Archive | February, 2016

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Como by the Lake to keep Section 8 housing for senior complex

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

Seniors and disabled Section 8 housing residents work together to keep their homes


Roberta Vietti is wearing a brooch that belonged to her great-grandmother, who was born in 1891. “She was a very strong woman. She got divorced in the early 1900s, and you just did not do that at that time. But she persevered,” Vietti said. “And when I think of us now, I think of a group of strong women who brought energy to a task and got it done.”

Como by the Lake 3125Photo left: Roberta Vietti holds her grandmother’s brooch, a reminder to her of what strong women can accomplish. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Vietti is referring to herself and several other residents of Como by the Lake, a senior housing complex at 901 E. Como Blvd.

Last April residents received a letter from the owners of the property, 900 Como Lake Limited Partnership. The letter stated that the Section 8 contract, which provides government-subsidized housing for 57 of the building’s low-income senior and/or disabled tenants, would be allowed to expire and rents would be set at market rate. This would have made the rents unaffordable for many, and they would be faced with having to move.

But several women faced this issue head-on and fought for the tenants’ rights, and they won.

The owners had decided to sell the property, and in August the residents found out that the new owner, Aeon, a nonprofit Minneapolis-based development and management company, did not plan to end the Section 8 contract.

“We were excited about Aeon getting this, but we knew that a deal isn’t done until the deal is done,” continued Vietti. “We were delighted at the news in August, but we know things can happen. We just held on, putting together what we could and looking toward the future. And then when Jan. 4 rolled around (the date the deal was finalized) we went ‘Whew!’”

Como by the Lake 3124 sliderPhoto right: The women behind the effort at Como by the Lake gather together. Standing, l to r, are Janet Troutman Simmons and Elaine Linehan. Seated, l to r, are Roberta Vietti, Shirley Williams and Laurie Richardson. (Photo by Jan Willms)

“When we heard Aeon was the new owner back in August,” said Janet Troutman Simmons, who is the chair of the board of the Como by the Lake Residents Association, “we were quite excited because it was a nonprofit company. We felt they would listen to the kinds of concerns we had, something the previous owners had not been interested in.”

She said the residence board is in the process of being formalized, with a chair, secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer.

“When we started we did it so quickly, with only a chair and committees, in order for us to move and develop a campaign.”

After the original letter had gone out to tenants, Troutman Simmons and Laurie Richardson became the primary contacts with the owners. “We were the most outspoken, asking questions of the owners,” Richardson said. “We were trying to make them accountable. We very quickly formed a residents association so we could stay ahead of what the owners were doing.”

Richardson, who is younger than the rest, but disabled, has been named as an honorary board member.

“Laurie has a lot of background in working with people in the community,” Troutman Simmons said. She was dispatched to contact legislators, state and federal agencies, and representatives. Vietti, Shirley Williams and Elaine Linehan were also enlisted to help, and the group of women pressed forward.

A community meeting was held right after the original owners decided to sell.
“We felt the neighborhood needed to know what is going on with the building because it affects them,” Richardson stated.

Packets of information were sent out, and Ward 5 Council Member Amy Brendmoen, Ward 5 candidate David Glass and Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman provided assistance.

And HOME Line, a nonprofit Minnesota tenant advocacy organization, stepped in to assist.

Richardson was concerned that the housing might be turned into an all-age building. “There is already a lot of family housing in the neighborhood,” she said, “but there is not enough senior and disabled housing around, especially that is affordable.” She said the group fought for a good, safe environment to live in.

“The reason we fought for that, and backed Aeon, is that they promised they would keep it what it is,” she said. As well as just a residence, Como by the Lake offers a Block Nurse program and a senior lunch program. By moving, the residents would lose out on all of these offerings.

Richardson and Troutman Simmons met with Aeon. “They had a lot of questions, and they liked us because we have a community here, and we banded together,” Richardson noted. “We had things going on that they were willing to keep in the building.”

Linehan said she remembers what it was like when the letters about losing Section 8 first went out. “Everybody was scared, and the whole building just became quiet.”
Now, she said, Aeon is willing to work on issues that need to be addressed, such as any mold in the system. New maintenance people are being brought in.

“A number of issues had to be dealt with once Aeon took over, but we wanted to work with them and not micromanage what they are doing because it does not make for good relationships,” Troutman Simmons said.

She said that as well as formalizing the board, committees are being set up such as a building support committee and an arts and entertainment committee.

