Category Archives: Nonprofits

Sharing the Bounty: A Day in the Life of a Food Shelf Manager

Note:  As families and friends gather to enjoy the feasts of this holiday season it is a privilege to know and share the story of one man who spends his long days making sure that everyone in the community shares both the bounty and the love of their neighbors.  ~ ~ ~

Scott Andrews is the energetic manager responsible for providing a warm welcome and wholesome food to the families of northern Dakota County (MN) who depend on Neighbors, Inc.

7:30 AM

The volunteers have already been at Cub Foods and Super Target where they have picked up and now delivered fresh produce, dairy products, fresh and frozen meat products.  This morning the Boy Scouts have dropped off an impressive load of canned goods plus a check they have collected at their weekend food drive.   Scott is psyched for a busy day – it’s the first of the month.

8:00 AM:

Scott is joined by Linda, a volunteer who has kept the food shelf running on an even keel for over thirty years.  Linda’s husband has already been on volunteer duty with the crew at Cub.

8:30 AM

Before the doors open to clients, a second crew of volunteers come on board.  This crew will sort the fresh produce, bag some, cull out the not-so-fresh, and create a tempting display of nutritious veggies for the shoppers.  They will also weigh the canned goods, scratch off the bar codes and check the expiration dates to assure quality control.  They’ll package the fresh meat in family-size amounts, bag the apples and oranges  (if there is fresh fruit today), check the eggs, refrigerate the dairy products, prepared salads and dairy treats, wash the veggies, shelve the fresh baker products and otherwise present the clients with a display of food that is as attractive as it is wholesome.

Meanwhile, clients are arriving at the reception desk upstairs.  Families wait patient as busy staffers check their ID’s and verification documents.  Each family must be recertified once a month.  Hungry children examine the picture books and squirm impatiently as they wait foe the grownups to complete the necessary paperwork.  Moms and dads wait patiently to go through the hoops required to put healthy food on the family table.  Elderly folks help keep an eye on the little ones, thinking fondly of their own grandchildren.

9:00 AM:

The food shelf phones begin to ring- and the action begins.  The families whose credentials are in order after they have met with the intake staff are ready to shop.  Spirits rise ad the customers enter the food shelf, clutching wiggly kids and free-wheeling grocery carts, eager to explore their shopping options.

The little ones are quick to spy the breakfast cereal and peanut butter that are in stock this week.  The moms catch a sidelong glimpse of the shampoo and scented soaps that donors have toted back from their hotel stays.

A volunteer interrupts her work to help a dad whose having a struggle with four-year-old twins.  She finds a picture book to share with the boys so the dad can shop and get to work on time.

10:30 AM:

Scott scans the shelves to make sure the labels are up to date and clearly displayed.  Because Neighbors is an “open choice” food shelf customers, with the help of volunteers, can select their own grocery items – ever dependent on what’s available that day.  Each shelf is meticulously labeled so that the clients know exactly how many of “product X” they may selection a family of “Y” members.  One of Scott’s jobs is to make sure that the labels on the shelves reflect the changes in supply.  Unlike the supermarket manager he has little control over available commodities.

Another team of volunteers arrives.  Scott reassesses the tasks and the team as he lays out the work plan for the next shift.  Over the course of the week Scott will see to it that each of the sixty food shelf volunteers has a job that fits his or her skill and interests.

Today there are donations to be weighed and entered in the data base.  Every ounce of food that comes in is weighted.  Every donor is to be credited and individually thanked.

NOON

Volunteers share a  pleasant break in the day by helping a family celebrate a birthday!  The intake person who follows the family’s record has alerted Scott that the little girl is celebrating her sixth birthday.  A volunteer finds a decorated cake donated by a local grocery store.  Cake and candles in hand, the family heads home to share a special evening.

 ~ ~ ~

And so the day goes – the volunteer shifts manage the steady flow of food and families.  Scott attends a staff meeting, completes the food orders for the near future, checks the shelves, reviews the raft of  health regulations,  struggles with the budget, chats with the  volunteers and welcomes a constant flow of customers with a warm smile.

Food shelf management doesn’t require a degree from the Culinary Institute of America or experience as a sommelier — in fact there is no formally accredited academic program geared to the vocation.  Still, Scott’s skill set bears a strong resemblance to that of a master restaurateur with a flair for customer care and stretching a dollar.  He knows food – the nutritional value, the cost, the availability, the presentation of the product.  Because he has little control over the sources or selection of the food he provides his clients, Scott explores creative techniques to make a pre-selected menu of wholesome food products irresistible.  As a result, he calculates that 87% of the food selections by his food shelf clients are distinctly healthy choices.

Dependent on the generosity of individual and institutional donors, Scott doesn’t enjoy the luxury of daily trips to the farmers’ market – though he welcomes with open arms the produce contributed by vendors at the end of the day’s market.  He  doesn’t order delicacies from the fresh fish purveyor or offer exotic taste treats to his customers.  His greatest asset is a staff of dependable volunteers who work because they care and because their efforts make a difference for members of the community.    It is up to Scott to “keep things interesting.”

Food shelf management is not one of the professional paths a talented youth is likely to pursue.  Scott himself did not exactly choose the career he now loves.  His degree from Northern Michigan University was in Spanish and International Studies.  It was during his stint as a youth ministry volunteer in Costa Rica that he mastered his language skills and learned to enjoy working with volunteers.  He is quick to point out, too, that the time he spent as a laborer in a gasket factory was great preparation for managing the food shelf inventory.

And this rich range of experience forged a flexible attitude perfectly suited to the lively food shelf environment.  Though it may not be a paved road to the pinnacle of the hospitality industry, it works for Scott – and for the Neighbors community that is enriched by the talents and the spirit with which he meets the shifting challenges of each day.

 

 

 

 

 

George McGovern – Carrying on his fight to end hunger

The travesty of Hunger may be slipping into the pale light of public awareness.  For too long hunger has hidden in the shadows, even as Americans feast on the exotic, waste our precious food resources, allow politics to shape farm policy, and fret about their waist while we waste with abandon,  and conveniently ignore – even excoriate –  those who go without nourishment.

