Archive | May, 2015

Mister Michael Recycles 08

Bike shop in Midway is on a mission

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


Mister Michael Recycles 08Shop owners Michael and Benita Warns have a lot in common. They own a business together: Mister Michael Recycles Bicycles at 520 Prior Ave. N. They’re “tandem people,” who enjoy riding their bicycle built for two. They’re both engineers, they abhor waste, and they really like giving away recycled bikes.

By their own estimates, they’ve given away more than 4,000 bicycles in the course of their ministry, which is what they call their work. In 1998, a young boy in their Midway neighborhood saw Mike and Benita were always tinkering with bikes. He dragged one over to their garage and asked, “Can you fix this?” The bike wasn’t much, but that young neighbor, who is grown now and a vital part of the shop team, figured it’d get him around. It did that and more. The broken bike started a 17 year friendship between the three biking enthusiasts, and launched a business idea.

“Our main focus is on giving away bikes,” Benita said. “Among our diverse recipients are low income kids, college students, new immigrants, neighbors, residents of half-way houses, and homeless people. Our bikes are available to anyone – we don’t have an intake process or ask any questions.”

The shop operates on a break-even basis and succeeds because the raw materials are free, and volunteers donate many hours of repair time and skill.

There is a small selection of repaired/refurbished bikes for sale, as well as an assortment of new and used bike parts.

Customers can bring their own bikes in for repair at the rate of $15/hour. Ninety percent of the income earned goes right back into upkeep and operation of the store. The remaining 10% is given away to charity. The volunteers designate a different charity each quarter; recipients from 2014 included the ALS Foundation, Feline Rescue, Anne Bancroft Foundation and Sisters Camelot.

Mister Michael Recycles 12Michael and Benita make the rounds of various community recycling centers and pick up bikes that are considered junk. “Those that are beyond repair, we tear apart,” Michael said,  “but we salvage as many parts as possible and use them to repair other bikes. We’ve been able to keep a whole lot of metal from going into local landfills.”

They’ve been at their current location for seven years. “We operated out of our garage at first,” Benita said. “Over the course of ten years, we had to keep renting more garages and it didn’t make sense to have bikes stored in so many different places. We needed a more formal arrangement. When we heard that 520 Prior Ave. was for rent with a retail front and six garages out back, we figured it was just about perfect.”

The store is open for business on Tuesday and Thursday from 7-9pm and Sunday from 12-4pm. Those are also times when volunteers are invited in to help repair bikes for give-away. Bring your bike repair skills, whatever they might be, and learn to answer the question yourself, “Can you fix this?”

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Ryan LaBoy music director

ComMUSICation focuses on life skills through music

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


Ryan LaBoy music directorPerseverance. Discipline. Teamwork. Collaboration. Empathy. All these skills that can help a person succeed in life are being taught to the young people participating in ComMUSICation in Saint Paul.

Founded by Sara Zanussi, ComMUSICation is based on the El Sistema system developed in Venezuela by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu that uses excellence of the music ensemble to develop a transferrable set of life skills that fosters good teachers, leaders, citizens, and musicians.

Zanussi, a St. Paul native, did a Sistema fellowship in Boston at the New England Conservatory in 2012 and 2013.

“It was a year-long program that trained musicians who are passionate about transforming their communities, using music,” Zanussi explained.  She returned to St. Paul and learned there are no secular youth choirs in the city, and she particularly focused on the Promise Neighborhood, a program designed to give all St. Paul children the resources and support to be successful from “cradle to career.”  That area falls within the borders of Pierce Butler, Rice, Selby and Lexington.

ComMUSICation 2Zanussi said the Promise Neighborhood connection led her to St. Paul City School at 635 Virginia St., and she got Saint Paul Public Schools, the St. Paul Conservatory of Music and Sprocket Youth Development Network involved.

“I really wanted to do something that was using existing resources,” Zanussi said, “and the community collaboration was really important to me. As a result, 60% of our budget is in-kind.”

“We started planning the program in the summer of 2013 and started hiring staff that fall,” she continued. “We did our pilot program in January 2014 and continued until the beginning of May, and we had 100% of parents at our final performance.”

ComMUSICation follows the school year and also continues for two weeks in the summer.

“Something that makes our program unique is that we are not just about providing a program for the students but also something that connects families together,” Zanussi stated. “It provides an opportunity for parents to connect with their child in a positive way through seeing their child perform, as well as providing community performances that anyone can go to. We’ve done a ton of partnerships with the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Orchestra. We’ve built bikes with Cycles for Change and done a ton of things that involve the greater community. We introduce these kids to a lot of cool opportunities that I didn’t have as a kid.”

