The vitality and excitement of Memphis’ Cooper-Young neighborhood is largely due to the efforts of Kristan Huntley, executive director for the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA). As a hands-on community director, a typical day for Kristan may include anything from evaluating projects and applying for grants to appearing on the local news or helping a neighbor round up a lost pet. Welcome our today’s FACE of Memphis, Kristan Huntley.
We are glad you landed in Memphis after earning two degrees from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. In addition to making this move to a new city, what were a few benchmark experiences that led you toward your position with the CYCA?
I would have to say volunteer experiences have often inadvertently guided my path. I really took to my business law class in college, and I found out about Legal Aid of North Carolina, which is very similar to Memphis Area Legal Services. In my volunteer role, I helped attorneys gather information and prep cases pertaining to elder law, public benefits and Section 8 housing, among other issues. I fell in love with it and the people because I finally found like-minded folks who cared for those around them and also made a career of it. I ended up being hired as a paralegal until my move to Memphis.
In terms of volunteering with the CYCA and in the community, when my boyfriend and I were still new to the neighborhood, he started complaining about the CYCA’s website being outdated and clunky. Exasperated at his complaining, I told him that since he had the skills to help then stop complaining then he should be a part of fixing it! He did volunteer, much to my surprise, so I decided to help out with Cooper-Young beautification. When I was let go from my job with ALSAC in their 2009 downsizing, I got more involved in my neighborhood, eventually joined the board as the Beautification Committee Chairperson and then this position became available, so I applied.
What do you enjoy most about being a community leader?
I really enjoy living and working in the same neighborhood and seeing the difference an engaged community can make.
Describe a day in the life of a community director.
No two days are ever alike. The worst thing I can do to jinx myself is think “Wow, it sure is quiet today.” Some days I get a call from a resident who may need help connecting to local resources for assistance of some type; sometimes I might be planning a major project or fundraiser; and then others I might be humbled by helping a concerned resident chase a pet chicken! Every day is different, but in all honesty that is to be expected with a neighborhood association.
What has been the biggest change in Cooper-Young since the community started coming together in the 70s?
Cooper-Young has always been known for passionate, engaged residents and business owners, and without them the neighborhood never would have been the community it is today. In the modern era of technology, people have social media outlets at their fingertips. No longer do neighbors necessarily have to knock on doors or have a phone tree when there is an issue to be addressed. Instead, through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and the good ol’ email, neighbors can connect readily and quickly with one another, even if someone is out of town. NextDoor.com, most notably, has sparked a new level of conversation online because to become a member of a neighborhood group, you have to be verified by address. I think that gives people a different level of comfort than other social media options and I have noticed a great level of conversation, even without the association starting topics, and that always strengthens the bond among neighbors.
What has been the biggest recent change since you started working for the CYCA in Cooper-Young?
Change is always inevitable, but nonetheless it can be difficult when it occurs. For the CYCA, we have had several long-time board members step down to pursue other interests since I began working here. Though we hate to see them go, we are also thrilled to see what further adventures await them. Although most of the former board members still live in the neighborhood and are willing to be a resource, someone new on the board has to step up and fill the big shoes left by someone else, and that involves a large amount of knowledge transfer. This turnover is always challenging as an organization, but when done successfully it can spark great new ideas and help everyone bond together to be stronger and more effective as leaders.
What are some basic words of wisdom you can offer based on your professional experience?
I am very much a perfectionist and often very critical of myself, so for me the best advice I was given was that a mistake is not a failure unless you fail to learn from it. If you learn something from the mistake you made, then it was an opportunity.
Do you have a favorite activity or set of activities away from work?
I have four dogs and two chickens that keep me pretty busy when I am away from work. I also love to garden, although I have a hard time growing anything because of the squirrels, so I often end up bartering eggs for veggies from those more successful than I. I also tend to be pretty crafty thanks to my mom, dad and grandmother, so I love building and creating things. If I can get a bit of time on the weekend, I like to sew, and I am going to take a blacksmithing class in January.
Do you have a specific mentor? How has that person influenced you?
I do not have one specific mentor, but I have been fortunate enough to have met a lot of strong, intelligent women in my lifetime who have helped me discover more about who I am as a person. To those women, I am eternally grateful, but have probably not done a good job of letting them know the impact they have made on my life. I should remedy that.
Favorite vacation or travel destination?
Hands down it is San Francisco. I love the food, the weather and the diversity of the population. In the next few years, I would love to travel outside of the US, so San Francisco may soon have challengers for the number one slot.
What books are you reading, or have you most enjoyed reading lately?
I have been pretty busy with planning year-end events and for 2014, so unfortunately I have not had time to read much lately other than the newspaper, but I love any books by Erik Larson, Dave Eggers, Wendell Berry, Bill Bryson … probably too many authors to name actually. I love anything thought-provoking.
Any don’t-miss holiday events in Cooper-Young that we should share with SB readers?
The CYCA will be holding a holiday bag stuffing on Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m. at our office at 2298 Young Avenue. It is for the local police and fire department stations in our area as a way of saying thank you for working to keep our community safe over the holidays. That event, though small, always brings out the best Christmas cheer in folks. The local businesses in Cooper-Young are decked out for the holidays and absolutely gorgeous, so make sure you check them out when in the area!
Thank you, Kristan!
And thank you to photographer Keith Montgomery for taking sunny pictures on a rainy day!