When George McGovern died last month we were reminded just how long this nation has endured the creeping expansion of hungry and malnourished families, a reality well documented in the statistics of food shelves today.  Though the immediate focus is on jobs, jobs,, jobs quietly emerging from the wings is a glimmer of understanding of the long-term implications of hunger on children, families, the elderly, the unemployed and underemployed.

McGovern envisioned those implications and tried to tell the nation and the world, the public and the decision-makers.   Already a champion of efforts to end hunger, McGovern was first appointed as director of Food for Peace in 1961, over a half century ago.  Erthanin Cousin, current director of the UN World Food Programme, said of McGovern: “He saw – way before anyone else – how the simple sustained act of putting a meal in the hands of a poor child at school could change that child’s life and give them a chance at a better future.”

McGovern wrote books, including a classic co-authored with his across-the-aisle colleague Bob Dole.  He sponsored mountains of legislation including the food stamp program, school lunch program and the supplemental food assistance to women and children (WIC).

On his 90th birthday McGovern expressed his hope – possibly his conviction – that “the good Lord will extend my years beyond one hundred.  I do intend to complain loudly to St. Peter if I am called above (or raise the devil, if I’m called below) before we end hunger in America.“

Clearly, McGovern was not the lone voice crying in the wilderness.   For two thousand years Christians have quoted the Biblical exhortations to feed the hungry.  Other major faiths, including the basic tenets of the Muslim and Jewish faiths, include strong commitments to assuage hunger.  The Millennium Development Goals offer strong and detailed explication of the right to food.

Still McGovern’s death before his work was done is a profound and timely reminder of how the struggle to end hunger must continue. Today in this community the struggle is center-stage as individuals and organizations enlist to walk in and otherwise support the Walk to End Hunger. ( It’s Thanksgiving Day, 7:00-10:00 a.m. at the Mall of America.)  Area nonprofits involved in eliminating hunger are working in collaboration to raise awareness and funds.  Walkers and teams of walkers will be encouraging Minnesotans to “help others then help yourself.”  The Walk is sponsored by twelve partner organizations, a dozen of the scores of hunger-related organizations serving this community.  One good example of a more comprehensive list is managed by United Front Minnesota – there are many others.

Another positive step is that the media are spending time and resources on the issue of hunger.  Some local examples are:  TPT has been showing the series “Nourishing Lives, Ending Hunger” which I have viewed a couple of times now;  NPR ran a show on “The Ugly Truth About Food Waste in America”.  Locally, MPR has run several documentaries and investigative reports on hunger in this community.  Currently in production is a new film about “A Place at the Table.”  These are just a few of the several  mainstream media initiatives to raise the issue of hunger in the public consciousness.

In other ways individuals are assuming individual responsibility.  A recent article in the Strib described the initiative of MCTC students who cultivated a robust garden  in a small plot of land on that inner-city campus.  Everywhere individuals and families are trying to fill the food gap by toting bags of groceries to their place of worship or by increasing their contribution to the collection basket.

Individual and organization initiatives abound.  Still, as everyone knows, systemic change is glacial.  If systemic change is to be made, every advocate –  corporate, nonprofit, faith-based, media  or individual – must focus on the imperative to end hunger and how to put one foot in front of the other towards that common goal.  It may involve some fancy foot work and some stepping on of toes in the shuffle.  And all of these players need the focus and tenacity of George McGovern.

McGovern didn’t live to see the end of hunger in this nation, much less the world.  Still, he never wavered in the effort. One story told about McGovern is that he once had an audience with Pope John XXIII who is reported to have said to him “Mr. McGovern, when you go to meet your Maker and he asks, ‘Did you feed the hungry?’ You can say, “I did.”

McGovern’s  Maker may well be asking at this point, “So who’s working on feeding the hungry now?”

No Hunger November – the Walk to End Hunger

Walk to End Hunger –  few simple steps:

Sometimes a problem is too big – sometimes it’s the process.  Hunger is a topic that’s so monumental – and so complex – it may seem to be too much to tackle.  The same might be said of the forthcoming Walk to End Hunger scheduled for Thanksgiving morning at the Mall of America.

(Parenthetically, my opinion is that the MOA fits the definition of too much to tackle, but that’s another story…)

Some time ago I posted a couple of pieces on the blog about hunger issues and my intent to walk to support Neighbors, Inc.  Since then I’ve come up with a simpler step-by-step guide to the complexities of the Walk to End Hunger mega-project.   It’s targeted to Neighbors, Inc.   I thought it might be useful to potential supporters who may be overwhelmed as I am by the process itself.

If you’re interested you may also check my page on the Walk site where you will also find a one minute video – that’s not Katie Couric….

The goal is to keep the focus on the need, not the process.  I hope this helps.

Support the Walk to End Hunger

Support Neighbors, Inc!

The Walk to End Hunger is a collaboration of hunger-related organizations of which Neighbors, Inc. is a member.   On Thanksgiving morning, November 22, from 7 to 10 am thousands of Minnesotans will walk the Mall of America to raise awareness and funds to end hunger in the Twin Cities metro area.

There are several ways you and your family can support the Walk and Neighbors, Inc.

  • Join us in the Walk. Do this by visiting our website (www.neighborsmn.org).  That will start you off with basic background resources and lead you to the Walk to End Hunger website (www.walkendhunger.org). Your $25 registration will go directly to support the Neighbors Inc. food shelf.  We hope that, as a member of the Neighbors Inc. Hunger Fighters Team you will encourage friends and family to match your contribution so that each member of the Neighbors, Inc. Hunger Fighters Team generates $100 to Neighbors.
  • Ask friends and neighbors to designate Neighbors, Inc. if they are making a contribution to the Walk.  Remember that all   funds go directly to Neighbors to support programs in the Northern Dakota County community.
  • Can’t make it?  You can make a financial contribution directly to Neighbors, Inc. by just contacting Neighbors directly with your designated contribution.   We will add it to the Neighbors fund as part of the Walk.
  • Cheer us on at the MOA!  No charge for spectators – family fun for supporters.  If you change your mind you can register on site to join the Neighbors, Inc. Hunger Fighters Team!