Looking back on what has happened, Williams said her biggest concern had been for the morale of the people who lived here.

“I was proud when they asked me to join the group trying to save the building because I know what it feels like to be looking for a home. Most people who moved in here moved in to stay, not just for a couple of days or weeks or months. They were worried they had to find another home, and that didn’t feel good at all.”

Williams said that after looking at what has happened and all the people it has affected, and the people it has drawn to their plight, she is proud and thankful for what was accomplished.

“Some of those who moved out early wish they had stayed now, but that’s what fear does,” she said.

Troutman Simmons said the group is hoping to write a history of the resident association’s beginning, and what they went through. “It’s amazing that we only took six or seven months to accomplish our goal. We can’t believe it ourselves.”
She said that when the situation first started, she contacted friends in Massachusetts to see how they were dealing with problems with landlords or losing Section 8 housing.

“They told me they were just trying to find other programs for people to transfer into,” she said. “I told them they should be doing everything they could to help people stay where they were.”

“I figured then they wouldn’t be any help,” she joked.”We would just have to fend for ourselves.”

Netsanet Negussie, an intern who works with HOME Line, said this was the organization’s first project with Section 8 tenants. “We just let them know their rights, and they did all the work themselves.”

The women sang the praises of HOME Line, saying the organization was there for them whenever needed.

Negussie said similar situations are happening throughout the metro. The women from Como by the Lake said they hoped their stand would serve as an example to other tenant groups that they could fight to preserve their rights.

“We are here, and we have issues with the way people are being treated,” added Troutman Simmons. “We have to have a voice.”

Their activism has led them further into community participation. Richardson is planning to run for a position in District 10, one of Saint Paul’s 17 citizen participation districts. And Troutman Simmons has been invited to sit on the board for Aeon.

“We have shown how people can come together,” Richardson said.

“Roberta and I said we would show them that you don’t mess with old people,” Linehan said with a smile.

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Midway YMCA Executive Director honored for dedicated service

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

Article and photo by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

A routine board meeting at the Midway YMCA ended with a big surprise for Executive Director David Dominick last week. Exiting the meeting, he walked into the lobby and was greeted by fellow employees, friends and supporters from across the Twin Cities. It was the culmination, board member Glen Gunderson said, “of one of the very few well-kept secrets at the YMCA.”

YMCA 14Photo left: Board member Glen Gunderson (left) was in charge of the “covert mission” that resulted in a commemorative bronze bust of Midway YMCA Executive Director David Dominick (right). The mission was so secret, it required code names and surreptitious communication to keep Dominick from finding out.

With independent funds raised outside of the YMCA, Lutsen, MN sculptor Tom Christiansen was hired to make a bronze bust of Dominick. The gathering was organized to honor Dominick, and to unveil the sculpture of him that will stand permanently in the YMCA’s entry way.

“I am completely surprised and speechless,” Dominick said at the unveiling,

Others, however, had plenty to say.

Erika Schwichtenberg of Ally People Solutions, said, ”David is a tireless member of our board of directors. I’ve known him for years through leadership work in the community. He has been actively involved in the St. Paul Sunrise Rotary Club, the Midway and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce, and the St. Paul Midway Lions Club.”

“In the 13 years he has been executive director of the Midway YMCA,” Schwichtenberg continued, “David has been inspiring, fearless even, in asking for what he thought this community needs. David’s vision is this place – not just this beautiful, new building, but the sense of community we have here.”

Dominick’s partner Joe Keenan echoed that, saying, “David has the natural gifts of leadership, and he especially loves urban work. People may not know that he’s a former mayor of his hometown, Muncie, Indiana, and that he was elected at the tender age of 31.”

According to the Muncie Star Press, Dominick was “a mayor for the whole community. He revitalized community events ranging from the Muncie Black Expo to the local Soap Box Derby. Two ground-breaking events happened during his term in the early 90’s: the city voted in its first African American deputy mayor and selected its first African-American police chief.”

When Dominick took the job of executive director, he was told the old Midway YMCA building would soon be torn down. In the 13 years it took for that to happen, Dominick and his staff were able to clarify their vision of what the new building would become.

There’s an art to balancing practical visioning with good old-fashioned fun, and Dominick understands that. When demolition of the building was finally imminent, YMCA members were given crayons and markers to draw on the walls and were allowed to bring their dogs to the pool for a final swim.

