rachel: My work with Envision Partnerships is what first connected me to getting involved with 17STRONG. I lead the Healthy Hamilton Coalition and we partner very closely with 17STRONG because our goals are very similar. I would volunteer with and attend many of 17STRONG’s meetings, events, and other initiatives as a community partner from Envision Partnerships, but the more I went for work, the more I wanted to get involved outside of work. When they started asking for someone to volunteer to lead the New London neighborhood, which is where I live, I could not have been more eager for the opportunity to get more involved. This was back toward the end of 2021 and by April of 2022, the New London neighborhood was having regularly scheduled monthly meetings.
Kyle: I moved away from Hamilton in 2003 and returned in 2019. In the early 2000s, there was a certain amount of negativity regarding Hamilton. Boy, was it a different place in 2019!
I will say the “Better Hamilton” vibes began in volunteer work for 17STRONG at Art in The Park and also at the Hamilton Flea about four years ago. I can recall the remarkable energy at these events, as well as the leadership, that was an inspiration. There are too many folks to name who inspired me to be a part of 17STRONG. So many folks were architects of Hamilton’s renewal and upward trajectory, specifically 17STRONG. I could talk for hours about impactful people.
What do you enjoy most about serving your community?
Rachel: The people, for sure. The relationships I have formed, and continue to form, within my own neighborhood as well as throughout the city at large are invaluable. We all have that basic human desire to be connected and feel accepted – getting to be a part of making sure other people feel that here in Hamilton is such a privilege and brings me so much joy.
Kyle: Meeting new people! Being able to witness the light in residents’ eyes when improvements have been made, for example cleaning up an entire corner of a neighborhood. When The CUBE rolls in for cleanup, people get excited and that is cool to experience firsthand.
What is your favorite 17STRONG memory thus far?
Rachel: My favorite memory is definitely from the first New London neighborhood meeting that 17STRONG organized. New London had not previously had active meetings and I was amazed that more than 50 people were in attendance for the first one. I noticed after the meeting that everyone stayed a while to mix, mingle, and get to know their fellow neighbors better. That really stuck with me and made me excited to connect with my neighborhood.
Kyle: It’s huge list, but if I had to choose one it was the “Love Your Block” Program in Lindenwald in the Spring of 2021. It was so cool to see 15-20 volunteers and residents give a beautiful facelift to three to five houses in Lindenwald on Pleasant Avenue. The greatest part was the buy-in from the homeowners who lead these efforts. Love Your Block is a wonderful program and we look forward to continuing in 2023. Stay tuned!
In your opinion, what characteristics or qualities must 17STRONG Neighborhood Leads have? 17STRONG Advisory Board members?
Rachel: Neighborhood Leads, first and foremost, must have a passion for Hamilton. Many people will move and thus, their neighborhood might change, but that is what makes 17STRONG so unique. Each neighborhood has its own personality and culture, each area offers new opportunities to learn and get involved, but together, that’s what Hamilton is. All of the wonderful, individually-diverse aspects of this city are what being us together and make us stronger.
Kyle: Positivity, compassion, selflessness, determination, and humbleness.
What are your goals in your role to support 17STRONG?
Rachel: [As the 17STRONG New London Neighborhood Lead] The activity of the New London neighborhood is still fairly new compared to some other more established neighborhoods, so my current goal is to increase awareness about our neighborhood meeting times and ways to get involved. I am hoping to expand our reach to more New London residents in the future. We plan on having some guest speakers at the monthly neighborhood meetings, as well as want to promote the neighborhood through social media so that staying connected with us more convenient. We have also discussed maybe planning some events in partnership with surrounding neighborhoods. We have so many options and good ideas coming from passionate residents; it’s a really exciting time.
Kyle: [As the incoming Chair of the 17STRONG Advisory Board] First of all, “Kyle, don’t mess this up!” The previous Chair and city legend, Kathy Klink, gave me the keys to a Porsche. Kidding aside, I don’t necessarily see my role changing much. I try my best to adhere to our mantra: “We > Me.” Collaboration between the board to create positive experiences and connect Hamilton residents will remain at the forefront regarding goals. 17STRONG is not about the board, but the residents. Hopefully, we can continue to facilitate wonderful opportunities for others to volunteer. We will continue to reach out to local residents and businesses who want to enjoy this wonderful ride.
Tell us about XANDER: how long has XANDER been the “mascot” of 17STRONG? How involved is XANDER in 17STRONG events?