Neighbors Inc. serves individuals and families in northern Dakota County.  The demand for our food shelf is up 60% from just two years ago.  Neighbors will distribute 600 pounds of food this year alone.  Clients receive a package of one week’s worth of food for each member of the family.  In October we served 445 families through our recently expanded food shelf.

Neighbors is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization.  Any donation you make to support this event is fully tax deductible.

If you have questions or want to contribute, visit my page and/or contact me at mtreacy@onvoymail.com

Walking the Walk to End Hunger – With a Little Help from My Friends

In just five years, the Walk to End Hunger has become a Thanksgiving morning tradition.  During those same years hungry Minnesota families have had to depend more on the generosity of others to supplement their nutritional needs.

The Walk to End Hunger has evolved as an exemplary collaboration among nonprofit organizations that share the mission not just to provide nutritious food but to end hunger.  Some walkers get going before dawn, lace up their walking shoes, and meet at the MOA at 7:00 a.m.   Others join the marathoners at their own pace – the walk continues till 10:00 a.m.  Each walker or team is backed by a host of sponsors, friends and family who pledge to support the walker, the walker’s preferred nonprofit organization, and the imperative to end hunger.

In order to tilt the age distribution of the walking throng I have signed up to walk in support of Neighbors, Inc.   For the past months I have volunteered at Neighbors where I have come to know, respect and truly admire the organization that is now in its fortieth year serving Northern Dakota County residents who are in need of food, clothing, transportation and other support.

The idea of “giving back before giving thanks” inspires to me to think about those who will not be sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast – even more, it makes me reflect on the difficult truth that we need a concerted effort to effect systemic change. Ours is a nation in which wasted food and hungry families are separated not by geography but by the collaborative joining of forces that the Walk typifies.

This is the ultimate family-friendly event.  There will be rides and other activities for young folks while some of the MOA shops will be open.   Walkers will have given it their all by 9:00 which leaves plenty of time to get home to baste the turkey, to head out to Grandma’s, or to see how the TC’s chef de jour tempts the Minnesota palate.

If you are touched by the need, inspired by the collaborative approach, seized by the challenge to end hunger, or just amazed that this Little Old Lady has the temerity to think she can keep pace, please consider sponsoring me with a contribution earmarked for Neighbors, Inc.    If you’re my vintage you can hum “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as you sign the check or try to read the numbers of your credit card.

ü  To learn more about the Walk to End Hunger, click here. To sign up as a sponsor check on “Visitor” then “Sponsor Participant.”

ü  To learn more about Neighbors, Inc. – click here.

ü  To hear a hard-sell personal pitch, call or email me.  612 781 4234 or mtreacy@onvoymail.com

Thank you very much for your commitment to end hunger.  We hope this walk will set the pace for what must to a sustained collaborative effort.

Help others first. Then help yourself to seconds.

Support the Walk to End Hunger – Thanksgiving Day at the MOA

Would a cup of latte taste good right now?  Or a scone?  Maybe one of those one-baked cookies the generous co-walker brought in this morning.   If you’re at home, the kids are gone, you’ve read the paper and now it’s break time.  Forget the diet and go for it.  Because you can.

As you munch and sip spend a minute thinking not so much about your waistline or your gut but about the millions of Americans – the people you know from work or church or child care drop off – are hungry – really hungry.  Consider that their kids, having missed a healthy breakfast, are struggling to stay awake, much less to learn.  Then think for just a minute about how much food goes  waste – not waist –each day in our community.

October 16 is World Food Day, a day to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  The global observance aims to raise levels of nutrition around the world, focusing on improved food production, changing agricultural policy, appropriate technology and
“a neutral environment to discuss issues around food production.”

Closer to home a host of food-related organizations are joining forces to prepare for the national feast of Thanksgiving by urging local advocates to join the Walk to End Hunger.  The goal of the Walk is to “give back before giving Thanks.”    Minnesotans may participate by walking at the Mall on Thanksgiving morning (7:00-10:00), by donating money, or by sponsoring a walker and/or designating a specific program.  Walkers may form or join a team to support the cause or a specific food shelf.   The common goal is to walk together and in the same direction.

So, enjoy your break – you deserve it.   And so do those in our communities whose health and learning skills depend on others.   The theme of the Walk says it all

Help others first. Then help yourself to seconds.

Northeast Seniors Move Their Site, Expand their Vision

Seniors who need a ride to do some holiday shopping.  Seniors who just want to gather for coffee and conversation.  Seniors who are moving, in need of health care (foot clinics, exercise classes, home visits, post-operation companions).  Seniors who need a ride, legal assistance, help with snow shoveling or housework, pet care, or digital technology.

For Kay Anderson, Executive Director of it’s all about the seniors, their needs and their strengths.

Today Kay is busily re-locating the NE Seniors offices to a vibrant new setting at Autumn Woods, 2580 Kenzie Terrace.  In spite of technology that isn’t quite hooked up yet, phones that are iffy, and a dozen projects that cry out for completion, Kay remains calm and very much at home at Autumn Woods, happy to be in the company of the many seniors she hopes to meet and help in the new site.  She also touts the perks, including security and ample parking as attributes of the new site

Many of Kay’s dreams focus on the potential of technology as a problem-solver for seniors – provided they have access to equipment and some training.  She envisions grandparents skyping with their grandchildren, patients getting their medical tests online, individuals interacting with government agencies, ordering groceries and, most of all, communicating with friends and family members via social media of every stripe.  NE Seniors has space now – all that’s needed are the equipment and the orientation and support that volunteers are willing to offer.