ComMUSICation 1The program is divided into two choral groups, Crescendo Choir and ComMUSICation Choir.  Between the two, they will be meeting five days a week next year.

“Both groups will meet together on the fifth day, drumming and doing activities together,” Zanussi said. She said new members will likely go into the Crescendo Choir, where they will learn about building a team as well as how to sit through a vigorous rehearsal of two and a half hours, five days a week.

Zanussi said a lot of kids come to the program thinking “I want to sing. I’m going to be a star.”

“They think it’s an American Idol trainee program,” she joked. “Instead we’re focused on the chorus ensemble.”

There are no auditions, and anyone can participate in ComMUSICation. Zanussi said 38 children from grades 3-6 have been served this past year and a half, with a current active group of 25. They represent five different schools: Ben Mays, Jackson, Maxfield and St. Paul City Schools’ primary and middle schools.

“Next year our five-day-a-week group will allow us to become a St. Paul Public School bus stop, and so it will be much more open to any kid in the neighborhood,” Zanussi said.

“We’re really excited about that, and this summer we’re also doing a two-week day camp with the Boys and Girls Club at Mt. Airy, with a theme of how animals evolve and grow. Mt. Airy draws kids from all over the city.”

Zanussi said funding for the program comes from many sources, with 60% in-kind. This includes such things as afterschool busing and a practice space provided by St. Paul City School. There are also government and corporate grants, free will donations at concerts and a $10 registration fee from students if they can afford it.

“Anyone can join,” Zanussi reiterated, “but currently 100% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. If a student from a more privileged background came, we would do a sliding scale type of thing.”

She said the students arrive for practice between 3:15-3:45pm, depending on the end time of their school.  “During that time they can do homework and teamwork activities,” she said. Recently, for example, the students wrote letters to students in Baltimore.

ComMUSICation 3“We have college interns who come in and help weekly, and they have been fantastic,” Zanussi added.

“We also do music literacy games, pen pal activities and get a snack,” she said. Students write back and forth to community members as part of a pen pal project, and each one has been exchanging letters with a member of the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Opera.

“They got to build individual relationships with pretty big organizations, and then they gave a concert for them, so they performed for someone in the audience that they knew,” Zanussi said.

She said that between 4- 5:45pm, the children practice choir and percussion, learn how to read music and learn the songs they will perform. They perform one to two concerts a month, as well as doing four big concerts a year.

Zanussi said the program has presented a couple of challenges. She said that for her, personally, not being from the neighborhood she is working in meant that it took time for her to gain credibility with the parents. The other challenge has been transportation.

“Transportation has been our biggest barrier so far,” she noted. “It’s worked out because St. Paul City School provided vans, but it’s difficult when we have performances outside of program time. That is a very important part of what we do, because it’s a risk-taking opportunity for the kids and a chance for their families to celebrate their achievement with them–but finding transportation for outside of programming has been very challenging.”

The most rewarding part of the program?

“Hearing them sing. In less than a little over a year, they sound great, doing three-part harmony and singing in five languages.”

“In the first year, we have seen up to 50% fewer behavior incidents at school, which is huge. Kids who used to say they had stage fright are now singing solos.”

“To quote the founder of El Sistema, ‘To create music is to create beauty.’ To see these kids create beauty together regardless of socio-economic background, race, different schools, different genders and different cultures, is really powerful.”

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Mai Vang Class

St. Paul Urban Tennis moves into Midway Como neighborhood

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


St Paul Urban Tennis 2St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) is about more than tennis.

“SPUT is a great program on so many levels,” remarked Pamela McCurdy, whose two children have been involved in SPUT since they were in kindergarten.

Not only does it get kids out exercising in a safe place, but they’re learning a lifelong sport, she pointed out.

Even more than that are the life skills SPUT teaches. “They work on things like integrity, perseverance, fair play and responsibility, to name a few,” said McCurdy. “I love what my kids learn.”

As St. Paul’s only tennis program, SPUT moved into the Midway Como neighborhood in April. The community is invited to an open house on Sun., May 17 from 12- 2pm at Griggs Recreation Center at 1188 Hubbard Ave. (approximately midway between University Ave. and Como Park, and a block west of Lexington).

“We’re excited to be here in the community,” stated SPUT Executive Director Becky Cantellano.

After 25 years of storing equipment one place, having an office at another, and holding meetings all over town, the Griggs Center is SPUT’s first real home.

“We feel fortunate to     be a part of SPUT”

McCurdy has been impressed by the tennis coaches SPUT employs because of the skills they teach and the hard work they pull out of the kids. “They’re so positive and really get to know the kids,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to be a part of SPUT.”

