The youngest I’ve ever met, that is, and I talk to many a neighborhood association members in this line of work.
Holt Mitchell, the vice president of the Whispering Hills Neighborhood Association in far north Lake Highlands just celebrated a birthday. As acutely hyperlocal as we are, the birthday of a neighborhood/homeowner association leader would not typically be considered news. However, Mitchell’s birthday, of which I was notified by Facebook, caught my attention, because I realized this guy who cares deeply about things like applying reflective tape to stop signs in an effort to improve street safety was barely old enough to drink. Last Friday was Holt Mitchell’s 21st birthday.
Joining the board of your local neighborhood association (or joining your association at all, for that matter) is a decidedly grown-up thing to do—not your typical college-kid extra curricular activity. Holt, who will graduate with a degree in finance from Southern Methodist University next year, joined the Whispering Hills Neighborhood Association when he was just 17, became a board member at 19 and even served as president when the existing president fell ill.
Holt, who attended St. Patrick in Lake Highlands before Liberty and Berkner High School in Richardson ISD, lives with his mom, Rebecca Mitchell, who taught for more than 35 years at Lake Highlands High School. He says a semi-traumatic experience in middle school sparked his desire to make a difference in his neighborhood.
Holt was walking home from school at Liberty Junior High when it happened. “A car pulls up beside me, and [the passenger] points a gun at my face.”
It was not a robbery, he says. They were just trying to scare him. He called the police. Not much happened. But the incident left a lasting impression. He knew he wanted to protect himself and his family from this sort of thing in the future. A seed had been planted.
The Mitchells’ house backed up to the railroad tracks; only a fractured brick wall separated the tracks from his backyard.
“My house is right by the gap in the wall and all the time people would cross through there and come into the neighborhood,” he says. It was a well-known fact, he adds, that the “gap” was a portal for purveyors of petty crimes.
Then the summer after he turned 17, someone actually did something about the problem.
“I came back from visiting my dad, and it looked like they were closing the wall,” he says. “I found out one neighbor had collected $10,000 in donations to repair it. And that is when I realized that by getting involved, one person can make a difference.”
After that, Mitchell started attending neighborhood association meetings.
He’s noticed that a people talk endlessly and complain a lot, “but do they actually go out and do something?” He laughs heartily when he says this, and he says he hopes no one will get made at him for saying it. (If you talk to him, I promise you will find it nearly impossible to not like him.)
When he turned 19 he joined the WHNA board of directors. He liked being involved and helping, he says, and he had an easy class load at the time, so he accepted the vice president position. That meant that, when the president couldn’t do the job for a period of time, Holt filled in, making him perhaps the youngest-ever neighborhood association president, at 19.
He’s glad to be back to vice president now. “Being president is a really hard job,” he says, “a big responsibility.”
Last year Holt interned at Dallas City Hall, working in councilman Adam McGough’s office. But he doesn’t exactly have political aspirations.
“It was interesting seeing what happens behind the scenes,” he says. “Government moves slow and it is difficult getting things done.”
He’s not sure what he wants to do after graduation other than live abroad, preferably in London, and possibly consider international politics.
For now, school and neighborhood concerns keep him busy. Whispering Hills, a neighborhood he loves, poses interesting challenges, he notes.
Situated on the edge of Richardson, it’s not really part of what is traditionally considered Lake Highlands, though it does fall inside Dallas’ District 10 (and he proudly displays the Lake Highlands logo on the WHNA website).
Holt says he works with both the City of Dallas and The City of Richardson on neighborhood issues. Whispering Hills is part of the Richardson ISD, but it feeds into Berkner High School, rivals of Lake Highlands High School. He jokes that “Lake Highlands is the stepchild of Richardson ISD and Whispering Hills is the stepchild of Lake Highlands.” He adds that being in Dallas but north of I-635 is odd, because “no one really knows you’re here.”