Kay’s energy and spirit breathe life into the new offices at Autumn Woods.  Expect great things – including an open house as soon as the dust has settled.  Reach Northeast Seniors at 612 781 5096 or mail@neseniors.org.  Sign up to receive the quarterly newsletter (print edition) and watch for the online edition of the Northeast Minneapolis Senior Services Directory, now in print and updated online.  It’s one of myriad projects, including revision of the website, that’s in the works!

Resource Center of the Americas Hosts Festive Fundraiser November 5

Today the memory seems totally out of line and out of place, but my clearest visual recollection of my visit to the Resource Center of the Americas, then located at the U of M Newman Center, is that it marked my first experience with a functioning library application of the Internet.  Though demos and dreams were flooding the market, here was this small group of volunteers, many of them librarians who took “social responsibility” serious, who had created an accessible catalog for the RCA library collection.  The collection itself was bold, strident, angry, a cacophony of voices far beyond the Center’s walls – now reaching an audience that could learn and act on the information and ideas gathered by RCA staff and friends who had their collective ear to the disparity between reality and the myth.

I know that this visit recollection has lived in my mind for 28 years because this Saturday, November 5, RCA is celebrating its 28th Anniversary of service “to our community and our hemisphere.”  The gala fundraiser is 7-11:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Event Center, 301 Main Street Northeast, Minneapolis.

Guests are encouraged to “dress festive!”  And festive is the theme of the celebration.  Featured performer for the evening is Malamanya, along with traditional South American tunes by Vladimir Garrido and dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca and the Teen Folkloric Dancers of Centro, Inc.

Friends of RCA may buy  tickets online for $35 for adults. Predictably, the event is family friendly with youth 6-17 $10 and children under 6 admitted without charge.  No tickets will be mailed –  reservations will be added to a list with an e-mailed receipt for tax purposes.  Sixty percent of each ticket is viewed as tax-deductible.

Roots of Today’s Resource Center for the Americas

A reminder of RCA’s history is timely for those who have not followed recent developments of this essential community organization.  In 1983, when RCA was established, wars in Central America were raging and many Americans were wondering aloud about the cognitive dissonance between what was happening in real life and what the Government was telling Americans.  RCA, then known as the Central American Resource Center (CARC) began educating and organizing concerned citizens about what the people and situation of Central America.

During the 1990’s CARC changed its name and broadened its mission, specifically in light of the challenges of globalization. With a increasing focus on the impact of corporate globalization RCA saw its role as a bridge-builder between all people of the Americas “committed to understanding and living a way of life that protects and respects the human rights of all people.”  The organization moved to its inviting site on Lake Street and Minnehaha where they opened a fabulous bookstore and an equally unique library – topped off with a fine little restaurant at which some of us spent far too much time and hard-earned lunch money.  The site at 3019 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis remains the remains the primary home of Resource Center of the Americas today.

In the early 1980’s a new organization with a similar mission was coming together as City South Cluster Ministries, a collaboration of five South Minneapolis Lutheran churches.  Ultimately known as La Conexion , the organization responded to the dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population began rapidly growing in Minneapolis.  Early focus of La Conexion was on social outreach with a vision of creating a public space where newly arrived Latino immigrants could receive assistance seeking resources and supportive community connections.

For five years La Conexion operated out of El Milagro Church and the Hans Christian Andersen School in the Phillips neighborhood.

Evolution of La Conexion de las Americas.

Like magnets, La Conexion and RCA worked in partnership, struggling together with the influx of immigrants in need of resources, residents in need of information, and a drastic cut in available funds.  In early 2011 the two organizations agreed that a merger of the separate entities, built on their common mission and related strengths, would better meet the needs of the community.

Thus was born La Conexion de las Americas.  Today you will find the new organization alive and well at age 28, working in the former CARC building at 3019 Minnehaha in Minneapolis or at RCA’s satellite site at the Wilder Center, 451 North Lexington in St. Paul.  You will also find an abundance of energy, commitment, experience and knowledge of U.S. and Central American relations, politics, history and media manipulation.

The Fundraising Gala on November 5 offers an festive opportunity to meet the staff and volunteers, to hear the stories, to learn about the countless services and programs and to support the organization’s bold efforts to meet the challenges of today and the inevitable waves of change that will assuredly persist.  Learn much more about the history, sponsors, volunteer opportunities, and programs of today’s Resource Center of the Americas online or by participating in some of their unique and diverse  opportunities to learn.

Register for the Gala online – If you have questions contact Jason (612 276 0788×3) or jason.stone@americas.org

Today the memory seems totally out of line and out of place, but my clearest visual of my visit to the Resource Center of the Americas, then located at the U of M Newman Center, is that it marked my first experience with a functioning library application of the Internet.  Though demos and dreams were flooding the market, here was this small group of volunteers, many of them librarians who took “social responsibility” serious, who had created an accessible catalog for the RCA library collection.  The collection itself was bold, strident, angry, a cacophony of voices far beyond the Center’s walls – now reaching an audience that could learn and act on the information and ideas gathered by RCA staff and friends who had their collective ear to the disparity between reality and the myth.

I know that this visit recollection has lived in my mind for 28 years because this Saturday, November 5, RCA is celebrating its 28th Anniversary of service “to our community and our hemisphere.”  The gala fundraiser is 7-11:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Event Center, 301 Main Street Northeast, Minneapolis.

Guests are encouraged to “dress festive!”  And festive is the theme of the celebration.  Featured performer for the evening is Malamanya, along with traditional South American tunes by Vladimir Garrido and dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca and the Teen Folkloric Dancers of Centro, Inc.

Friends of RCA may buy  tickets online for $35 for adults. Predictably, the event is family friendly with youth 6-17 $10 and children under 6 admitted without charge.  No tickets will be mailed –  reservations will be added to a list with an e-mailed receipt for tax purposes.  Sixty percent of each ticket is viewed as tax-deductible.