Her eldest daughter, Emmy, who is 14, has learned mental toughness, including how to be calm and centered during a match. Last August, her 12 Advanced Team won the USTA championship for the whole region. Her 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, advanced with her team to the finals at the University of Minnesota and made it to the Top 5 in the regions.

St Paul Urban TennisMcCurdy also appreciates how the kids learn how to lose gracefully. Sometimes in life we lose, she pointed out, and it’s important to learn how to not let that get you down.
“The game of tennis was invented and based upon the ability to show sportsmanship even under pressure,” pointed out  Mary Stoner, who has been a SPUT coach for three years.

“The amazing aspect of tennis as a sport is that it mirrors so many things that can occur in your life,” Stoner added.

In addition to learning how to handle pressure, tennis teaches communication, problem-solving and resiliency. “The entire sport is an exercise in problem solving not just in its lines and racquets and balls, but within yourself to have the ability to channel all of that and not let it distract you,” Stoner said.

“Resiliency is an important skill in tennis because you can come back from far behind if you keep working at it.”

SPUT spirit
SPUT calls its life skills and character development element “SPUT S-P-I-R-I-T”’—which stands for Service, Perseverance, Integrity, Responsibility, Imagination and Teamwork.

By demonstrating SPIRIT, kids can earn SPUT bucks to apply towards shoes, rackets and other clothing that has been donated to the group.

Besides the on-court experience, SPUT also offers the younger kids a reading program. SPUT is looking for people to volunteer at least 1 day a week as readers at its various sites.

Mai Vang ClassTaking tennis to the people

SPUT began 25 years ago with 125 players at three park sites. Last year, they reached 4,000 kids at 30 sites.

“We work to make it easy to be involved,” pointed out Cantellano.

“We take the tennis to where the people are,” said long-time board member Gregg Wong, who first learned about SPUT while working as a sports reporter for the Pioneer Press.

About 80 percent of the kids in the program either walk or ride their bikes to the court sites, which are spread out at 30 locations in St. Paul. If there are no tennis courts, SPUT sets up portable nets in parking lots and dead end streets.

Adult lessons offered too

SPUT will offers adult lessons starting May 30. They are conducted evenings on the courts at Central High School, Phalen Park and Edgcumbe Recreation Center, and during the day at the College of St. Catherine. Adult fees are $55 to $65 for once-a-week sessions for five weeks.

“I think there are many adults that would like to play tennis but are afraid because it seems so difficult,” said Stoner. “The goal of the adult program is to get them playing as soon as possible so they can enjoy the sport. It isn’t about technique for them but doing something active and learning something.”

Cardio Tennis is a popular class because it doesn’t require any tennis skills. “This year I’ve noticed that I have people signing up for classes just so they can meet other players,” said Stoner. “We also wanted to offer classes to get some parents whose kids are in the program playing tennis so they can play with their kids.”

Tennis for those who might not be able to afford it

When one of SPUT’s founders, Sandy Martin, began working to recruit Wong to serve on the board of directors in 2003, it was an easy sell. “I knew how much good they were doing for kids, especially kids who didn’t have much means,” said Wong, who has been board chair for eight years and is currently secretary.

He loves seeing how much fun kids have playing tennis, kids who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to afford to play.

Fees for the seven-week summer program beginning June 15 are $70 for youths 5 to 8 years old and $95 for those between the ages of 9-18. Four-day camps are offered between June 15 and July 17 are $40.

But SPUT does not turn away any kid because of an inability to pay. Last year, SPUT gave out nearly $150,000 worth of scholarships. Discounts are offered for families with more than one child in the program.

In addition to its summer camps, SPUT works with schools, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations throughout the school year, offering tennis classes and other programs.

“The biggest misconception is that it requires a lot of money to play.  That, of course, is true for every sport when you get to a certain level,” observed Stoner. “At the beginning stages tennis only requires a racquet, some balls and a court or wall to play against.”

U 12 advancedHalf of coaches are former SPUT players

Through the leadership group, SPUT trains its older kids on how to be coaches and leaders. Topics include financial literacy, wealth development and entrepreneurship. Over half of SPUT’s 80 coaches are former SPUT participants.

“The younger ones always need good role models and our leadership kids really do that,” noted Stoner.

“It’s just great to see the kids develop as coaches and leaders,” agreed Cantellano, navigating through their own self discovery.

Wong has seen many kids from the Eastside who had never played tennis before go through the summer camps and go on to be coaches themselves. Many of them are first and second generation Hmong and Karen immigrants who said later that this program kept them off the streets. They’ve gone on to be the first in their families to attend college.

