Public Allies convene for learning, connection at Core Week 2019

Ideating at Public Allies meeting

Earlier this month, Twin Cities Public Allies gathered at Oak Park Center to participate in Core Week. Public Allies is a 10-month Americorps apprenticeship program that focuses on advancing social justice and equity by teaching allies about leadership and placing them in key operational roles at a wide range of partner organizations throughout the Twin Cities nonprofit sector. For new and returning allies, Core Week offers the chance to explore the values of the Public Allies program through a variety of culture-building activities that exercise their creativity and empathy. It is a time for allies to connect, reflect, and build.

Ashlyn Stenberg is one of several new Public Allies cohort members; Core Week was her first week with the program. Ashlyn is serving as a communication system specialist at the Wilder Foundation, providing administrative support for a variety of projects focused on racial equity and community outreach. Although she was not sure what to expect with many of the high-energy culture-building activities, she says that by the end of Core Week, “[The experience has] already paid off. I’m seeing the benefit of putting myself out there in these spaces.” Ultimately, Ashlyn hopes that Public Allies can help her develop new opportunities that utilize her interest in health equity issues.

Roda Abda, also new to Public Allies, is serving as an operations manager at Twin Cities RISE, where she is assisting with project management and communications for a major upcoming event. After a period of trying to determine her next steps in life, Roda says that she was encouraged to apply by an acquaintance who had already completed the program. “I hope to become a strong communicator and learn to assert myself during my time as an ally,” she says.

Another new ally, Colton Taylor, was placed at Senior Community Services as a home program coordinator. In this role, his job is to recruit, organize, and manage volunteers who assist seniors with a wide range of day-to-day tasks. Like many young people in the program, Colton is eager to explore different post-college options during his time with Public Allies. “I graduated not knowing exactly what I wanted to do,” he says, “and I’m hoping [Public Allies] can help me get a clearer sense of what my career is going to be.”

Now that Core Week has come to an end, the hard work is only beginning. As our new cohort members begin their 10-month journey with Public Allies, the energy and enthusiasm of Core Week reminds us all that real learning happens when young people feel empowered to break out of their comfort zones.

North News creates hyperlocal, youth-powered journalism

Attendees and staff at Greater>Together 2018

Many residents of North Minneapolis may be aware of North News through its monthly print paper and digital platforms, elevating honest and nuanced narratives about the Northside that aren’t represented in the institutional media. What they may not realize is that in addition to its quality hyperlocal reporting, North News is also working to lift up the next generation of Northside youth voices. 

Through classroom programs and internship opportunities overseen by North News staff, youth throughout North Minneapolis are learning to tell their community’s stories and gain experience that will prepare them for careers in mass media and communications. This need is especially critical in the Northside community. “We are the only journalism education program most of our young people have access to,” said Kenzie O’Keefe, editor-in-chief of North News. O’Keefe also co-teaches the North News journalism class at North High School and expects to lead a similar program at Patrick Henry High School later this fall. 

Working under Kenzie and being a proud intern for North News over the last three years taught me the skills I needed to become a great journalist,” said former intern Daija Triplett, currently serving at Pillsbury United Communities through the Public Allies program. After the conclusion of her term, she plans to major in communications and media studies at Stetson University in the spring. “I’ve learned so much about how journalism can help connect people to their neighbors in the community.” 

Blessing Kasongoma, currently majoring in communications studies at Augsburg University, concurs: “Interning as a student reporter at North News helped me find myself as a journalist. But she said the true benefits of the North News youth program are even bigger than that. “As a person, I became bolder when it came to approaching people for an interview. I grew that way. This skill is not just for interviewing, but for everyday life. I learned to be more confident as a person.” 

The North News team has high hopes for their youth program over the long-term. “Our plan is to build on our successes, grow the capacity of our newsroom, and keep our news platforms strong,” said O’Keefe. By formalizing additional pathways between North News and the media industry, O’Keefe said, North News can ensure that all young people in North Minneapolis have the tools and resources to pursue a career in mass media. With that crucial support for emerging community voices, she said, “We envision that North Minneapolis will one day be known as the birthplace of nationally respected journalists.” 

By cultivating young people’s skills as journalists, writers, and storytellers, North News is making a vital contribution to the Northside community. When everyday people are empowered to raise their voices and influence the narrative, real change can begin. 