Roots of Today’s Resource Center for the Americas

A reminder of RCA’s history is timely for those who have not followed recent developments of this essential community organization.  In 1983, when RCA was established, wars in Central America were raging and many Americans were wondering aloud about the cognitive dissonance between what was happening in real life and what the Government was telling Americans.  RCA, then known as the Central American Resource Center (CARC) began educating and organizing concerned citizens about what the people and situation of Central America.

During the 1990’s CARC changed its name and broadened its mission, specifically in light of the challenges of globalization. With a increasing focus on the impact of corporate globalization RCA saw its role as a bridge-builder between all people of the Americas “committed to understanding and living a way of life that protects and respects the human rights of all people.”  The organization moved to its inviting site on Lake Street and Minnehaha where they opened a fabulous bookstore and an equally unique library – topped off with a fine little restaurant at which some of us spent far too much time and hard-earned lunch money.  The site at 3019 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis remains the remains the primary home of Resource Center of the Americas today.

In the early 1980’s a new organization with a similar mission was coming together as City South Cluster Ministries, a collaboration of five South Minneapolis Lutheran churches.  Ultimately known as La Conexion , the organization responded to the dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population began rapidly growing in Minneapolis.  Early focus of La Conexion was on social outreach with a vision of creating a public space where newly arrived Latino immigrants could receive assistance seeking resources and supportive community connections.

For five years La Conexion operated out of El Milagro Church and the Hans Christian Andersen School in the Phillips neighborhood.

Evolution of La Conexion de las Americas.

Like magnets, La Conexion and RCA worked in partnership, struggling together with the influx of immigrants in need of resources, residents in need of information, and a drastic cut in available funds.  In early 2011 the two organizations agreed that a merger of the separate entities, built on their common mission and related strengths, would better meet the needs of the community.

Thus was born La Conexion de las Americas.  Today you will find the new organization alive and well at age 28, working in the former CARC building at 3019 Minnehaha in Minneapolis or at RCA’s satellite site at the Wilder Center, 451 North Lexington in St. Paul.  You will also find an abundance of energy, commitment, experience and knowledge of U.S. and Central American relations, politics, history and media manipulation.

The Fundraising Gala on November 5 offers an festive opportunity to meet the staff and volunteers, to hear the stories, to learn about the countless services and programs and to support the organization’s bold efforts to meet the challenges of today and the inevitable waves of change that will assuredly persist.  Learn much more about the history, sponsors, volunteer opportunities, and programs of today’s Resource Center of the Americas online or by participating in some of their unique and diverse  opportunities to learn.

Register for the Gala online – If you have questions contact Jason (612 276 0788×3) or jason.stone@americas.org

Today the memory seems totally out of line and out of place, but my clearest visual of my visit to the Resource Center of the Americas, then located at the U of M Newman Center, is that it marked my first experience with a functioning library application of the Internet.  Though demos and dreams were flooding the market, here was this small group of volunteers, many of them librarians who took “social responsibility” serious, who had created an accessible catalog for the RCA library collection.  The collection itself was bold, strident, angry, a cacophony of voices far beyond the Center’s walls – now reaching an audience that could learn and act on the information and ideas gathered by RCA staff and friends who had their collective ear to the disparity between reality and the myth.

I know that this visit recollection has lived in my mind for 28 years because this Saturday, November 5, RCA is celebrating its 28th Anniversary of service “to our community and our hemisphere.”  The gala fundraiser is 7-11:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Event Center, 301 Main Street Northeast, Minneapolis.

Guests are encouraged to “dress festive!”  And festive is the theme of the celebration.  Featured performer for the evening is Malamanya, along with traditional South American tunes by Vladimir Garrido and dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca and the Teen Folkloric Dancers of Centro, Inc.

Friends of RCA may buy  tickets online for $35 for adults. Predictably, the event is family friendly with youth 6-17 $10 and children under 6 admitted without charge.  No tickets will be mailed –  reservations will be added to a list with an e-mailed receipt for tax purposes.  Sixty percent of each ticket is viewed as tax-deductible.

Roots of Today’s Resource Center for the Americas

A reminder of RCA’s history is timely for those who have not followed recent developments of this essential community organization.  In 1983, when RCA was established, wars in Central America were raging and many Americans were wondering aloud about the cognitive dissonance between what was happening in real life and what the Government was telling Americans.  RCA, then known as the Central American Resource Center (CARC) began educating and organizing concerned citizens about what the people and situation of Central America.

During the 1990’s CARC changed its name and broadened its mission, specifically in light of the challenges of globalization. With a increasing focus on the impact of corporate globalization RCA saw its role as a bridge-builder between all people of the Americas “committed to understanding and living a way of life that protects and respects the human rights of all people.”  The organization moved to its inviting site on Lake Street and Minnehaha where they opened a fabulous bookstore and an equally unique library – topped off with a fine little restaurant at which some of us spent far too much time and hard-earned lunch money.  The site at 3019 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis remains the remains the primary home of Resource Center of the Americas today.

In the early 1980’s a new organization with a similar mission was coming together as City South Cluster Ministries, a collaboration of five South Minneapolis Lutheran churches.  Ultimately known as La Conexion , the organization responded to the dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population began rapidly growing in Minneapolis.  Early focus of La Conexion was on social outreach with a vision of creating a public space where newly arrived Latino immigrants could receive assistance seeking resources and supportive community connections.

For five years La Conexion operated out of El Milagro Church and the Hans Christian Andersen School in the Phillips neighborhood.

Evolution of La Conexion de las Americas.

Like magnets, La Conexion and RCA worked in partnership, struggling together with the influx of immigrants in need of resources, residents in need of information, and a drastic cut in available funds.  In early 2011 the two organizations agreed that a merger of the separate entities, built on their common mission and related strengths, would better meet the needs of the community.

Thus was born La Conexion de las Americas.  Today you will find the new organization alive and well at age 28, working in the former CARC building at 3019 Minnehaha in Minneapolis or at RCA’s satellite site at the Wilder Center, 451 North Lexington in St. Paul.  You will also find an abundance of energy, commitment, experience and knowledge of U.S. and Central American relations, politics, history and media manipulation.