“To see these outcomes makes everything we do worthwhile,” said Wong.

Free family night June 12

“The best part of SPUT is that we offer the opportunity to kids to try the game and see what fun it is,” stated Stoner. “We provide rackets and even shoes. There’s no excuse. Everyone can get out there and get active,” encouraged Cantellano.

To kick off SPUT’s 25th summer, there will be free family nights/open houses on Fri., June 12, from 4:30-6:30 at all 30 park sites. Visit www.urbantennis.org for a list of sites and to register for all SPUT programs. Or, call the SPUT office at 612-222-2879.

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Annual Heiruspecs Scholarship Concert coming up May 29

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


The hip hop band Heiruspecs will play their annual scholarship concert to benefit Central High School students on Fri., May 29. Bedlam Theatre is hosting this year’s event at 213 E. 4th St., across from the Union Depot. Doors will open at 7pm and the concert, which promises to be jumpin’, will start at 8pm.

Heiruspecs band members, past and present, are all alums of St. Paul Central, and this event is their biggest giving-back moment of the year, according to bass player Sean Twinkie Jiggles McPherson.

The band has been donating $1,000 scholarships to three graduating Central High School seniors every spring since 2010. The winners are chosen from a stack of promising applicants, who are challenged to describe how they will use the money to further their passion for the arts. The band members believe it’s tougher being a young person these days, and they want to recognize artistic talent, value and merit with their scholarships.

The scholarship concert is known as the band’s most collaborative event. They like to invite special guests who reflect the diversity of talent on the Twin Cities’ music scene, opening themselves up to different styles and instruments. One of this year’s guests will be trumpet player Solomon Parham: a stellar musician and teacher extraordinaire at the Walker Music Academy in St. Paul. In the early days of Heiruspecs, horns had a place of prominence, so look forward to bringing that sound back home.

For the first scholarship concert, Mayor Chris Coleman introduced the band members from the stage. Their relationship with the mayor has stayed strong over the years. Last month Heiruspecs played for Coleman’s State of the City address in the Ordway’s new performance hall downtown. Coleman acknowledged Heiruspecs not only for the lasting quality of their “good hip hop music,” but also for their solid St. Paul pride.

The current band line-up is Sean Twinkie Jiggles McPherson on bass, Chris Felix Wilbourn on raps, de Von R. Gray on keyboard, Muad’dib on raps and beatbox, Peter Leggett on drums and Josh Peterson on guitar. McPherson and Wilbourn are the two remaining founding members, graduates of Central’s class of ’97.

Other members have come and gone but the band’s connection to the Midway neighborhood has never wavered.

The first place Heiruspecs played at was Cahoot’s Coffee Bar, just down the street from Central High School. Their rehearsal space was, and still is, near the corner of University and Snelling avenues. Several of the current band members live nearby.

“When we were younger,” McPherson said, “a lot of hip hop groups from St. Paul would pretend they were from Minneapolis—but we were always proud of where we came from. Growing up in Midway, we could see that our neighborhood was one big mosaic of many different people living together, without having to be the same.”

So what about that name? Heiruspecs (pronounced high-roo-specs) is an intentional misspelling of a Latin word it closely resembles. McPherson was an earnest Latin student at Central High school in 1995, and heard the Latin word “haruspecs” in class and just liked the way it sounded. He shouted it out to Wilbourn in studio recording class that afternoon (where the original band members met). The rapper liked it too, wrote it down on his hat as he heard it—and the name just stuck.

The scholarship concert is an all ages event; you can’t be too young or too old to enjoy it. Tickets are $12 in advance or at the door (if there are any left).

Heiruspecs was featured in a recent edition of the TPT music showcase Lowertown Line. The legacy they hope for, according to McPherson, “is to be Minnesota’s ultimate hip hop band.”

It seems they have earned some high respect…

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HU to He walk

Hamline Elementary and Hamline U celebrate 125-year collaboration

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


HU to He walkCollege begins in kindergarten.

Craig Anderson, principal at Hamline Elementary, 1599 Englewood, explained that this phrase is the school’s motto. And with its connection to Hamline University, the school definitely lives up to it.

“Last year we celebrated 125 years of collaboration between Hamline University and this school,” Anderson said. “And the beauty of it is that it started with a handshake. We stand on the shoulders of many, many fantastic people. Both schools commit to be wonderful neighbors and work with each other.”

The Hamline to Hamline Collaboration entails strong connections between the college students and the elementary students that take place throughout the school year. It also includes a scholarship which started four years ago that is awarded to an individual who has at some time attended Hamline Elementary and becomes a student at Hamline University.

