Opinion: Neighborhood University — the next step in elevating your voice

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Sara Vaas (Photo by Bryan Oller)

By Sara Vaas

Who wouldn’t want to go back to college — meeting new people and making friendships that last for years, learning lessons you can apply in the real world and enhance your life.

Today I’m offering you a chance to go back to college — Neighborhood University — and do the things I mentioned: meet people, make important relationships and learn ways to improve your life and those of your neighbors. Best of all, Neighborhood University won’t leave you buried under a mountain of student loans or homework!

If you are a neighborhood leader or served on your association board, you know that we at CONO celebrated our re-launch with a new name, logo and updated mission in 2022. We are now simply CONO – Building Neighborhood Networks.

CONO works to empower neighbors for vibrant neighborhoods. We do that through education (Neighborhood U), equipping (through relationship-building, connections, block parties) and by building neighborhood networks (hubs of neighborhood leaders to speak into local issues).

To teach you exactly how to raise your voice when it comes to decisions that impact your neighborhood, CONO is launching its third cohort of Neighborhood U on March 3.

Neighborhood U is a free 10-week course designed to prepare civic-minded folks to serve on their Neighborhood Network board.

Students will develop the knowledge and skills required to influence and guide decision-making processes that affect their local communities. It’s designed for individuals who will serve as leaders within CONO’s neighborhood networks.

Course participants will receive a foundation of knowledge about local civic processes. Upon graduation, they’ll be prepared to effectively engage and organize their communities — and they’ll be positioned to build greater trust between neighbors and local officials.

Neighborhood U is for residents with a passion for their neighborhood who show potential for leading, building consensus and unifying the voice of their neighborhood network.

A Neighborhood Network is the larger geographic area where Community Plans are being created through a city planning initiative. This is a network to help your voice be heard by decision-makers and make it more accessible for you to get information and for leaders to connect with you and other neighborhood associations within that region. Neighborhood U’s graduation ceremony includes networking with local leaders and next steps for Neighborhood Network board growth.

Visit the CONO website for registration — the next deadline is this Friday, Feb. 24 — or email for more details, and sign up for our newsletter to be notified about land use applications in your area.

Sara Vaas has been the executive director of CONO – Building Neighborhood Networks since July 2021 and was assistant director from 2015 to 2019. Reach her at

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