The Fundraising Gala on November 5 offers an festive opportunity to meet the staff and volunteers, to hear the stories, to learn about the countless services and programs and to support the organization’s bold efforts to meet the challenges of today and the inevitable waves of change that will assuredly persist.  Learn much more about the history, sponsors, volunteer opportunities, and programs of today’s Resource Center of the Americas online or by participating in some of their unique and diverse  opportunities to learn.

Register for the Gala online – If you have questions contact Jason (612 276 0788×3) or jason.stone@americas.org

Today the memory seems totally out of line and out of place, but my clearest visual of my visit to the Resource Center of the Americas, then located at the U of M Newman Center, is that it marked my first experience with a functioning library application of the Internet.  Though demos and dreams were flooding the market, here was this small group of volunteers, many of them librarians who took “social responsibility” serious, who had created an accessible catalog for the RCA library collection.  The collection itself was bold, strident, angry, a cacophony of voices far beyond the Center’s walls – now reaching an audience that could learn and act on the information and ideas gathered by RCA staff and friends who had their collective ear to the disparity between reality and the myth.

I know that this visit recollection has lived in my mind for 28 years because this Saturday, November 5, RCA is celebrating its 28th Anniversary of service “to our community and our hemisphere.”  The gala fundraiser is 7-11:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Event Center, 301 Main Street Northeast, Minneapolis.

Guests are encouraged to “dress festive!”  And festive is the theme of the celebration.  Featured performer for the evening is Malamanya, along with traditional South American tunes by Vladimir Garrido and dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca and the Teen Folkloric Dancers of Centro, Inc.

Friends of RCA may buy  tickets online for $35 for adults. Predictably, the event is family friendly with youth 6-17 $10 and children under 6 admitted without charge.  No tickets will be mailed –  reservations will be added to a list with an e-mailed receipt for tax purposes.  Sixty percent of each ticket is viewed as tax-deductible.

Roots of Today’s Resource Center for the Americas

A reminder of RCA’s history is timely for those who have not followed recent developments of this essential community organization.  In 1983, when RCA was established, wars in Central America were raging and many Americans were wondering aloud about the cognitive dissonance between what was happening in real life and what the Government was telling Americans.  RCA, then known as the Central American Resource Center (CARC) began educating and organizing concerned citizens about what the people and situation of Central America.

During the 1990’s CARC changed its name and broadened its mission, specifically in light of the challenges of globalization. With a increasing focus on the impact of corporate globalization RCA saw its role as a bridge-builder between all people of the Americas “committed to understanding and living a way of life that protects and respects the human rights of all people.”  The organization moved to its inviting site on Lake Street and Minnehaha where they opened a fabulous bookstore and an equally unique library – topped off with a fine little restaurant at which some of us spent far too much time and hard-earned lunch money.  The site at 3019 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis remains the remains the primary home of Resource Center of the Americas today.

In the early 1980’s a new organization with a similar mission was coming together as City South Cluster Ministries, a collaboration of five South Minneapolis Lutheran churches.  Ultimately known as La Conexion , the organization responded to the dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population began rapidly growing in Minneapolis.  Early focus of La Conexion was on social outreach with a vision of creating a public space where newly arrived Latino immigrants could receive assistance seeking resources and supportive community connections.

For five years La Conexion operated out of El Milagro Church and the Hans Christian Andersen School in the Phillips neighborhood.

Evolution of La Conexion de las Americas.

Like magnets, La Conexion and RCA worked in partnership, struggling together with the influx of immigrants in need of resources, residents in need of information, and a drastic cut in available funds.  In early 2011 the two organizations agreed that a merger of the separate entities, built on their common mission and related strengths, would better meet the needs of the community.

Thus was born La Conexion de las Americas.  Today you will find the new organization alive and well at age 28, working in the former CARC building at 3019 Minnehaha in Minneapolis or at RCA’s satellite site at the Wilder Center, 451 North Lexington in St. Paul.  You will also find an abundance of energy, commitment, experience and knowledge of U.S. and Central American relations, politics, history and media manipulation.

The Fundraising Gala on November 5 offers an festive opportunity to meet the staff and volunteers, to hear the stories, to learn about the countless services and programs and to support the organization’s bold efforts to meet the challenges of today and the inevitable waves of change that will assuredly persist.  Learn much more about the history, sponsors, volunteer opportunities, and programs of today’s Resource Center of the Americas online or by participating in some of their unique and diverse  opportunities to learn.

Register for the Gala online – If you have questions contact Jason (612 276 0788×3) or jason.stone@americas.org

Today the memory seems totally out of line and out of place, but my clearest visual of my visit to the Resource Center of the Americas, then located at the U of M Newman Center, is that it marked my first experience with a functioning library application of the Internet.  Though demos and dreams were flooding the market, here was this small group of volunteers, many of them librarians who took “social responsibility” serious, who had created an accessible catalog for the RCA library collection.  The collection itself was bold, strident, angry, a cacophony of voices far beyond the Center’s walls – now reaching an audience that could learn and act on the information and ideas gathered by RCA staff and friends who had their collective ear to the disparity between reality and the myth.

I know that this visit recollection has lived in my mind for 28 years because this Saturday, November 5, RCA is celebrating its 28th Anniversary of service “to our community and our hemisphere.”  The gala fundraiser is 7-11:30 p.m. at the Ukrainian Event Center, 301 Main Street Northeast, Minneapolis.

Guests are encouraged to “dress festive!”  And festive is the theme of the celebration.  Featured performer for the evening is Malamanya, along with traditional South American tunes by Vladimir Garrido and dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca and the Teen Folkloric Dancers of Centro, Inc.

Friends of RCA may buy  tickets online for $35 for adults. Predictably, the event is family friendly with youth 6-17 $10 and children under 6 admitted without charge.  No tickets will be mailed –  reservations will be added to a list with an e-mailed receipt for tax purposes.  Sixty percent of each ticket is viewed as tax-deductible.

