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Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Galtier Elementary School headed for possible closure in 2017

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Two years after “major renovation” Superintendent Valeria Silva says, “We cannot run small schools anymore”


Galtier Elementary School families and supporters are fighting to keep their building open. Children, some dressed as superheroes, and their parents attended the Apr. 26 St. Paul School Board meeting to make their case to save the school at 1317 Charles Ave. They also packed an Apr. 21 community meeting at the school.

Galtier 3275But, barring a change in heart by school district leaders, Galtier likely faces closure after the 2016-2017 academic year. That angers and frustrates parents who have worked tirelessly to bring new students to the school, with fundraising, door-knocking, and other outreach.

Photo right: Andrew Collins, assistant superintendent for elementary schools at St. Paul Public Schools. addresses parents, teachers and community members at an open meeting Apr. 21 on Galtier’s future. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

Galtier was extensively renovated two years ago, but many parents say the district officials aren’t doing enough to promote the school. They also contend that the school district is focused more on wealthy neighborhoods and their needs, and not enough on schools that serve an ethnically and economically diverse population. Galtier’s enrollment is 89 percent children of color, with 88 percent of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Galtier parents asked the School Board to hold off on a plan to expand St. Anthony Park Elementary, which is scheduled for a $14 million expansion. But the expansion was part of the $484 million facilities plan the board approved on a 5-2 vote Apr. 26. The Galtier parents also asked that Hamline Elementary be considered for a magnet and for the early education facilities that some school district officials have suggested could go into Galtier.

One stumbling block for Galtier is busing. Many neighborhood families opt to send children to other schools including St. Anthony Park, which has almost 90 students on a waiting list for fall. Galtier parents worry that the planned expansion will draw away more pupils. District maps show more Hamline-Midway families choosing St. Anthony Park over Galtier.

Superintendent Valeria Silva made references to a possible closure of Galtier. She said that the renovations there two years ago hadn’t attracted enough families. “We cannot run small schools anymore. As much as we would love to, we cannot open the doors. We don’t have enough dollars.”

Galtier _3148Photo left: A packed room at Galtier Elementary Apr. 21, as everyone heard that the school might close after the 2016-17 school year. (Photo by Kyle Mianulli)

“I think Galtier is a nicer building than the look of St. Anthony Park, but the parents say no,” Silva added.

Families from Galtier and Hamline schools worked with district staff for many months to recruit students for the Hamline Midway neighborhood schools. While Hamline enrollment is on an upswing, Galtier enrollment remains low. The joint recruitment effort is on hold, although school district officials contend they continue to promote both schools.

Galtier parents don’t want to merge with Hamline, which will gain more space in fall 2017 when the building’s Jie Ming Chinese Immersion School moves to the Highland Park neighborhood. Some Galtier parents have said they’ll take their children out of St. Paul Public Schools if Galtier closes.

At the community meeting, Galtier Principal Shawn Stebbins indicated that Galtier would need to attract at least 100 more children to stay open.

Selina Gante has two sons in kindergarten at Galtier. Her family loves the recently renovated building and the school staff, and she is outraged about the prospect of the school closing. “Why would you do this to a group of children who do not have enough stability in their lives?”

“There are so many reasons to tell everybody why this school is a gem and district doesn’t take advantage of it,” she said. “This school is a safe and welcoming place for my kids and many others. What I’d like to say to the school board is why would you give us something so wonderful and then you take it away from us? Why would you pull the rug out from under us?”

“We as people of color have been disenfranchised for so long, in terms of the education system,” Gante said. “It’s just frustrating.”

The Galtier issue has also drawn in the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP, which urged school board members not to close Galtier and give the community more time to attract students.

Clayton and Kirstin Howatt are also Galtier parents. “We’re not going to give up,” Clayton Howatt said. “But keeping the school open will be an uphill battle.” He said that indicating that the school could close isn’t helping recruiting efforts.

Gante noted that some parents, worried about the school’s uncertain future, are already looking at other options. Jackie Turner, who leads community engagement for the school district, said 17 Galtier preschool parents have chosen to send their students elsewhere for kindergarten in the fall.

“This is the first time that I have ever thought of leaving the district,” said Kristin Howatt. She went K-12 through St. Paul Public Schools. “If Galtier closes, my kids won’t be in St. Paul Public Schools any more. I have lost trust that kids matter.”

The school district estimates put 144 students K-5 at Galtier for fall, plus 60 preschoolers. The building can hold 469 pupils.

Galtier was a science, math, and technology magnet before becoming a neighborhood school again. Galtier and other schools were affected five years ago after the school district made sweeping changes to schools and school choice as part of the “Strong Schools, Strong Communities” effort. Some schools have grown while some neighborhood schools have suffered.

Hamline Elementary parents are watching on the sidelines. Hamline Elementary has a capacity of 583 students and a projected enrollment of 269 K-5 and 40 preschoolers for fall. After Jie Ming moves there would be room for Galtier students.

Hamline parent Jessica Kopp said parents there enjoyed working with Galtier parents on promoting neighborhood schools. “We are heartbroken for the Galtier community because we understand what it’s like to wonder and worry about the future of a place you love,” she said. “The Hamline community wondered and worried about their future from early May 2015 until the end of February 2016—that’s a long time to have a worried heart, and it’s a long time to work so hard for something and be unsure of the outcome. The Hamline Midway Community Schools process worked well for Hamline, and if it didn’t work for Galtier, we hope they have more time and the opportunity and support to become a permanent fixture in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

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Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Sparky the Sea Lion Show turning 60

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

Story and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

After a quiet winter of training, Como Zoo’s seventh Sparky the Sea Lion is ready to take to the stage on Memorial Day weekend—kicking off the 2016 season.

Sparky the Sea Lion 016The new Sparky has big flippers to fill. Her predecessor, a female named CC, retired last summer at the age of 25. Known for her elegance, CC was regarded as something of a sea lion diva.

Photo left: Subee’s eyes are checked during a training session with zookeeper Becky Seivert. The zookeepers use training as a communication tool because, as they like to say, “we don’t speak sea lion, and they they don’t speak English.”

Sparky VII has a very different personality, characterized by an exuberant style of swimming and diving. Her name is Subee, and she came to Como several years ago from a rescue center in California. One of her rear flippers had been severely damaged, almost certainly the result of a shark bite. The rescue center considered her unlikely to survive release, which made her an excellent candidate for zoo life.

Sparky the Sea Lion 101Photo right: Zookeeper Kelly Dinsmore in front of the old large cat exhibit at Como Zoo, which was built in 1931 as a WPA Project. The concrete pens and iron bars are a reminder of how far zoos have come in education, conservation and species preservation.

