Debra Bristol is the first recipient of the Ray Lawton Award – 2014.

Debra Bristol was the first recipient of the Ray Lawton Award for her leadership efforts in helping create The Haseltine Hills Alliance, the first City of Richland Center recognized Neighborhood Association.
When Deb purchased her NHS-built new home in Autumn 2010, she didn’t know that she would become a neighborhood leader: she was just looking for a nice place to raise her 3 boys.  But as neighbors began talking, she found that there were needs that were not being addressed.  First that neighbors didn’t necessarily know each other or feel connected.  Because NHS had built several in-fill new homes, there were new residents mixed in with the long-time, but not always interacting.  Second, many of the new residents were families with children who were concerned about their pedestrian safety, as the neighborhood has narrow streets and no sidewalks.  Third, residents of Haseltine neighborhood did not have a strong connection to local government or a voice to help solve issues, including dilapidated vacant homes and a large population of feral cats.  She saw that the establishment of Richland Center’s first neighborhood association in Haseltine neighborhood could help solve these problems and serve as a model for other neighborhoods and communities in Southwest Wisconsin.

Barry Ziegahn, (L) NHSSW Board President awards Debra Bristol (R) the Ray Lawton Award

Barry Ziegahn, (L) NHSSW Board President awards Debra Bristol (R) the Ray Lawton Award

Deb was willing to help NHS promote the Homeownership Center from the very beginning.  She and her sons were the feature photo & success story in December 2010.  She then stepped up at the 2011 Haseltine neighborhood (NHS organized) block party during NeighborWorks Week.  While Deb volunteered grilling food and meeting neighbors, she was asked to be part of the 2012 Community Leadership Institute (CLI) team and to help recruit other neighbors.  The action plan generated by 4 Haseltine neighbors was the first step in building the Haseltine Hills Alliance Neighborhood Association.  Deb was the driving force behind the formation of our region’s first Neighborhood Association.  She is the person who attended the national CLI, saw how other communities were organizing, and wanted to bring that vision back to Richland Center.  When the energy from other volunteers waned, Deb was rejuvenated at the Local Richland CLI  and rallied the old and new Haseltine volunteers to start meeting at her home in early 2013.  She has developed as a leader by joining the NHS board of directors and always inviting the local alderperson to events.  When the Haseltine Hills Alliance needed leadership, she astutely agreed, but only as a co-leader, because she had identified another resident whose leadership skills were growing and could compliment her.  They were unanimously elected by their peers at the first community-wide neighborhood association meeting.  Deb has worked with her fellow neighbors, NHS, Southwest WI Regional Planning Commission, the school district, local businesses, and city government to get things done.

The most evident change is that Richland Center is now a town with neighborhood associations, with the first one formed in Haseltine Hills. This is a dramatic shift in the way that residents see themselves: as active enactors of community policy, rather than passive bystanders.  After the Haseltine Hills Alliance neighborhood association formed, other leaders blossomed as they created 3 committees to work on key issues.  Deb encouraged communication between all committees.  The committee whose focus is pedestrian safety (changing a school-bus-stop so that children would be provided with a safer route to school) just found out that their campaign will be successful & the bus stop will be changed.  Her home has been host to at least 20 neighborhood meetings, of which she has led approximately 10.  There are usually 5-10 residents at every meeting.  The Haseltine Hills neighborhood skating party and BBQ had over 75 attendees.  The 1st annual neighborhood Christmas Carol took place in December 2013 using Deb’s house as home-base, and bringing together 14 people to make an impact on the dozens of households who received a visit by the singers.  None of these households would have been engaging in this way without Deb’s effort.

Deb’s love for encouraging young people is evident in all she does.  From engaging with the school district on moving the bus stop, so that young children are not walking on a county road without sidewalks, to planning community events that are youth-friendly (a roller skating party and neighborhood Christmas caroling), Deb shows that families with children are the future of the neighborhood.  Deb’s home is the site of neighborhood meetings because she is happy to let the kids play in the backyard or family room, with her son frequently providing the babysitting and entertainment for the younger kids!

Without Deb’s leadership it is very unlikely that NHS of Southwest Wisconsin would have a successful neighborhood-based organizing program, as we are proud to say we do today.  Our organization decided a few years ago that to truly build community, we need to find leaders within the neighborhood who are willing to take on the duties of planning and hosting meetings, recruiting volunteers, and executing their own events.  Who would serve as that leader in Haseltine to allow NHS to step back?  It is not an easy thing to find someone like Deb.  She understood that the neighborhood association could only form and be successful if they took ownership of it themselves. She was able to explain to neighbors that to get the desired changes and attention from local power-brokers, the neighborhood must speak for itself.  This is something that has never been done in our community before.  Now that there is the framework, we are working with other leaders to create more neighborhood associations, but it took 1 extraordinary, visionary leader to be the first.

The goals of The Haseltine Hills Alliance is to increase safety in the neighborhood, establish a recognized entity, influence zoning and development and become more active in local government. One early win for the group was an added School Bus Stop for school age children of the area.

Haseltine Hills Association


Visit their Facebook Page to connect and for more information: Haseltine Hills Alliance FB Page


Debra was nominated for a 2014 Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership.

The Dorothy Richardson Awards.  Named for the Pittsburgh resident whose tenacious and visionary work led to the founding of the original Neighborhood Housing Services organization, the award annually recognizes outstanding individual resident leaders working to make change “stick” in their home communities. Visit NeighborWorks America website to learn more.

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