Roots of Today’s Resource Center for the Americas

A reminder of RCA’s history is timely for those who have not followed recent developments of this essential community organization.  In 1983, when RCA was established, wars in Central America were raging and many Americans were wondering aloud about the cognitive dissonance between what was happening in real life and what the Government was telling Americans.  RCA, then known as the Central American Resource Center (CARC) began educating and organizing concerned citizens about what the people and situation of Central America.

During the 1990’s CARC changed its name and broadened its mission, specifically in light of the challenges of globalization. With a increasing focus on the impact of corporate globalization RCA saw its role as a bridge-builder between all people of the Americas “committed to understanding and living a way of life that protects and respects the human rights of all people.”  The organization moved to its inviting site on Lake Street and Minnehaha where they opened a fabulous bookstore and an equally unique library – topped off with a fine little restaurant at which some of us spent far too much time and hard-earned lunch money.  The site at 3019 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis remains the remains the primary home of Resource Center of the Americas today.

In the early 1980’s a new organization with a similar mission was coming together as City South Cluster Ministries, a collaboration of five South Minneapolis Lutheran churches.  Ultimately known as La Conexion , the organization responded to the dramatic demographic shift as the Latino population began rapidly growing in Minneapolis.  Early focus of La Conexion was on social outreach with a vision of creating a public space where newly arrived Latino immigrants could receive assistance seeking resources and supportive community connections.

For five years La Conexion operated out of El Milagro Church and the Hans Christian Andersen School in the Phillips neighborhood.

Evolution of La Conexion de las Americas.

Like magnets, La Conexion and RCA worked in partnership, struggling together with the influx of immigrants in need of resources, residents in need of information, and a drastic cut in available funds.  In early 2011 the two organizations agreed that a merger of the separate entities, built on their common mission and related strengths, would better meet the needs of the community.

Thus was born La Conexion de las Americas.  Today you will find the new organization alive and well at age 28, working in the former CARC building at 3019 Minnehaha in Minneapolis or at RCA’s satellite site at the Wilder Center, 451 North Lexington in St. Paul.  You will also find an abundance of energy, commitment, experience and knowledge of U.S. and Central American relations, politics, history and media manipulation.

The Fundraising Gala on November 5 offers an festive opportunity to meet the staff and volunteers, to hear the stories, to learn about the countless services and programs and to support the organization’s bold efforts to meet the challenges of today and the inevitable waves of change that will assuredly persist.  Learn much more about the history, sponsors, volunteer opportunities, and programs of today’s Resource Center of the Americas online or by participating in some of their unique and diverse  opportunities to learn.

Register for the Gala online – If you have questions contact Jason (612 276 0788×3) or jason.stone@americas.org

.

Bonneville Models Grassroots Management Style

For the past eleven years Gayle Bonneville has been the sparkplug, the glue and the institutional memory of my Windom Park neighborhood.  Two afternoons a week she’s posted on Lowry and Stinson where I have spent hundreds of hours waiting for the bus, reading the many messages neatly posted in the window, and wondering about who keeps the neighborhood on an even keel.  Now I know that it is Gayle Bonneville who manages to split her busy days between Windom Park and West St. Anthony neighborhoods, keeping a wide swath of Northeast Minneapolis informed, in touch, and, above all, engaged.  No easy task for this diminutive woman who somehow manages to balance two active nonprofits at the same time she energizes the neighborhoods and reaches out as an active denizen of several social media networks.

Windom Park Citizens in Action (WPCIA) is an independent nonprofit that is the city-designated organization for this Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood.  It is also the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) contracting organization for the Windom Park neighborhood.  Working with a nine-member board and committees Gayle steers a steady course helping residents to identify neighborhood needs, plan and implement solutions, and enhance the quality of life for neighborhood residents.

Gayle is adamant in her insistence that it is the neighbors who make the decisions that shape the community.  An ardent believer in grassroots engagement Gayle spends much of her precious time informing and involving the community at large.  Monthly neighborhood meetings, announced broadly online and by postcard, draw a healthy mix of concerned neighbors.  Increasingly Gayle is turning to social media to share the word.  A striking example of Windom Park’s participatory environment is a recent survey of the neighborhood, conducted online and on paper, in English and Spanish.  Residents were queried about a broad range of imminent and long-tern options; at this time the board is delving through the returns to present the results and the challenge of decision-making to the membership.  Though drastic cuts in NRP funding render those decisions painful at best Gayle insists the tough choices will be made by the neighbors not staff or board.

Currently, Gayle is working with WPCIA’s Community Land Use and Planning committee, NRP, and a mix of home improvement and security loan programs.  As a concerned citizen volunteer she continues to grapple with future development of Shoreham Yards – a political, environmental, legal and regulatory quagmire that would fell a lesser mortal

To contact Gayle with questions or suggestions, email info@windompark.org,   For a listing of board, committee and task force members, meetings and responsibilities, check the Windom Park website – better yet, volunteer to serve.  Watch your mailbox and e-list for notices of WPCIA meetings – sign up for e-mail notices here.  The next WPCIA meeting is set for Tuesday, August 16, 7-9 p.m., Pillsbury School Annex, 2551 Hayes – free parking, treats, child care upon request, a chance to learn and have your say about the future of our neighborhood!

 

 

 

 

 

MPIRG at 40

MPIRG – Minnesota Public Interest Research Group MPIRG Board Chair Kathy Dekrey testifies against lifting the nuclear power moratorium in the house environment committee.

www.youtube.com

When Kathy Dekray, current Board Chair of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), and a senior at Augsburg College recently testified before the Legislature she argued against the removal of the nuclear moratorium in Minnesota.   She was the most recent in an endless list of MPIRG representatives who have expressed the position of MPIRG student members on scores of issues facing the state.

More than 150 members, former members and supporters of MPIRG gathered on Friday, January 21, to celebrate four decades of advocacy and involvement through this “grassroots, non-artisan, nonprofit, student-directed organization”.  The occasion gives Executive Director Josh Winters pause to reflect on the origins and future of MPIRG.