Kelly Dinsmore is a zookeeper for Como’s marine animal collection, which includes sea lions, harbor seals, polar bears, puffins, and penguins. “It’s important to understand that our animals aren’t taken from the wild,” she said. “They’re acquired either from other zoos or rescue centers.“

“Our training methods are very humane,” Dinsmore continued. “We don’t ask the sea lions to do anything they wouldn’t do on their own. Essentially, the ‘tricks’ Sparky performs in a show just build off of existing behaviors.“

All of the training exercises are geared toward animal husbandry, and the sessions are short: only four to five minutes, three times each day. “Essentially,” Dinsmore explained, “Sparky gets a full physical every time she trains. The trainer has a chance to check her eyes, test her joints for mobility, perform an ultra sound, or even take a voluntary blood draw if needed. In captivity, a sea lion can live to be more than 30 years old (twice the average length of a life spent in the wild). By developing trust through training, we’re able to manage the health care of our marine animals in a positive way.”

Sparky the Sea Lion 003Photo right: Zookeeper Laura Engfer worked with operant conditioning on CC, using the “sleep” command. This gave her a chance to examine the surface of CC’s skin and continue building trust with a gentle touch.

The training sessions are optional for Sparky and CC, but because they also serve as meal time, it’s rare that a session is passed up.

CC’s predecessor, Sparky V, was the first to receive a new kind of animal training at Como Zoo, called operant conditioning. This progressive approach to working with animals relies on positive reinforcement to stimulate the animal’s natural behaviors and encourages them to participate in their own healthcare. Over time, the operant conditioning program at Como was so successful that it expanded to include mammals, birds, amphibians and even reptiles.

Operant conditioning involves three steps. First, a behavior is named such as “sleep,” in which the sea lion lies down as if going to sleep. Then the trainer clicks a clicker, which serves as a bridge between the behavior and the reward. Next, the trainer gives a reward: in the case of the sea lions, either a herring or a capelin fish treat.

The trainers have been practicing since early spring on the empty stage before the zoo opens, getting Subee ready for her debut. Shows will start Memorial Day weekend and continue throughout the summer. There will be one show daily Mon.-Fri. at 11:30am; Sat.-Sun. there will be two shows daily at 11:30am and 3pm.



MN Legislative request
Como Zoo has requested $14.5 million from the Minnesota legislature, as part of the current bonding bill. According to Como Friends, the zoo’s nonprofit fundraising organization, the plan calls for several major upgrades including a salt-water filtration system, a shaded amphitheater, and underwater viewing areas. The multilayered habitat would give visitors more insights into the natural behaviors of marine animals, and would contribute in a positive way to zoo revenue and the local economy. It’s not too late to write or call your representative to express your opinion about the bonding bill. Como Zoo applied in 2014 (the bonding bill process takes place every other year) and was denied funds.

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Midway Presentation overview nite slider

Neighbors discuss concerns over stadium project

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin


As Minnesota United FC stadium plans and a master plan for Midway Center redevelopment move ahead, project neighbors continue to weigh in with concerns and support. More than 100 people filled a MidPointe Event Center room Apr. 19 for a meeting sponsored by Neighbors Against Corporate Subsidies and Neighborhoods First!

The meeting was organized so that advocacy groups and neighbors could raise questions including the use of tax increment financing, infrastructure, tax-base impacts, noise, traffic, parking, and other issues. Organizer Tom Goldstein said the forum should have been held months ago, before a March City Council vote on stadium infrastructure and pollution cleanup financing and property lease agreements.

Superblock site planBut the greatest concern may be parking. When asked for a show of hands, more than half of those present indicated they are worried about spillover parking in the adjacent neighborhoods. When one speaker asked, “Where is parking going to be?” Someone else in the audience replied, “In front of your house.”

St. Paul Director of Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson repeatedly said that the stadium project isn’t a done deal. Key steps must be taken before the two projects can move ahead. Master plans for the $150 million stadium and the shopping center must be reviewed and approved by the St. Paul Planning Commission and City Council.

“Nothing can be built before the master planning process is completed,” Sage-Martinson said. That is expected to conclude in August.

In the meantime city officials are studying potential traffic and environmental impacts, including the use of an Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR) to identify potential redevelopment impacts and how those can be mitigated. That also has to be completed before the project moves ahead.

He said city officials were very much aware of the spillover parking concerns. “We’ve heard that throughout the process, and it’s very much on our radar,” he said. City officials hope an ongoing transportation study provides answers.

The property will have about 4,500 parking spaces, most in ramps built into the proposed retail and office structures. There’s also a plan for a lot near Pascal and St. Anthony, which would have about 300 spots. That is for stadium personnel and what have been described as “select” guests. City officials are pushing transit options and remote parking.

Another key step is getting property tax relief and a liquor license passed for Minnesota United. Those issues have gotten through the 2016 Minnesota Legislature House and Senate committee process but haven’t been approved yet.

Several people said they appreciated the chance to ask questions and meet with city officials. Other than a 15- minute period at a community open house earlier this spring, the meeting was the first chance for discussion between city leaders and neighbors. Minnesota United FC and Midway Center owner RK Midway didn’t send representatives.

But there was frustration that not all of the development-related questions could be answered, given the fast pace of the ongoing planning process. “The city does not have it figured out,” said Goldstein. “The city does not have the answers tonight.” Sage-Martinson and Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann said they would take the groups’ questions and provide answers. Answers were recently posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince and Rep. Dave Pinto joined Sage-Martinson and Beckmann on a panel that fielded questions. Prince was one of two council members voting against the stadium agreements. She objected to a lack of time given to review the documents before approval and the project coming forward before community review was complete. “I think this is a project that deserves much more public process,” she said. She criticized the notion of a stadium as a catalyst for economic development, calling it “magical thinking.”

Sage-Martinson said the success of CHS Field in Lowertown was proof that a stadium can spark development in a surrounding neighborhood. But several audience members objected, saying much of that redevelopment was happening well before the ball field opened.

Several people asked about shopping center redevelopment and the potential displacement of tenants. The plans call for replacing about 330,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space with two million feet of office and retail space, as well as housing and hotels. One man questioned whether development would happen at all, given the number of plans developed and then shelved. But because the stadium development would require the removal of Rainbow Foods and businesses to the east, there is an incentive for RK Midway to relocate tenants and start the redevelopment process.

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Transit – Photo by Metro Transit slider

Transit for Livable Communities working to better Midway Como

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

For Executive Director Jessica Treat, definition of ‘transit’ is about movement


A trip to Europe planted a seed that grew into a planning career for Midway resident Jessica Treat.

Treat grew up in suburban Bloomington, MN and then attended college in Tempe, AZ, a place of massive urban sprawl. When she had the chance to travel to Europe, she saw how things could be different.

JessicaTreat_daughterPhoto left: When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling. (Photo submitted)

Back home, she enrolled in a planning class. “I learned that the environment we have around us is of our choosing,” Treat observed. “If you want to have a place that’s oriented towards cars that’s what you’ll get, but you don’t have to.”