Exploring Minnesota’s great outdoors

Youth camping activities

Our youth programs have wrapped up for the summer in what we thought was the most fitting way possible—spending time in the Minnesota outdoors. Knowing that the summer season here is short and filled with all different kinds of opportunities to be outside, we wanted to take advantage of what the natural wonders of this city and state has to offer.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve lead over 80 youth on four different canoeing excursions—two overnight expeditions in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), one overnight trip along the St. Croix River, and one day trip on Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes. Outdoor expeditions can sometimes be costly and strenuous, but in partnering with the group Wilderness Inquiry, we were able to provide the gear, transportation, and trained guides—all for free.

Maireni, 14, said her favorite part was “Looking at the stars and going to the waterfalls.” And for Luz, 15, it was “Being able to be with nature and talk to new people.” The least favorite part of the experience? The responses were almost unanimous: mosquitos.

While multiple hands-on skills are learned on these trips, from paddling to putting up a tent, making a fire to washing dishes outside—soft skills are strengthened too. Like Baldemar, 14, said, “Teamwork is very vital when you go camping.” Teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills become necessary when experiencing the outdoors overnight for several days, not always alongside familiar faces, and without the comfortable amenities of home. And without the distraction of phones or other digital devices, youth find their own ways to have fun, whether it be through outdoor games, some good old-fashioned singing, or just taking life a little slower by chatting and building bonds with one another.

Engaging youth in the great outdoors has been a Pillsbury United tradition since the founding of the first settlement houses, and we plan to continue for years to come. Next time, we might just bring some more bug spray.

Health fairs offer knowledge and connection in Phillips and Cedar Riverside

Health worker at Waite House health fair

It’s a beautiful August day: sunny, a few clouds, not too hot. Outside Waite House in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, more than a hundred of our neighbors are listening to music (courtesy of KRSM Radio), jumping in an inflatable bounce house, and catching up with their friends. Conversations waft through the air, a sampling of the hundred-plus languages spoken by residents of one of our city’s most diverse communities.

Although the vibe is casual and friendly, the occasion today is a serious one: Today is the Phillips Health Fair, and health is on everyone’s mind. Here, and at a similar event at Brian Coyle Center in Cedar Riverside earlier this month, more than 40 partner organizations have assembled to share their knowledge and resources with the community.

By connecting our neighbors to local health care resources, we eliminate barriers to access and give them the tools to take a more active role in the care that they and their families receive. But it goes deeper than that. Social connectedness is a powerful predictor of overall health outcomes; people are healthier when they talk to their neighbors.

According to Tsega Tamene, director of community health at Pillsbury United Communities, this is the critical role the health fairs serve. “We’re creating a space for people to connect, to learn, to play,” she says.

And in a space where so much of the conversation around community health focuses on the health disparities that exist within indigenous communities and communities of color, the Phillips and Coyle health fairs provide a platform for the individuals and organizations who are already working towards a solution. Rather than creating new efforts and duplicative work, Tamene says the health fairs succeed by “lifting up resources that are already there in the community.”

Tamene is quick to point out that the health fairs couldn’t happen without dedicated organizers—Jovita and Awol, at Waite House and Brian Coyle respectively—driving new partnerships at the local level and activating the grassroots energy of their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It all comes down to the relationships our center staff have built throughout the community.

Ultimately, our health fairs are one solution within a multifaceted approach to community health. As researchers in the field of public health can tell us, the health of our communities is impacted by any number of factors, from education, to food access, to transportation. It’s hard to deny that these systems have failed many of our neighbors. But despite the complex challenges that our communities are living with, it’s clear that a dedicated effort is underway—and for one August afternoon in Phillips and Cedar Riverside, we get a brief glimpse of what a healthier and more connected future looks like.

(Click here for photos from the Brian Coyle Health Fair.)

Buraanbur builds connections, brings healing

Buraanbur at Brian Coyle Center

Taking care of your health doesn’t necessarily equate to making routine stops at the doctor’s office. Being healthy and feeling well, safe, and secure requires looking at a bigger picture—focusing on how our everyday lives, work, environment, and choices influence our well-being.

For East African women in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, one way of fostering health and healing has been through a form of dance and poetry native to Somalia: buraanbur. From January through June of this year, about 20 women regularly attended buraanbur dance classes at the Brian Coyle Center hosted by the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Program (IWAP). This opportunity was made possible through a special partnership with The Cedar Cultural Center and The City of Minneapolis Health Department, and was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The classes served multiple purposes. Not only were they a way for women to improve their physical health by exercising, but they were also an opportunity to break isolation and build relationships—all while being rooted in their culture.

