The Cooper-Young Community Association has hired Kristen Schebler as its new executive director, replacing Kristan Huntley.
Schebler comes to her new post having recently completed course work for Masters in anthropology from the University of Memphis. While her studies may not seem upon first consideration to have much to do with her Cooper-Young position, Schebler says there are important similarities.
“If you want to do good research in anthropology, you have to go to people and talk to them. You have to value every point of view before you can claim to understand anything,” she says. “Community involvement, I think, acts in just the same way. If you want people involved then you have to listen to them. You have to hear what it is that THEY think is important, and then you have to tailor your actions based on that input. The best anthropological research becomes a partnership in which all parties learn from each other; the best community involvement works the same way.”
Schebler was raised in suburban Indianapolis in a community where “you needed a car to get to just about everything.” After graduating from Purdue University with a Bachelors degree in anthropology, she moved to Memphis for graduate school and was delighted to find a neighborhood that was the exact opposite of the one she grew up in.
“I really wanted to live somewhere that was more urban, somewhere that I could walk down the street and have lunch on a nice patio or go to a park or do some shopping,” she says. “The first time I came to Memphis, I saw this area and just fell in love and thought: This is perfect. This is exactly what I’m looking for.”
Schebler worked for Germantown manufacturing company Shari Dixon, Inc. before heading back to school. While at the university, she focused on learning the ins and outs of neighborhood development and environmentally sustainable community planning. She also worked with Crittenden Regional Hospital in West Memphis, AR, to explore community networking in health-oriented development. She presented a small part of her research at the Society for Applied Anthropology 2014 conference in Albuquerque.
“[The U of M] master’s program is fantastic for applied anthropology and particularly focuses on a lot of community development issues and social change,” Schebler says. “I came into the program with a general interest in how people manage public spaces, how that impacts crime rates and feelings of safety, and I came out with a strong sense that the best way to affect social change in these areas is to work at the community level. It’s not enough to make some sweeping policy change at the state or national level, you need to work on projects that instill pride in an area, that keep people invested in the community around them.”
Schebler was facing the prospect of having to find a job after completing her course work when her department head passed on the opening at the CYCA. The grad student was worried she didn’t have the qualifications for the position, but was excited about the possibility of making a difference in the neighborhood she loved.
“It just seemed like I’d be able to work on maintaining all of the things I love about the area and even get to work on some projects of my own to make it even better,” she says.
Hitting the ground running, Schebler has already thrown herself into issues involving blighted properties in the area and is eager to tackle another: Cooper-Young’s overgrown alleys.
“These things are just nuts. I was taking a look at one the other day, and I’m seriously considering suggesting a jungle hike through the bush as our next big event,” says Schebler, who in her spare time loves hiking and planning trips to National Parks. “The general consensus is that they’re a big safety hazard but that they could be turned into something really unique. We’ve had suggestions to do some kind of art walk or greenway, and I think that would be a really fun asset to the neighborhood. It’s going to take a lot of time just to get them cleared out, and we’ll need help from residents as well as city officials for some of it. But I’m pretty optimistic that this is something we can work on over the next couple of seasons.”
On a broader level, Schebler would also like to engage the neighborhood’s younger residents in activities and projects.
“It would be great to see all of the residents — whether they rent or own, have been here for 2 months or 20 years — get together and work on projects that they feel will benefit the neighborhood,” she says.
Besides exploring the outdoors, in her free time Schebler is an avid history buff, hopeful gardener, and has been known to spend hours hanging out with a good book at Otherlands.