She also learned it takes a community to agitate for change.

Treat brings those lessons to her position as the executive director of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), 2356 University Ave. W. She was named to the position this past January.

“Transit for Livable Communities is very enthusiastic about this next chapter for our organization,” said board chair Adam Welle. “Jessica Treat is a smart, strategic leader and a passionate advocate for transit, bicycling, and walking in the region. Under her direction, Transit for Livable Communities will be well-positioned to advance our mission, grow our impact, and create positive change in Minnesota.”

Different level of vitality in the streets
Treat comes to Transit for Livable Communities from St. Paul Smart Trips where she had served as executive director since 2007. In addition to her eight-year tenure at St. Paul Smart Trips, she previously worked at the Midway Transportation Management Organization and served as the executive director of the Lexington-Hamline Community Council.

It was during her stint with the community council that she was propelled into the discussion about Twin Cities transit. Residents were debating what should be built at the southwest corner of Lexington and University. They wanted something that would work well with future transit. In the end, the Wilder Foundation building was constructed.

For Treat, the definition of “transit” is a broad one. While some think of transit as being about trains and buses, Treat defines it as “movement.”

She pointed out that big box stores are spread out and by their nature don’t lend themselves to tight-knit communities. But when you have bus stops and train stops that people are walking or biking to, they rub shoulders with strangers with whom they might not otherwise interact.
“There’s a difference,” Treat insisted. “There’s a different level of vitality in the street.”

Health and equity benefits
Treat is also passionate about transit because it offers her the ability to impact climate change directly. When she bikes, when she walks, when she rides the bus or the train, she’s able to limit her footprint and be kinder to the environment.

“The impact of personal transportation on the environment is important,” Treat stated.

Then there are the health benefits of transit that are important to her. “We live very sedentary lives in the United States and have significant problems with obesity and diabetes,” she pointed out. Transit offers a way for people to build physical activity into their day. “If you take the bus, you have to walk or bike a bit,” she said.

There’s also the equity side to transit. Owning and operating a car costs about $8,000 a year, which isn’t affordable for many, she observed. Transit gives people options to get to jobs and school.

Gaps in the Midway Como transit system
As a 12-year Midway homeowner, Treat has seen the big transit changes that came with the Green Line. She is looking forward to the start of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A Line down Snelling in June. (Watch for article in next Monitor on the A Line.)

“It’s a significant change and the first in the region,” pointed out Treat.

But there are still some gaps in the system where things need to be buffed up. In particular, there are some bus lines that would benefit from greater frequency, especially at night and on the weekends.

Treat is paying attention to changes that will come with the proposed soccer stadium and hopes that it will include bicycling improvements.

There are also places where there are no sidewalks, such as in the industrial areas.

There’s a significant gap in one’s ability to get from the Midway to downtown Minneapolis via bicycle. The industrial areas and rail lines create real challenges there, according to Treat.

Snelling presents a barrier for those trying to cross it, despite the recent improvements of curb cuts and a wider median. The biggest problem is simply that vehicles don’t stop at crosswalks, she pointed out. That’s a city-wide issue.

When Treat bicycles with her six-year-old daughter from their home on Snelling to her sister’s house in Falcon Heights, she heads all the way over to Lexington because she doesn’t feel safe biking on Snelling.

And she gets nervous when she bikes along Pierce Butler or Energy Park Dr. because there aren’t designated bike lanes, and she can hear the cars close by.

Charles Ave., however, is a great roadway to bike on, and Treat would like to see more bicycle boulevards like it in the city. The roundabouts at intersections help slow cars down and allow bicyclists to avoid stopping.

“As a woman and a mom who rides, I’d like to see protected bike lanes,” Treat remarked, such as those in Minneapolis with some kind of barrier between cars and bikes. She’s not alone. TLC has heard from other women who feel the same way.

Lobbying efforts
Founded in 1996, Transit for Livable Communities is dedicated to transforming Minnesota’s transportation system to strengthen the community, improve health and opportunity for all people, foster a sound economy, and protect natural resources. TLC is the largest transportation advocacy organization in the state, with nearly 10,000 advocates and members, and a staff of 8 employees. TLC promotes a balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, bicycling, and thoughtful development.

TLC has been active this spring lobbying at the 2016 legislative session, pushing lawmakers for new investments in all modes of transportation in the Twin Cities, suburbs, and Greater Minnesota.

They’ve partnered with groups pushing for better streets and bridges. “I don’t like potholes anymore than a driver does,” Treat stated.

She added, “It’s an exciting time for the work we’re doing.”

Lutheran Social Services honored as transport leaders
Earlier this year, TLC recognized a number of organizations, including Lutheran Social Services (2485 Como Ave.), for their work as Transportation Leaders. Through a variety of ways, Lutheran Social Services is supporting transit, biking, and walking.

The benefits for companies are many, according to Treat. When employees are physically activity, they are healthier and more productive. Transit, biking and walking help people save money, as well.

Some companies certified as transportation leaders offer transit passes at discounted rates. Others make sure they have a place to store biking gear and have a shower available. Others make a point of stating on their websites how to get there via car, bike and transit.

Treat pointed out that millennials want to live in a place where they don’t necessarily have to own a car. “How you get around is part of the benefits package,” said Treat.

Learn more at www.tlcminnesota.org.

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landscape revival slider

Native Plant and Expo Market planned June 4 at Cub Pavilion

Posted on 10 May 2016 by Calvin

The annual metro-wide go-to event for native plants and educational exhibits is right on Larpenteur Ave.


Looking to add flowers and greenery to your property? Hoping to attract butterflies and birds to your garden, or make a difference in helping Minnesota wildlife? Do you want to learn more about plants that are native to the state? If you answer yes to any of the questions, look no further than the Native Plant and Expo Market on Sat., June 4 at the Cub Foods Community Pavilion, 1201 Larpenteur Ave W., Roseville.

“This is the go-to event in the Twin Cities if you’re interested in native plants,” said Nancy Schumacher, who owns The Vagary, a native plant growing business. Schumacher has been growing native plants with her husband for over 30 years and has participated in the annual Native Plant and Expo Market many times.

landscape revivalAttendance has increased over the years. In 2011, there were 400 attendees. Last year 1,800 people purchased plants at the market.

Photo right: The 2015 Native Plant and Expo Market saw great crowds. Last year 1800 people purchased plants at the market. Get there early to get the very best selection of plants for your yard! (Photo by Karen Eckman)

“This is a robust event because it’s hard to find native plants in the metro area,” said Leslie Pilgrim, event organizer and a volunteer at the non-profit Wild Ones that promotes Native Plant education in the Twin Cities.