Kyle: XANDER is 17STRONG’s eyes and ears. He doesn’t talk much, but he is a passionate Hamiltonian. He has glided around town for about a year. Hopefully you saw him at our parades; XANDER is not afraid of the limelight or camera. The kids adore him, and why not? XANDER has been a wonderful addition to our 17STRONG mission. We expect him to play a huge role in 2023.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge 17STRONG faces?
Rachel: I think the biggest challenge for 17STRONG is reaching and educating the younger population about who and what 17STRONG is. Elementary and middle school students typically only know their home, or maybe their block as their neighborhood. It can be more challenging for them to understand 17STRONG’s concepts and boundaries for neighborhoods and the city as whole. I think we can definitely find ways of integrating this information to them in a way they will understand however.
Kyle: It is sometimes difficult to measure success in an outreach event. The board can be our own biggest critic. Sometimes some of the larger wins are meeting one new neighbor who feels undervalued in their community and help build a bridge for their civic voice and involvement. That may not make it on Facebook, but that is no less important. 17STRONG needs to reach out to ALL of our neighborhoods, whether they have built-in leadership or not.
What upcoming 17 Strong community project or event are you the most looking forward to in the near future?
Kyle: We have our annual Celebration Breakfast every January at the Hamilton High School Freshman building, which is a huge “Thank You” to all the Hamilton residents who played a huge part in a very successful 2022. Also, 17STRONG will be hosting an inaugural conference called the Hamilton Neighborhoods Summit in the summer. Stay tuned for more details on what is promised to be a spectacular connection between organizations, businesses, schools, youth, and government leaders, with the goal of solving problems and creating opportunities.
Rachel: I always love the Celebration Breakfast event because it really is a celebration. Various people from various neighborhoods and backgrounds put time and energy into bettering their neighborhood and bettering Hamilton for all. This event is truly a time to celebrate everyone’s hard work, dedication, and love for Hamilton. It is reenergizing to see all the wonderful work that was done in the past year be highlighted because it is all resident driven. It also is extremely exciting to hear about what new things residents are planning that are coming up within the next year. It’s just really great.
What would you like Hamiltonians to know about you and/or 17STRONG’s mission?
Rachel: I want Hamiltonians to know that 17STRONG is truly a community organization by residents, for residents. 17STRONG creates space for residents to be heard, take action, and get involved with city government officials and resources, such as funding opportunities. It provides such a unique opportunity where we as citizens are encouraged to get involved with our city to have lasting positive change.
Kyle: I was a tad shy at first about putting my name in the hat to volunteer. Having never really volunteered in Hamilton and been a part of civic service opportunities, I had to step out of my comfort zone. People helped me out, and I would love to pay it forward and lend a hand to somebody else.
What would you like residents from neighboring communities to know about 17STRONG?
Rachel: I want everyone, everywhere to have the same privilege and positivity in their city that 17STRONG has brought to Hamilton. Neighborhood initiatives like 17STRONG bring a city together while highlighting and honoring individuality and uniqueness. It builds bridges throughout a city and among various different community sectors that maybe would not have worked together without something so unifying to bring them together. It is empowering to all parties involved and fosters an immense sense of place and community. 17STRONG truly signifies that “We > Me.”
Kyle: 17STRONG is not tangible, in my opinion. It’s a movement, connection, and collection of beliefs all geared toward making our community a better place. Where there is persistence, dedication, and a strong will… there is a way to create desired community outcomes. The fact that you can walk anywhere around Hamilton and see “We > Me” t-shirts. This simple equation is what 17STRONG is all about, and I smile every time I see somebody rocking one this t-shirt with pride.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become more engaged in their community?
Rachel: I would advise them to just start! That is the thing about getting involved – there are so many ways to go about it. Start with whatever you’re comfortable with. That could be simply attending your own neighborhood meeting, or the 17STRONG general assembly meetings known as the “Bettering Hamilton Series.” Follow 17STRONG on social media, subscribe to the newsletter, reach out and ask questions, share ideas, etc. You can find information about all of these things and how to get involved on the 17STRONG website at 17stronghamilton.org. There you can view a calendar of all upcoming events and sign up to receive information about engagement opportunities. We would love for you to join us!
Kyle: Jump on in! The 17STRONG water is warm. Engagement with the community and volunteering is not only fun but great for personal growth. For starters, you can simply come to our public meetings. Meetings are held on the 1st Monday of every even month at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Municipal Building. The gatherings are an open forum for residents to brainstorm ideas that positively impact our neighborhoods. Come say “Hello”… I’m the short guy with a ball cap on.
This story is a part of a collaboration between the Hamiltonian and City of Hamilton for their 2023 annual report. You can view the whole issue of this report here: