Column: More is needed in the Edina Challenge

By Heather Haen Anderson

Guest Columnist

 

Imagine you are a 12-year-old boy living in Edina. Your parents were born in a different country. They don’t speak English. You receive free and reduced-priced meals at school. You did well in elementary school, but are now struggling. Perhaps you lost your way when your classes became more difficult and your parents were unable to help you. Perhaps your family did not know how to access the resources in the community. Perhaps you do not believe in your own ability to make a better future for yourself. You will need help to succeed.

It may be difficult to believe, but children with financial hardships, such as our hypothetical boy, do live in Edina. Almost 750 students in Edina Public Schools received free and reduced-priced meals (FRPM) last year, an increase of more than 500 children in the past decade. Students on FRPM are often not able to take advantage of our community’s strong assets. They may fare poorly in classes. They can feel isolated from the rest of their classmates. How do we, as a community, meet the challenge of supporting these children?

The Edina Community Foundation, under the leadership of Executive Director Dick Crockett, decided that the foundation could do something to mitigate the impact on poverty on Edina’s youth. He proposed an “Edina Challenge” for the community to help disadvantaged youth more fully participate in the community, educational and recreational programs that would help them develop as healthy, productive adults.

The foundation then convened an Edina Challenge Team, chaired by Mamie Segall, a strategic planner and attorney, with 14 representatives from nonprofit organizations, service providers, the faith community, Edina Public Schools and the city of Edina. Together they have spent the past year investigating the needs in Edina, the areas in which the Challenge can have an impact, and funding three programs.

“We can help these kids,” says Segall, “by using the incredible assets in our community.”

The team identified five key gaps for these children: mentoring, tutoring, extracurricular engagement, housing and transportation.

The Challenge recommended three programs for funding in 2014.

One2One, in partnership with the Southdale YMCA, will provide individual mentoring relationships for middle school-aged students in a non-academic setting.

The Last Mile, proposed by the Edina Resource Center, will help low-income high school seniors as they prepare for further education. Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college. Some have never left home before. The Last Mile helps them to navigate deadlines, paperwork, and filing for financial aid.

Finally, Oasis for Youth, created in 2010 in response to an increased number of suburban youth experiencing homelessness, is a resource for at-risk youth. Offering everything from healthy snacks and Internet access to job search assistance and hot showers, they have case managers to work with homeless youth or those with a precarious home life to overcome many of life’s obstacles.

The Edina Challenge Team also endorsed two other proposals that did not request funding – Ready-Set-Connect, a Connecting With Kids initiative to provide a card to simplify and qualify FRPM youth for financial aid for various community services, and Edina Community Lutheran Church’s plan to develop a housing facility for homeless youth.

The foundation has allocated $31,000 to the programs recommended for funding, but more is needed. To see what you can do to meet the Challenge, please contact the Edina Community Foundation at [email protected]