According to Schumacher, Twin Cities residents have to drive about 30-40 miles out of town to purchase native plants. Her business is located 30 miles south in Randolph. Many growers like Schumacher do not have a retail store and instead come to into the Cities for farmers markets and events like the Expo Market.

“The idea is: let’s bring all these growers together in the cities for a one-day event,” she said.
A total of 12 growers are participating this year, and will be selling everything from potted flowers to shrubs and trees.

Why native plants?
“Native plants are multifunctional,” explained Pilgrim. “They have deep roots, conserve soil, filtrate water, provide pollen and nectar, and serve as a resource for birds.”

Many factors nowadays threaten pollinators’ habitats like climate change, land development, pesticides and non-native plants.

Choosing plants that are native to Minnesota and pesticide-free provides “clean food” for wildlife, said Pilgrim.

In addition, non-native plants “are not going to supply the same quality and quantity of nectar [as natives],” said Schumacher.

Many pollinators–like bees, butterflies, and birds–are dependent on specific plants for their survival.

“Insects are picky eaters,” Pilgrim explained. “Sometimes they don’t recognize these other plants [non-natives] as a food source or even a plant,” she said. This is because native plants have co-evolved with native insects and birds for thousands of years.

monarch on rose milkweedFor example, monarch butterflies are dependent on milkweed for food and to lay eggs; they cannot survive on other plants.

Photo left: A monarch butterfly on a rose milkweed. There are any number of milkweed varieties that can be grown in Minnesota. (Photo by Karen Eckman)

Their populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years, says the National Wildlife Federation, which has prompted many communities to take action.

In March, Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge to restore habitats in the community and encourage citizens to join the cause. The Twin Cities are the 100th locale nationwide to take the pledge.

Monarchs will migrate from Mexico to the upper Midwest this summer, just in time for the Native Plant and Expo Market. Four types of Milkweed, which Monarchs naturally thrive on, will be available to purchase at the event.

Furthermore, native plants are more sustainable and ready to deal with Minnesota’s harsh winters.

“They are the toughest plants you can get it because they’re from here, so they have evolved to deal with our winters, climate factors, and soil conditions,” said Schumacher.

These plants are like an investment, said Pilgrim, because you know that they will come back next year.

When enough people invest in native plants in a neighborhood, these small patches connect and are called habitat corridors, according to an event press release. These corridors allow animals to move across the landscape and offset wildlife losses due to land development.

“If you don’t have host plants, you don’t have insects, and you don’t have wildlife,” said Pilgrim.

Educating the community
The Native Plant and Expo Market is more than just a sale; it’s an educational event for the community.

There will be a total of 12 exhibition educational participants at this year’s market to educate the public on environmental issues and assist customers in choosing plants that would be right for their property and Minnesota wildlife.

“They are all there strictly as volunteers wanting to get the word out about native plants and pollinators,” said Schumacher.

This year’s participants include Restoring the Landscape, Sue Prints Plants, St. Paul Audubon Society, University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Bee Squad, Monarch Joint Venture, Wild Ones, Blue Thumb, Capital Region Watershed, Ramsey Conversation District, Minnesota Wildflowers Information, Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Area and the Minnesota Native Plant Society.

These volunteers have a wide variety of expertise and are willing to share their advice for free, said Pilgrim.

According to Schumacher, this is a fairly competitive industry so plant prices at the market are about the same as they would be at a garden center.

She sells her smallest plants for a $1 a pop in a six pack, $3 for plants that are a little larger around 3.5 inches, and $8-10 for gallon potted plants. Outback nursery shrubs and trees sold by other growers are naturally more expensive. According to one of the grower participant’s online catalog, smaller trees cost as low as $21.45, and big trees can cost up to $160.

While some large-scale environmental issues make people feel powerless as individuals, investing in native plants to restore wildlife is a “practical solution” according to Pilgrim.

“Even if you have a small space, a pot on the back patio or an apartment balcony, you can still make a difference. What you plant matters,” she said.

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Bonnies Cafe_5363

Neighborhood ‘community’ closes its doors

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Bonnie’s Cafe forced to close after 38 years on University Ave.

Personal reflections from waitress MARIA HERD

“How would you like your eggs with that?”

After graduating from Hamline University last year, I set out to pursue a career in journalism. I had been itching to get out in the world and ask hard questions to policymakers and those who influence our community. But with a competitive job market, I found myself waitressing at a cafe and asking different types of questiocasns.

Bonnies Cafe_5363“For your toast that comes with the meal, would you prefer white, wheat or English muffin?”

However, a job that I took to make ends meet, ended up being a window into a community, a family-run business and a piece of St. Paul history that I feel grateful to have been a part of.

Bonnie’s Cafe (photo left by Maria Herd), 2160 University Ave., was opened in 1978 by Juanita “Bonnie” Roell. Bonnie passed away in 2013 with cancer and gave the cafe to her daughters to run.

When I first started working at Bonnie’s last summer, I learned a lot about Bonnie just from all the articles that were posted around the cafe.

The year she died, the City of Saint Paul designated June 5 as Bonnie Roell Day, honoring her for creating a lasting neighborhood diner that served generations of customers, as well as her “entrepreneurship and character.”

And from an old Midway Como Monitor article, “But she was also well-known for hiring staff from all walks of life, and for making an effort to give jobs to those in need of a second chance.”

I can’t tell you how many times an older customer would tell me, “Oh I use to come here all the time in the 80s, the place hasn’t changed a bit.”

“Then you must have known Bonnie,” I would usually say.

And everyone did know Bonnie. The way they spoke about the woman seemed to bring her to life—sometimes I felt like she could walk through the kitchen any minute.

They went on about her big heart, her graciousness, always making sure that no one left her cafe hungry, even if they couldn’t afford it.

Bonnie’s legacy lived on. I saw that same spirit among the customers during my time waitressing.  On several occasions, a customer gave me extra money for their bill and asked me to put it toward another person’s bill who appeared in need of a helping hand.
It would warm my heart when it was my turn to pass along the message that their meal was covered by a kind stranger. It’s not every day that you see someone’s face light up like that.

Furthermore, after the cafe closed at the end of March, our cook Chris Johnson organized to donate the leftover food to the Union Gospel Mission and Lutheran Church Wellness Center, which fed over 200 people.

“My message is to uphold my mother’s impeccable reputation, her dignity, and respect for others. Let it be known I did everything to carry out her legacy, of which I couldn’t have done without our stand-up staff members, our dedicated customers, our community and supporters, every single person who walked through those doors,” Bonnie’s daughter and owner Becky Moosebrugger told me as her final statement about the cafe.

How Bonnie’s Cafe had to close finally after almost 40 years, was really, really sad. The Dubliner, the bar next door, made a deal with the landlord to take over the space and turn it into a restaurant. Becky hadn’t known about the negotiations and had no say in the matter.

What’s even more sad, is that Becky was planning to give the cafe to her children. Her son’s fiancee, my manager Allie, worked at Bonnie’s for over two years. Bonnie’s Cafe was a small family business that had been run by three generations.

In her interview with KARE11 on our final day of business, Allie said, “The saddest part for me is the customers. There are people we see on a daily basis, and now they won’t have that to come to.”

Bonnies Cafe_5303Photo right: Bonnie’s Cafe was packed with customers wanting one more omelette or blueberry pancake on its closing day—March 26, 2016. (Photo by Maria Herd)

The regulars at Bonnie’s Cafe is another aspect of what made the restaurant so special. So many people would come in for breakfast every day, or couples and families would stop by every weekend. We knew all of these people by name, and they knew us. We would ask about their kids and their jobs; they would ask us about our dogs and vacations. Bonnie’s Cafe was its own little community.

Okay, maybe I didn’t know everyone’s name. But I did recognize a lot of the same people. There were the “coffee and water guys” who always sat at a booth and only had coffee and water. There was the guy with a book who always got blueberry pancakes.

Then there were people I remembered because they always asked for peanut butter on the side, or always ordered the Around the Clock with extra crispy bacon.

And of course, we knew a lot of the regulars’ orders by heart. We would start making their breakfast and getting their coffee or diet Pepsi as soon as they walked in the door.

Furthermore, friendships were made in the Cafe. Later on, I found out that some of the men who frequently ate breakfast together actually met at Bonnie’s.

Bonnies Cafe_5380Stepping into the cafe was like stepping back in time. Up until our last day in 2016, we still didn’t take credit cards. I swear that our ancient looking cash register (photo left by Maria Herd) belongs in a museum next to a typewriter. The cafe sported vintage green booths, green and white checkered tablecloths and floral wallpaper from the 70s.

Last but not least, I miss the food. Bonnie was not only an incredible and caring person—she knew good breakfast. Bonnie’s Cafe won the “best breakfast” and “best cafe” in the Twin Cities awards from City Pages multiple times.

Some of our most popular dishes were the roast beef hash, the polish sausage and the biscuits and gravy. My favorite recommendations were the blueberry pancakes, the scrambler, and the Denver omelet.

Bonnie’s spirit and legacy will live on—in our stomachs as well as our hearts.

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012_View94_NightColor slider

Frustration grows over fast pace of soccer stadium planning

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin


Spillover parking into adjacent neighborhoods and worsening traffic congestion are among the fears community members have about a $150 million Major League Soccer stadium and a redeveloped Midway Center. Community members finally got to question Mayor Chris Coleman and project leaders at a Mar. 15 open house at Concordia University. And, on Mar. 21, Union Park District Council (UPDC) Land Use Committee members met with city staff to review plans.

001_ViewSouth_DayThough a formal stadium groundbreaking wouldn’t happen until this summer, crews are already doing site work. The soccer stadium would occupy much of the former Metro Transit Snelling bus garage site and land now occupied by Rainbow Foods and other center businesses. Midway Centre owner RK Midway owns the rest of the 34.5-acre superblock bounded by Pascal St. and University, Snelling and St. Anthony avenues. RK Midway has unveiled plans that would put high-rise offices, retail, a movie theater, restaurants, housing and hotels on its property.

While there is excitement about redevelopment, many neighbors have concerns about how the area will handle 20,000 soccer fans coming to games. Some pointed out that they now get to deal with more construction and congestion after Green Line light rail and Snelling Bridge and street reconstruction.

And if area residents and business owners are frustrated, so are members of the Snelling Midway Community Advisory Committee. Members are questioning how they are supposed to weigh in with such tight project timelines, and a lack of new information.
Other issues raised range from bird safety in stadium design to access for people with disabilities. Those advocates were reassured that their concerns would be addressed. But the $18+ million city subsidy for soccer infrastructure and other needs, and Minnesota United’s quest for a property tax and sales tax exemptions at the 2016 Minnesota Legislature, also drew protests. Hamline Midway resident and 2015 City Council candidate Tom Goldstein held up a sign stating “Want Soccer? Build More Parks, Not Stadiums” and debated with Coleman about subsidies. Merriam Park resident Mike Madden’s sign said, “I pay my taxes.”

Tim Mangan lives in Snelling Park, a tiny neighborhood bounded by Pascal and Marshall, Snelling and Concordia avenues. Residents use Pascal as their route in and out. “No one’s coming to us to address our concerns,” he said. “You’re going to shut down my only egress. Where are all those people going to go?”

Sandy Vincent and Billy Todd live on Sherburne Ave. which already has spillover Green Line commuter parking and parking spillover from the Turf Club. Vincent said she is going to start a residential permit parking petition because of the problems. “I don’t know where they think 20,000 people coming to games are going to park,” Vincent said.

Nan Fergen, who lives one block off of Snelling near Hamline University, said her neighborhood already deals with parking issues. “Traffic in the last five years has been horrible. What relief do we get?”

Coleman told the 150-plus people at the Mar. 15 meeting that the city is studying traffic and parking issues and will work with the community to resolve those. He said the intent of redevelopment is to have the stadium and shopping center redevelopment blend into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods. The intent is not to create what the mayor described as a “state fair” atmosphere.

The projects’ impacts are being studied in an Alternative Urban Areawide Review (AUAR), said Josh Williams, senior planner with the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED). The initial scoping phase of the AUAR closed Mar. 23. Scoping identified different development plans to analyze.

The AUAR process studies issues such as traffic, parking, transit, light, noise, air quality and other impacts that could be tied to redevelopment. “The AUAR is meant to look at a project’s impacts and what can be done to mitigate those impacts,” Williams said. The draft document is to be published in late May and will be the focus of a meeting in June. State agencies then weigh in with their comments. The final document should be compiled by mid-July.

While there are questions about the rapid pace of stadium development, the flip side are worries on how long Midway Center redevelopment could take. UPDC Land Use Committee Member David Rasmussen said he’s concerned about how long it will take to redevelop the shopping center itself, and the prospect of an empty lot in the meantime.

But Williams said while some redevelopment, such as the planned plazas along University Ave., will be built with the stadium, the city’s power in approving a master plan for the shopping center doesn’t include requiring the developer to meet a timeline.

Other reviews are also underway. The engineering consulting firm SRF is conducting a traffic study, which will be ready in this month. Metro Transit is looking at transit capacity of Green Line light rail, regular route bus service and A Line rapid bus service which starts in June.

Another frustration for some community members is how quickly the review and approval processes are moving, and how the review processes are overlapping each other.

014_InteriorSouthMinnesota United wants to start playing soccer here in 2018. The St. Paul Planning Commission is expected to see the stadium site plan and the master plan for the rest of the superblock this spring, with a public hearing in May. Recommendations then go to the St. Paul City Council by mid-July or August, with final votes on each plan.

The studies will consider existing streets and not the possibility of connecting Ayd Mill Road at its north end, said Williams. He also said that by the end of April, city staff and community members should have a better idea of the overall project impacts. But the complexity of who is responsible for which aspects of development, and the conceptual nature and lack of a timeline for shopping center redevelopment, are frustrating.

UPDC Executive Director Julie Reiter said “We don’t know how a transportation study can be done if we don’t know where the cars are going,” she said.

Parking for soccer is the responsibility of Minnesota United and not the city. Where people park for soccer games and stadium events could change over time, so the transportation and transit issues are being studied in that context. Williams said because the shopping center redevelopment is likely to take place over a period of many years, where people park for games and events could change.

Shuttles and off-site parking are already being studied, Williams said. “We don’t have enough capacity to carry everyone on the buses to the train at the same time, and we certainly don’t want everyone to drive to the games,” he said. Short-term ideas include remote lots and shuttles, including the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Funding the soccer stadium is complicated

Tax exemptions, $18.4 million for infrastructure, 52-year lease, and Tax Increment Financing all in the mix


With development agreements, a lease and an $18.4 million infrastructure commitment in place, the proposed Minnesota United FC stadium plans are moving ahead toward an anticipated June groundbreaking and 2018 completion.

But getting agreement on the financing package, and a disagreement over future tax increment financing (TIF) for Midway Center redevelopment, roiled the St. Paul City Council in March. The council approved the stadium subsidies on 5-2 votes Mar. 2, and shot down the notion of banning a future TIF district 3-4 on Mar. 23.

The stadium project now rests in the hands of the 2016 Minnesota Legislature. State lawmakers are being asked to provide an ongoing exemption from paying property taxes on the stadium site and any improvements. A construction materials sales tax exemption is also sought, as is a liquor license. One potentially tricky procedural issue is that because last year’s session ended without a tax bill passed, any stadium request will have to be added to the stalled 2015 tax bill.

If the exceptions aren’t passed, City Finance Director Todd Hurley said the stadium agreements are terminated.

The $150 million Major League Soccer stadium construction and maintenance would be privately funded. The almost 150 pages of documents that are part of the agreements don’t cover all details of the planned mixed-use redevelopment of the entire 34.5 acre Midway Center superblock, which is bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling, and University avenues. But Minnesota FC owner Bill McGuire and Rick Birdoff of the shopping center ownership group RK Midway have said the stadium is the catalyst for the long-awaited center redevelopment. Birdoff also issued a statement after the Council vote saying he is working with Rainbow Foods owner Supervalu to find space on the site for a relocated grocery store.

Lengthy debate at the Mar. 2 St. Paul City Council meeting preceded votes on the agreements. A full house of project proponents looked on, including many young soccer players, as well as foes of public subsidy for sports facilities. The council split 5-2, with Dan Bostrom and Jane Prince against and Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Russ Stark, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert in support.

Bostrom said it’s concerning when the city has so many other unmet needs and is making cutbacks in areas including public safety, that stadium infrastructure funding moves to the front of the line. “Yet for other neighborhood projects we cannot get a dime.”

But other council members said the city has considered the potential risks and needs to take advantage of the opportunity to bring soccer here. Stark said that while the proposal does have risks, those are “greatly outweighed” by the benefits the stadium would bring. As to concerns about parking, Stark said that providing a lot of on-site parking would simply encourage more people to drive to the stadium.

Opponents said the project is moving too quickly and that the impacts on the surrounding community haven’t been fully explored.

“I-94 and Snelling are already very congested, and I don’t know why we’d want to put any more congestion there,” said Hamline-Midway resident Claire Press. She also questioned how the neighborhood, which has years of street and light rail construction, would get through another two years of stadium construction.

160225_Midway Presentation overview niteBut supporters cited the spinoff economic development potential, jobs creation, the possibility of youth soccer stadium use and the convenience of having soccer games in the community as benefits. “We have the opportunity here to really transform the Midway,” said Midway Chamber Board Chairman Jeff Fenske. He said the stadium would bring new jobs and new businesses, and revitalize the area.

The Mar. 2 council vote sealed the lease and financing agreements, as well as the development and stadium use pacts. The lease between the city and Metropolitan Council for the bus barn property is for 52 years. The club will pay the city, and then the city will pay the council $556,623.96 per year.

Minnesota FC will also pay to maintain areas such as sidewalks and green space. It won’t pay city right-of-way maintenance assessments.

Superblock site planThe city will build infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, green space, and utilities. Of these costs, storm sewers are the biggest piece at $3.07 million. Public green space would cost $2 million. These items will be built to city standard design. Wider sidewalks as proposed would have to be covered by Minnesota FC, and on shopping center land by RK Midway.

The city will cover about $16.9 million of its $18.4 million commitment with revenue from $285,000 from the parking fund and four different tax increment financing (TIF) districts. The TIF contributions include about $7.1 million from the pending sale of the Penfield mixed-use building downtown.

The remaining $1.5 million is to be covered by state and federal grants the city is seeking. The agreements contain many other details, on everything from allowing Minnesota United FC to rename the Snelling light rail station to not allowing stadium use by gun shops, vendors of adult-only materials, pawn shops or “any so-called head shop.” There is a condition that ethnic food vendors be in the mix of stadium vendors after it opens. Another condition calls for outreach to youth sports programs but doesn’t contain specifics. There is also language about meeting affordable ticket goals. But details were left blank.

On Mar. 23, Noecker, Bostrom and Price attempted to block any future Midway Center TIF district. Noecker pointed out that there have already been significant investments in light rail and bus transit, and that the stadium developers have already asked for property tax and sale tax exemptions.

Noecker said sending the message now that TIF isn’t available would “take it off the table early.” She said that future financial scenarios for the project could include a “TIF-shaped gap” that the city would be expected to fill. And, she pointed out, that if the stadium is supposed to catalyze redevelopment as its backers contend, TIF may not be needed.

But other council members said the option to use TIF for shopping center redevelopment should be preserved. Thao was visibly angry about the idea of taking TIF away, citing the rate of poverty in his ward and the need for redevelopment. The shopping center is in his district. “At the heart of the matter, you taking away a tool for development from a community that needs it the most,” Thao said.

“You’re not doing this for the people,” Thao said to Noecker. “You’re doing this for yourself.”

The motion to block a future TIF failed, 3-4

RK Midway, the owner of the center, hasn’t applied for TIF.

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International Institute 16 slider

International Women’s Day hosts 2nd Annual Afternoon Tea

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Local woman, Olga Zoltai, recognized for life-long achievement and contributions to helping immigrants flourish


International Women’s Day was celebrated in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood on Mar. 13. The International Institute of Minnesota (IIMN) hosted their second annual afternoon tea celebrating the achievements of women worldwide and in Minnesota. The event was sold out.