“We come together here twice a week. We socialize; we dance; we sweat; and we laugh. If someone doesn’t come to the session, we ask each other, ‘Where is so and so?’ and check up on them. We care for each other and have become more than just neighbors. We dance together whilst feeling connected to my culture like it was back in my home country,” one participant said.

Miski Abdulle, our Director of Immigrant Services, touched on how they were not just dance sessions, but also ‘healing sessions’ for some participants who are survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the population that IWAP primarily works with. This type of cultural healing “heals the soul,” she said. Participants spoke to her about feeling lighter and sleeping and eating better than before. Some said:

“I get to exercise, be active. And this is good for my mental health too because I feel happy here. It’s a place for women to be together. This is just like family to me.”

“I have become good friends with the women here and I feel a sense of community support and togetherness.”

“I have been coming to these buraanbur sessions because it is a fun place to be. I get to see the same faces, people who are my neighbors. I get to laugh with them, exercise, and enjoy my culture.”

A sense of belonging and community. Cultural connectedness and healing. Artistic expression. These are all pieces in our vision for thriving communities. Because we don’t just want our communities to be healthy; we want them to be well. And that requires looking at the bigger picture.

Summer K-5 program launched, despite cuts

Children in youth program

For the first time since the summer of 2017, a no-cost summer K-5 program is up and running at our Brian Coyle Center. From June through August, kids will have the opportunity to participate in a vast range of activities—literacy and geography lessons, getting hands-on with gardening, cooking, technology and organized sports, going on field trips, and engaging in projects that help foster self-expression and ignites them to think about their community in different ways. Programming like this is essential during this time of year to prevent ‘summer slide,’ otherwise known as the learning loss that happens when kids are out of school and not academically engaged as they are during the school year. In the past week, some highlights include planting peppers in the garden, learning about Brazil and the greater South American continent followed up by making some delicious Brazilian limeade, getting outdoors at the Dodge Nature Center, learning about the environment, recycling, and how to save energy from Community Action Partnership, and enhancing reading skills thanks to a partnership with the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center.

Though this programming is happening now—unfortunately in the past two years, our K-5 youth have not had the academic and social supports needed due to funding cuts. Our agency along with many others serving this population were forced to cut both our summer and afterschool K-5 programs out entirely, which has had significant impacts on the families we serve. Older middle and high school-aged youth have often had to step up and stay home to care for their younger siblings, forcing them to no longer participate in their own summer/afterschool programming. Parents were faced with the difficult decision to change their job(s) or adjust their work schedules. And then there’s the K-5 kids themselves who are no longer receiving the academic and social supports that are critical in laying the groundwork for academic success and confidence in middle school.

This has been a real community need these past couple of years, and because of demand from our Cedar Riverside neighbors, we pulled as many strings as we could to make a summer K-5 program happen at the Brian Coyle Center. However, the future of K-5 still looks uncertain until there are more funds allocated to this population. If you are passionate about the future of our young people, we encourage you to follow both Ignite Afterschool and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, two groups who are determinedly working to secure more youth funding from the City and State. Our kids deserve better.

Do you have a story of the power of K-5 programming, or want to share your experiences with the lack of it? Contact Julie: JulieG@pillsburyunited.org, 612-455-0365. We want to help uplift these stories to ensure we get the resources needed for our young people.

Serving with a smile at People Serving People

EPIC program participants volunteering with People Serving People

Every Tuesday, volunteers from our Employing Partners in Community (EPIC) Program are at People Serving People to assist with building beautification. This is a partnership that has been in place since 2010. Its just one of the many places where program participants and staff volunteer each week.

The EPIC Program, based at the Pillsbury House, is all about skill building, involvement in our community and making memories. Volunteering is practice that provides program participants a chance to gain and strengthen work skills while also helping others and integrating in the community.  At People Serving People, EPIC helps with the janitorial services and that’s a big job. There are seven floors and a long list of housekeeping tasks that need to be done on each floor. Tasks include sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and cleaning windows. After the work is completed, People Serving People kindly provides a hot meal in exchange for the work. Some of the volunteers favorites are beef nachos, tacos, and smothered chicken.