What Winters sees is change.  The Minnesota public interest research group, along with Oregon, were the first two campus-based public interest research groups.  Though the beginnings are often associated with Ralph Nader, Winters is quick to credit others, including Don Ross, who took a good idea and made it happen.  “A good idea is a good idea, but it takes people to do it,” Winters observes.

An intriguing question Winters raises is just how did a small cadre of students, volunteers and others create a statewide – actually national – network in a pre-social media environment.  The answer, he affirms, must be based in a deep commitment to grassroots organizing coupled with a shared vision to give voice to everyone.  That commitment is expressed in the mission of MPIRG to “empower and train students and engage the community to take collective action in the public interest throughout the state of Minnesota.”

Today some 70,000 Minnesota college students are members of MPIRG;  the ranks are augmented by hundreds of community volunteers, including many MPIRG alumni.

MPIRG operates on nine campuses throughout the state:  Augsburg College, Carleton College, St. Catherine University, Hamline University, Macalester College, U of M-Duluth, U of M-Morris, U of M-Twin Cities, and William Mitchell College of Law. The individual campus-based websites reflect a wide range of individual campus activities.

Campuses offer a mix of membership options, most in the refusable/refundable range, thus avoiding past conflict re. mandatory membership that at times have pitted campus conservative groups against MPIRG which they perceived as too far left of center – or organization that reject mandatory memberships out of hand.

The current statewide identified issues on which MPIRG members and volunteers are working include green transportation, health care for all, and affordable higher education. The roster of scores of issues tackled over the years range from solar tax credit to car lemon laws to a 2006 production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

An ongoing priority for MPIRG members is voter registration and involvement.  Clearly, students are focused on, but not limited to, youth engagement in the political process.

In Fall 2010 MPIRG was one of several organizations involved with what Star Tribune journalist Eric Roper referred to as “a minor battle of generations” brewing in Minnesota politics.  College students gathered at the State Capitol to express their concerns. Speaking as an MPIRG representative Carleton College student Ben Hellerstein raised the question “With only half as many people turning out to the polls, is everyone’s voice really being heard?”

Roper reflects on a number of factors students perceive to leave college students left out of the political arena.  The moved-up primary, for example, meant students were at work or out of the country.  Another issue cited by students is the fact that candidates’ tendency to court over-60 voters may ignore attention to students.

Winters overflows with ideas as he looks to the future – how to harness today’s social media without losing the essential “hands on” essence of the organization.   He speaks enthusiastically about community/campus based initiatives, e.g.  a research-based approach to mandatory business recycling in Minneapolis.

Another priority for tomorrow’s MPIRG is research, particularly in-depth and long-term research. At present, for example, MPIRG is initiating an extensive survey of photo ID on voting.  Another ongoing longitudinal survey focuses on a statewide survey of sexual violence and assault on campus; the report of that study is due out next fall

The recent 40th anniversary recognition offered an opportunity for today’s students and advocates to reflect on the legacy of MPIRG.  Students could learn about the roots of the organization, its accomplishments, changes and intent.  For alumni the event was an occasion to see how their legacy is being carried forward by ambitious and committed students equipped with new tools and putting them to the task of sharing a the vision of “common sense good policies.”

More than a whimper

 

 

Somewhere buried in the news of the day we will probably miss the fact that Tuesday, December 21, 2010 should mark a major blast in the ongoing saga of  Census 2010. The headlines, I predict, will focus almost exclusively on which states win/lose Congressional seats.  The Census-based reapportionment is a momentous outcome, of course.  Still, it is but one immediate and visible application of the massive data collected in the 2010 Census.  Though reapportionment means a lot to the politicos and the media and ultimately to the people  it is simply not sufficient to let that be the end of the discussion of what Census 2010 can and should mean in the lives of ordinary people.

 

A year ago we were inundated with grand information campaigns encouraging  participation in the Census.  It was great, almost heady, stuff!  Advocacy groups, nonprofits, churches, neighborhood organizations, education groups were getting together on the common cause to promote understanding and participation.  All in all, it was one of the most united, effective, positive initiatives I’ve ever witnessed.  I get excited remembering the energy and commitment that prevailed.

 

Then comes the whimper….I worried then and I’m more worried now about how that Census information will ultimately improve the lives of the millions of good people who took time, overcame fears, and shared information about themselves with the U.S. government.  We know that developers, government agencies, advertisers, planners know where the data are and how to use them.  That’s as it should be.  My concern is this:  If information is power, what are we doing to empower the people to put to good purpose that data that is theirs – ours.  What resources – money, time, energy, focus – will we commit to ensure that the information works for the people?

 

The surge to push for participation was generously funded by the government, eagerly taken on by a host of responsible organizations.  To some extent, the message was simple and straightforward:  Census 2010 is not a threat, it’s important, participate.

 

Now it gets complicated:  The challenge now is to learn how to use those numbers to shape and improve services, to allocate resources, to interpret needs and to identify solutions.  The process is neither glamorous nor fast-paced – it’s just essential.  We owe it to the people who listened and shared their time and information.  The government, state or federal, can do just so much.  It remains to those same groups who worked so hard last year  – the media, nonprofits, churches, advocacy groups, educators – to stay on duty.  That means following the Census data as it oozes out of the federal government.  It means learning new skills, taking serious time to locate, organize, interpret, apply and share the information and the skills of access.

 

Tuesday, December 21, ought to signal a major kickoff of the next phase of Census 2010.  We can’t expect that thrust – the energy or the resources – to emanate from the federal bureaucracy.  The commitment simply must come from the field where those who care about outcomes for real people.  Information power as a priority is unprecedented.  Those who believe in the power of an informed public to make good decisions need to shift gears to incorporate access to government information, including Census data, as a priority.  Access tools are in place or within reach.  The data are gathered, eager to gush forth on demand. My hope is that the next phase of Census 2010 will go forth not with a whimper but with a mighty bang.