The global theme this year was parity, or equality, especially as it pertains to social status and income. The World Economic Forum has estimated that at its current pace, parity for women won’t be fully realized until 2133. That’s 117 years, or nearly four generations away.

Close to home, the International Institute of Minnesota (IIMN) is helping women and men achieve self-sufficiency and full participation in the community every day. Located at 1694 Como Ave., staff and volunteers there help refugees, immigrants and political asylees discover not only a new home—but a new future.

Jane Garner-Pringle, admissions and client services manager for the Nursing Assistant Program, explained, “We offer several career pathways at IIMN. The Nursing Assistant Program is just one of them. A tuition-free course of either eight or 11 weeks duration, it can be a final destination or a springboard to further advancement in a medical career for new Americans.”

“In addition to technical training,” Garner-Pringle said, “students receive English language classes, coaching around American workplace culture, community resources, and if needed, mental health support.”

The Nursing Assistant Program is open to anyone, but, according to Garner-Pringle, “We serve many more women than men.”

A graduate of the program, Samerawit Gebremariyam, was a featured speaker at the event. A native of Ethiopia, she in now working toward completion of her LPN degree. While juggling work and school responsibilities, she also cares for her family which includes three children ranging from 13 months through college age.

“When I started in the Nursing Assistant Program,” Gebremariyam said, “all of us were from different countries and different cultures, but we understood each other. I would not have gotten the education that I have without the support of the other students, the staff and the volunteers at IIMN.”

Hamline-Midway resident Olga Zoltai, creator of the Nursing Assistant Program and many other IIMN initiatives, was the guest of honor at the International Women’s Day Tea. Zoltai worked at the IIMN from 1971 until 1993. Upon her retirement, the Minneapolis Star Tribune dubbed her the local “Patron Saint of Immigrants” in a front page tribute to her career.

International Institute 16Photo left: Olga Zoltai (center) greeted well-wishers at the International Institute’s annual tea celebrating the accomplishments of women. She received the first-ever Olga Zoltai award, which will be given out each year. The award honored Zoltai’s extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish. Samerawit Gebremariyam, a featured program speaker, is pictured at right. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The IIMN has created an award to be given each year at this event, called the Olga Zoltai Award. Its purpose is to acknowledge outstanding service within the community to new Americans. It was fitting that they decided to give this first year’s award to Zoltai herself, in honor of her extraordinary contributions to helping new Americans flourish.

Born in Sopron, Hungary, Zoltai learned the struggles of being a refugee early-on. In 1944, Hungary was invaded by advancing Russian troops at the close of WW II. With bombs falling from the sky, Zoltai, then 14 years of age, and her family fled on foot to safety in Austria.

The family was eventually able to emigrate to North America. They were accepted in Alberta, Canada, but had to sign an indentured service contract for two years. “My two brothers, mother, father and I hoed sugar beets from sun-up until sun-down every day to repay the Canadian government for our resettlement fees, but we were grateful,” Zoltai said.

Olga (then Wagner) married a fellow Hungarian, Tibor Zoltai, and relocated to Boston, where her husband pursued his Ph.D. in mineralogy. When he was offered a position at the University of Minnesota some years later, they moved to Roseville.

Zoltai began her 22-year career at IIMN following the birth of their third child. She started as a social worker, and eventually became Director of Refugee Services and Resettlement.

Sam Myers, an immigration lawyer and a former colleague of Zoltai’s, said, “She was tireless in her advocacy and innovation on behalf of new Americans: a sweet bulldozer of a human being.”

As already mentioned, Zoltai created the Nursing Assistant Program in 1991. The program has graduated more than 3,000 students who earn a sustainable, living wage.

Zoltai was the first to advocate hiring bilingual case managers at the IIMN, something which is now considered essential practice throughout the state and beyond.

In partnership with Myers, she created the immigration law clinic between William Mitchell College of Law and the IIMN, which ran for several years. Because of her pioneering efforts, Zoltai received the “Immigrants of Distinction Award” from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association in 2012.

Of Zoltai’s many legacies, Myers lingered over one he affectionately called, “The Olga Case.” He explained that “the situations of immigrants and refugees are often heart wrenching and difficult to solve. Olga became known for tackling the toughest cases. She would look for, and find, loopholes in the law, and convince government officials to bend the rules when humanitarian needs were at stake. She would always argue politely, and invariably she would win. To this day, when we hear a nearly impossible story at the legal clinic, we refer to it as an ‘Olga Case.’”

To learn more about the broad spectrum of services provided by the International Institute of Minnesota, go to www.iimn.org. To donate to the ongoing work of International Women’s Day, make a “Pledge for Parity” at www.internationalwomensday.com.

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Marit Speaking at St Paul Caucus

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense finds neighborhood voices

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Local group part of national campaign for common sense gun safety


Moms Demand Action 001Hamline-Midway resident Anne McFaul Reid (photo right by Jan Willms) had an important conversation with a friend a little over a year ago. The conversation was about gun violence. That friend had lived in Norway and said that gun safety there had never been on her mind. But she realized when she moved back to the United States, she was worrying about gun safety all the time.

After that conversation, Reid, who lives about three blocks away from University Ave., was standing in her house one day with the windows open. She heard a gunshot.

“At the time, I had a 14-year-old boy who has a skateboard and skateboards around the neighborhood,” Reid said. “My hair stood on end, and I decided to get involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. You don’t know who has that gun and who’s shooting it off, and we’re about keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. It’s rather simple.”

Moms Demand Action was started by Shannon Watts after the mass shooting of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, in December 2012. “She grew that organization so big that now we have a chapter in every state,” Reid noted.

Along with Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the Everytown Survivor Network, Moms Demand Action is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with more than three million supporters and more than 100,000 donors.

Reid said she attended meetings where participants made cards for families who had lost someone to gun violence. “That was a very moving time,” she recalled. “We just gathered and made beautiful things and shared love.”

She said there is also a campaign about children’s safety around guns. “Common sense things, like making sure your guns are locked up. There are people trained who go to communities and have these parties, and all the moms in the neighborhood come and just open up the conversation about it. People realize ‘Oh, yeah, I really do need to check. My husband has a gun. I need to make sure it’s safely locked somewhere.’ It’s amazing how when it’s not in your awareness, you just don’t think about some of these things.”

Reid said she does not have the answer as to why the United States has so many gun-related deaths compared to other countries, other than accessibility. “You want a gun; you can so easily get one. I’m not an expert at knowing what’s happening in other countries, but knowing what my friend said, you just couldn’t have one unless it was for hunting or things of that nature.”

Reid made it clear that Moms Demand Action is an advocate for the second amendment. “We have no plans of taking away anybody’s gun,” she affirmed. “It’s just really about gun safety and making sure guns don’t get in the hands of dangerous people. That’s the bottom line, and by going at it from a legislative point of view, it’s similar to the drinking age.”