“Somewhere between 2005 and 2007 Rita Johnson, a professor at Hamline, won an award from the University. Part of the award was a $5,000 prize, and she donated that prize as seed money to start the scholarship fund,” Anderson said. “The scholarship could not be in place until it was endowed, and the endowment level used to be $20,000,” he continued, “and a $20,000 endowed scholarship would generate $1,000 per year for a student. So we needed to raise $20,000.”

With the $5,000 start from Johnson’s award, Hamline Elementary spent the next few years doing fundraisers and having silent auctions to reach $20,000.

The scholarship is open to any student who has attended Hamline Elementary. Anderson said the same person has received it for the last three years, as a freshman, sophomore and junior at Hamline.

“Obviously, we want it to be more. A thousand dollars is not a lot, but it does go a little way in helping the student,” Anderson said.

He noted that three years ago an idea was developed to have a Hike for the Health of the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration.

“It combines healthy living and walking with the idea that we need a little bit of money, too,” he said. “So we ask for pledges on our walk, and the kids raise money to go towards the scholarship. It’s not as much about the kids raising money as it is the community, so the teachers on this side of the street throw into the hat and the professors on the other side of the street do the same, and we encourage all the Hamline University students who work on the collaboration to donate to the scholarship fund.”

This year the walk took place on May 5, and all of the sports teams at Hamline University decided to support the hike and healthy living. They set up events on the Klas Field, and the elementary students walked from the school to Hewitt and across the street to the Field. They walked the track, and as they were walking the Hamline athletes pulled out classes to do an activity, such as relay races, hula hoops or catch and toss.

As the kids finished one activity and went back to walking, they would do another activity as it opened up.

“The hike takes place over the convocation hour at Hamline, so students and instructors are not in class,” Anderson said.

HU to HE collaborationAnderson said that both the University and the elementary school have liaisons that work on the Hamline to Hamline Collaboration.  “They get a course release so they don’t have to teach a course, but then they do have to work with the committee to keep all things collaborative between the two campuses,” he explained.

Margot Howard, who is currently working on her master’s degree at Hamline, was formerly a University liaison.

“The collaboration between the elementary school and the university was definitely one of the first in the country,” she said. “Now it’s becoming more popular. And, it doesn’t just focus on the School of Education, but involves the whole school.”

She cited as an example the School of Anthropology. The anthropology class goes to the elementary school and teaches the younger students about an archaeological dig, and then they take them to a dig on campus.

“I knew as an undergraduate I wanted to work with kids, but not as a teacher,” Howard said. She said working with the Collaboration gave her that opportunity to connect with them.
“It energizes my soul to work with kids,” she noted.

Hamline Elementary currently has its technology instructor, Jodie Wilson, serving as its liaison.

“We have pairings of students at every grade level,” Anderson stated. “Our most famous pairing is 5th grade students paired with the law school. We have law students come to Hamline Elementary and teach us all about the law process, and then our students do a mock trial, taking on all the roles over at the courtroom on the Hamline campus. There’s a Ramsey County judge who comes to preside over the proceedings. It’s just a fantastic way to learn in a real setting and see what’s available post-secondary. These are real things you can learn how to do.”

Another pairing is kindergarten students with the Hamline female gymnasts. “The girls do a big demo for them so they get to see how all the equipment works, and they get to play with, and touch, some of the equipment,” Anderson related.  He said kindergartners also get to go over to the Bush Memorial Library and listen to a story read by the Hamline University librarian.
Another program involving collaboration between the two schools is the federal work-study America Reads and America Counts.  Anderson said 70-100 college students earn their work-study by being tutors at the elementary school, working with the kids and teachers.
He added that the university’s student council has as its largest activity a college access mentorship program called Hand in Hand, similar to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“An elementary student and a university student are paired, and the Hamline student comes over to spend 45 minutes a week with a kid who is in need socially. They also hold three big events a year.”

He said the Hamline elementary students play games and talk about college access with their college mentor buddies. “We currently have about 50 pairs,” he noted.
He said one other event involves the kindergarteners going on a tour of the Hamline University campus in the spring, getting to see dorms and have some ice cream. They get a certificate for having attended their first day of college.

“We really try to instill a desire for post-secondary education,” Anderson stated. “Not necessarily just at Hamline, because we know kids have other interests; we have a fifth grade class going to St. Paul College and visiting their shop department.”

“We really are a shared campus,” he added. “Hamline University uses us for learning about education and giving its students a place to serve, and we get from them learning opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.  It really is pre-K through 16 in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.”

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