Public Allies volunteer to help raise youth voices

Public Alies participants in ideation session

On March 30, 2019 the Minnesota Youth Council hosted the first of its kind, Youth in Educational Leadership Summit at Patrick Henry High School. The Minnesota Youth Council is a group of youth and adults working together to empower and mobilize young people across the state to use the power of their voices to address issues affecting youth. The event featured many young speakers. Janaan Ahmed spoke about advocacy and leadership and Maddy Fernands spoke about climate justice. Edie Weinstein, a young author, spoke about her book and connecting with people with dementia. More than 200 students, parents, mentors, and teachers participated in the event.

A team of Public Allies volunteered at the event.  They did everything from provide childcare to take photos while not participating in workshops. “As a Public Ally, the experience at YELS was refreshing.” said second year Public Allies fellow You Lee. “Many times, youth voices are pushed aside to make space for adults or professionals in the room. So, it was cool to see youth-led presentations and overall coordination of the conference. I can see that the conference was a good experience for youth as they continue their work in the future.” 

Public Allies is a national movement committed to advancing social justice and equity by engaging and activating the leadership capacities of our young people. Since 1992, Public Allies has helped thousands of underrepresented young leaders serve our country, get on successful pathways to higher education and careers, and bring communities together to work for the common good. Public Allies seeks to find and cultivate young community leaders and connect them to the issues and causes that ignite their passion to create last change. Allies are placed with a nonprofit organization where they help address critical community needs such as youth development, education, workforce development, environmental issues, arts programming and community health.

Sisterhood Boutique celebrates diversity with style

Models at the Sisterhood Boutique fashion show

On March 5, 2019 Sisterhood Boutique celebrated its fifth anniversary with a fashion show. The boutique was started by Somali and east African girls as safe space to learn skills like financial literacy, leadership and sewing by running their own business selling secondhand clothes.

“We do a lot of things and the fashion show is a way to show the community what we’ve been doing. We’ve had over 200 people go through the process,” said store manager Amal Muse.

The fashion show is part birthday party, part fundraiser and features models of all shapes and sizes wearing looks designed by students from the University of St. Catherine’s Advanced Construction Class to reflect the diversity found in the West Bank neighborhood where the boutique is located.

“We have women wearing traditional hijabs and burkas; there’s everything. It really runs the gamut of what you would see walking around in a very fashionable Minneapolis,” said Julie Graves, Director of Career & Future Readiness.

For some of the girls involved with store, the show is a chance to strike a pose, while for others, it’s one more example that the Sisterhood Boutique lives up to its name.

“It’s very family-like. You feel like you are part of a sister family. I don’t have sisters, so I gained sisters,” Ali said.

Full Cycle delivers food and more by bike

Full Cycle bicycle food deliveries

On May 23, 2019 the team at Full Cycle made their first food delivery of the spring. The weather was great, everyone biked hard, and most importantly 150 meals were delivered to transitional living programs in Minneapolis.  Food delivery by bike is just one of the many programs offered by Full Cycle, a social enterprise bicycle shop in south Minneapolis, MN that offers support and connection to young people experiencing homelessness.

Young people who have experience with homelessness can make an appointment to pick out and help fix a bike they can use for transportation. The free bikes also function to relieve stress, provide a fun outlet, and allow youth to practice being self-reliant. In addition, bike appointments are a natural way for youth and youth workers to get to know each other and how Full Cycle can be useful.

Full Cycle also offers youth a two-phase, six-month-long paid internship, which teaches a structured mechanic curriculum and imparts professional knowledge like résumé writing. The idea is to give kids a complete set of skills—not just the know-how to work on bikes.

Pillsbury House Theatre amplifies the stories of older adults

Public memoir reading at Pillsbury House + Theatre

In 2018, Pillsbury House Theatre received a grant to run Centerstage, a series of free memoir writing classes for residents of local Augustana Care buildings. Teaching Artist Jen Scott taught three separate 8-week courses, culminating in a reception at Pillsbury House Theatre in which participants and professional actors read their stories out loud. It was a joyful occasion punctuated with laughter, a few tears, and even music; one of the participants played the harp as she told her story!

This year, Pillsbury House Theatre is doing it again, this time hosting three free eight-week classes for adults 55 and up in their building on Chicago Avenue. The first class, Intro to Memoir, taught by Jen Scott, is wrapping up this month. The second class, Advanced Memoir, will be taught by Dr. Louis Porter starting in June, with a third class to follow later in the summer.

Centerstage is not just about teaching people how to write in the form of memoir. More than that, it’s about empowering people with the knowledge that everyone has a story to be told, and that telling those stories both grounds us in ourselves and connects us to one another.

X