St Paul Moms Demand Action“We know that teenagers still are going to drink alcohol, but we as adults know it’s dangerous for them,’ she continued. “It causes a number of car accidents, so why not make it a little harder to get it by raising the drinking age, which we did, and it helps. So we go at it with that same philosophy.”

Photo left: Moms Demand Action members gather in St. Paul. The members of the group are not opposed to owning guns, but focus instead on what they feel is common sense gun safety. (Photo submitted)

Reid said she knows that people are still going to get guns, but why not make it a little more difficult by closing those three main loopholes: the gun show loophole, buying guns online and buying guns through private sales.

“That is the basic premise Moms Demand Action is going on, in hopes that we are not creating more of a divide but creating more of a community, about keeping us all safe,” she said.

In line with this mission, in March, the Minnesota Chapter of Moms Demand Action joined law enforcement, faith leaders, county attorneys and some gun owners in applauding the introduction of new gun safety legislation. The bill, introduced by Minnesota Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. Dan Schoen, would require background checks on all gun sales—including online sales and sales at gun shows—closing existing loopholes in Minnesota law that make it easy for felons, domestic abusers, and people suffering from dangerous mental illnesses to get guns.

Marit Speaking at St Paul CaucusPhoto left: Moms Demand Action member speaks at recent political caucus. (Photo submitted)

The legislation faces an uphill battle, however, with Republican legislators stating they would refuse to hear it in the public safety committee or see it enacted into law. Reid said the organization has not received a lot of pushback for its efforts. “Many people are in full support of this,” she said. Reid said statistics showed that 82% of Minnesotans support background checks on all gun sales. “That’s a real clear majority,” she said, “so I think it’s more about getting our representatives to hear us so it’ll get done.”

Reid added that on Lobby Day, Apr. 28, she plans to go to the Capitol. “I’m going to wear my Moms Demand Action t-shirt and stand up for gun safety,” she noted. “This is just about keeping our families safe in our communities.”

Reid said she believes gun safety will be a factor in this year’s presidential election. “With our bigger voices, we can let our candidates know we are serious, and we want this done,” she said. “It’s not a real hard thing to do.”

Reid explained that Moms Demand Action is open to fathers as well as moms, and to everyone who has an interest in promoting gun safety. She said the most challenging part, for her, is to continue with the momentum. “It’s real easy to go on with your daily life and just not check your emails and not make calls to legislators. You just have to keep taking little steps; they don’t have to be giant steps,” she said.

Reid said that 88 people every day are killed by gun violence. She is aware of the refrain that guns don’t kill people; people do. “Let’s just check our people then, before we give them a gun.”

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R!SE 01 slider

Twin Cities R!SE settling into Midway location

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

The Spruce Tree Center at Snelling and University avenues has a new tenant: the St. Paul branch of Twin Cities R!SE (TCR). The 22-year-old organization works with the hardest to employ segment of the population, including those who are homeless or recently incarcerated. TCR provides education, training, and support to make finding, and keeping, jobs a reality for its graduates.

R!SE 02Founder and Board Chair Steve Rothschild once said, “This is an organization with the heart of a non-profit, and the head of a business.” Rothschild, a top executive who retired at 46 from General Mills, dreamed of heading up his own business when he left the corporate world. Always deeply involved in community issues, Rothschild’s retirement dream turned to social entrepreneurship when he founded TCR in 1994.

Photo right: Keith Simons, Empowerment Institute Director, and Tina Rockett, Work Skills Coach, in the St. Paul Twin Cities R!SE offices. The non-profit has two sites: this one in the Midway area and the other in North Minneapolis.

Building careers
TCR is an anti-poverty job training program. Its mission is to transform lives through meaningful employment. Graduates have been employed by companies as diverse as American Express, Best Buy Regions Hospital, and Valspar Paints.

To be accepted into TCR, participants must be able to work legally in the US; have earned income that did not exceed $25,000 in the past 12 months; demonstrate English fluency and basic literacy; have a high school diploma or GED; and have no criminal sexual conduct or arson charges on their record.

Training is offered free of charge in a wide range of work skills areas. One-on-one coaching helps students stay on track, and can continue even after employment begins. Classes on resume and cover letter writing, job searching and interviewing are also available.

In addition to working with individuals, TCR also contracts with businesses to help them develop a skilled labor pool. In one such example, the Metro Transit Company acknowledged that 55% of their employees were 55+, white and male—and starting to retire in record numbers (the “Silver-Tsunami “ phenomenon).

MTC partnered with TCR to create the Metro Transit Technician Training Program; this one-year program prepares candidates for the two-year Associate’s degree for truck mechanics at North Hennepin Community College, leading to a career as a bus mechanic with MTC.

This partnership benefits both TCR participants and the MTC. As of now, more than 30 mechanic positions go unfilled each year at MTC due to lack of qualified candidates. After completing the technician training program, there is a skilled, diverse labor pool ready to meet employer needs. It’s a win-win situation.

Empowering lives
Keith Simons is the director of TCR’s Empowerment Institute. He explained, “You’ve heard of being at the bottom rung of the career ladder? For many of our clients, TCR is the ‘on-ramp’ for getting to that bottom rung. It’s a place to start.“

R!SE 01Photo left: Students in one of Rockett’s work skills courses improve their computer skills.

Personal empowerment training is what sets TCR apart from other job training programs. Simons said, “In our culture, we’re constantly bombarded by messages, and most of them are messages of failure. “

One program graduate named Angel said, “I was looking for work, and couldn’t find anything. I was feeling helpless and hopeless. When I got to TCR, I gravitated toward the Personal Empowerment Training. The more positive thoughts I believed about myself, the more things started changing for me.” Shortly after enrolling in works skills and empowerment training at TCR, Angel got a full-time job with benefits in a call center.

“The things I learned at TCR made me a stronger, more employable person,” Angel said.
The personal empowerment training teaches students how to work with their inner selves. According to Simons, four “building block” areas are addressed: self-awareness, self-control, awareness of others (developing empathy and compassion), and relationship management. The staff at TCR believe that while work skills development may help land a job, it’s the personal empowerment training that helps graduates keep a job.

Ending poverty
A TCR participant isn’t considered a graduate until they’ve been on the job successfully for at least 12 months. Program statistics indicate that 84% of participants did just that in 2015. By comparison, the national average is 39% for participants in similar programs.
“Our graduates earn an average of $27,000 annually, not including benefits,” Simons said. “That’s a big step up and out of poverty, and remember these are folks who are considered the most difficult to employ.”

For information about volunteer opportunities, including classroom assisting or hosting an intern in your workplace, contact Chelsea at 612-279-5828. For information about the Empowerment Institute, contact Keith Simons at 612-279-5831. TCR’s Empowerment Institute is offering a new empowerment course for leaders—designed for executives, management and open to the public.

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