Kashya Burrell is the program coordinator at Seventy Five North. She’s been with the organization since Summer 2018, starting as an intern and then moving into full time after she was done with school where she studied management and real estate. She was interested in the work Seventy Five North was doing around housing and development, but quickly became involved with programming. She coordinates education, community health and wellness and enrichment activities including movie nights, concerts, code camps, ACT prep and more.
Kashya is one of the people behind the scenes for Highlander Community Day — an annual celebration of the revitalization and re-development of the Highlander neighborhood. O-pa partners with Seventy Five North to put on the Summer Sounds concert portion of the day-long event. This year on Aug. 28 after an open house of the innovative Highlander Accelerator from 11 AM to 4 PM and dinner at the Dining Room, attendees can hear Scottie Pigeon and R-Style Band on the Community Lawn starting at 6:30 PM.
Kashya joined us for a Q&A about the history of Community Day and how Seventy Five North is changing communities.
Q: Can you give some of the history of how Highlander Community Day came to be?
A: Highlander used to be the site of a public housing complex called Pleasant View Homes and Hill Top Homes. They were vacant for some time and then demolished in 2008. I think if we were to pick up Highlander and put it in a different city it would be prime real estate because we’re close to the airport, we’re close to midtown, we’re a few minutes from downtown and the interstate is a minute and thirty seconds from us, but because of the history, developers were just not interested in touching the area.
When Seventy Five North came to be and started purchasing land and going through the process of becoming a part of Purpose Built Communities, we really wanted to not only document but really celebrate everything that led up to the opening of the Highlander Accelerator and Highlander Apartments. So, Community Day came to be a way to celebrate with our partners and everyone who has ever contributed to the success of the Highlander neighborhood and making it a place where people want to be and live.
The first one was a blast, so we decided to do one every year. It was a huge party and the opening of the building and a chance to talk to people and inform them about the strategy and purpose. It’s a way for everyone to roam the building together and learn and celebrate our progress.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the day?
The Summer Sounds concert at the end. During the day everything happens so quickly but the concert is a time to relax and hang out with friends and family. The music is going. The Dining Room is now officially part of the day, so we’ll have drinks and hot food right there. The dancing and seeing people hang out and that community piece really shines. It doesn’t matter if you live in or outside of Highlander, everyone is just there enjoying the same things.
Q: What else does Seventy Five North have in the works?
Community Day is the last summer event, but we have an ACT prep course coming up. We’ve got our Choice Neighborhood Implementation grant that we were awarded along with The City and Omaha Housing Authority. The focus is Spencer Homes and doing what Seventy Five North did for the Highlander Community in Spencer. Our job is to go in and connect people with resources and services, whether it’s work force development, education, health and wellness — we’re there to support the Omaha Housing Authority in all those efforts.
We also have Highlander Phase 4 starting soon which will be a mixed use building with commercial space in the first two floors and then apartments.
Q: How can people outside the Highlander neighborhood get involved and support your efforts?
Volunteer opportunities are in the works. Donations are always welcome. But right now, if you hear about us, tell people about us. Ask questions. I’m more than happy to talk about who Seventy Five North is, what Highlander is and the work we are doing. A common misconception is that we’re only a developer but the people component is a huge part of our work. You can build beautiful buildings but if you’re not focusing on the person, it doesn’t mean anything when you’re trying to create a thriving community. The people are what make it.