As part of the sculpture dedication, board member Lowry Smith (a YMCA member since 1962) said, “David epitomizes friendly service and leadership. There is no one person who has been so deeply involved in the evolution of our YMCA as David Dominick, and for that, we are extremely grateful.”

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MN ADOPT provides referrals, education, and support after adoption

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

MN ADOPT logo state_coloredBy MARIA A. HERD

One out of every thirty-five children in the United States is adopted, according to the Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research and policy organization based in New York.

But once a child is adopted, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. That’s where MN ADOPT, 777 Raymond Ave., comes in.

“We have come to realize that finding homes for kids isn’t enough. These families need support; these kids have had pretty substantial and traumatic histories,” said Rachel Walstad, the Executive Director of MN ADOPT.

MN ADOPT is not your traditional adoption organization agency. Instead, they collaborate with other agencies, connecting them with interested parents, and then provide on-going support for families.

MN ADOPT - Angels in Adoption PhotoPhoto left: Emily Alewine (left), HELP Program Manager & Clinical Specialist and MN ADOPT Executive Director Rachel Walstad in Washington DC accepting their award at the Angels in Adoption Award Ceremony. (Photo submitted)

Walstad likes to think of MN ADOPT’s role as bookends to the adoption process. “On the front end we answer questions, encourage parents to explore that option and consider adoption,” she said.

Then on the post-adoption side, they give life-long support to families by providing parenting training, referrals to therapists and organizations, and sponsoring fun events for adopted children.

The organization’s mission is to provide services and resources to all types of adoptive families—including domestic infant, international, kinship and foster care—to help sustain successful adoptions. The organization is distinct in that its services are open to all adoptive families, whereas the majority of similar organizations in other states are focused on foster adoptions only.

“That we provide equally to all families is unique, and a testament to the state understanding that all adoptive families have needs,” said Walstad.

In 1980 MN ADOPT was founded in a basement by a group of parents who saw a need to support adopted children. Since then, the organization has been located in suburbs as well as downtown Minneapolis. But the organization has been working out of the Midway, at 777 Raymond Ave., since June.

The organization is funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and also receives a small amount of individual and corporate donations.

Therapeutic Support
Three clinical therapists who specialize in adoption, trauma and attachment operate MN ADOPT’s warm line to offer verbal support to families.

If a family needs additional support, staff provide tailored referrals to therapists based on location, health insurance and the challenges that the family is experiencing. MN ADOPT also refers its callers to educational and community resources that might be helpful.

“It’s a very good resource for adoptive parents who don’t know where to turn. I had no idea what to do with my kids; it was a very bad time. I needed direction,” said one parent in a testimonial. “MN ADOPT helped me find a therapist and they helped talk me through what was going on. Any parent who might be in the same spot would appreciate their help.”

In the first fiscal quarter of this year, MN ADOPT had 85 intakes, the term for “having that in-depth conversation with a family and providing them with those tailored options,” explained Emily Alewine, the HELP Program Manager and Clinical Specialist at MN ADOPT.

Not only do parents reach out to MN ADOPT, but social workers, school nurses and lawyers will also call seeking guidance on issues that can arise with adoption.

“The workers in this program are quick to respond with options and ideas which help the adoptive parents locate services, education and support. There continues to be a high need for this type of program in Minnesota to help prevent disruptions for children,” said an agency social worker in a testimonial.

Parenting Training
“All of these children have an over-arching theme of having hard beginnings, and having different experiences in their life that really require a well prepared and well supported environment,” said Alewine.

To assist parents in providing that supportive environment, MN ADOPT holds trainings in-person and via webinar for anyone to tune in throughout Minnesota. Lead by local and nationally recognized adoption experts, training topics include children’s mental health, parent-focused strategies, racial identity, attachment information, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, complex trauma, grief and loss, and sexual abuse.

In addition, two ongoing training series are offered throughout the year and in various locations around the state. Alewine refers to the ten session series called Beyond Consequences as one of the most helpful trainings for parents with children who have experienced hard beginnings and early trauma.

“There are different approaches that need to take place to connect with those children and help them thrive, and help families become a cohesive group, where traditional parenting typically does not work,” she said.

Beyond Consequences provides alternate strategies and hands-on tools for parenting these children.

In the last few months, Walstad estimates MN ADOPT has trained an average of 70 parents a month.

MN ADOPT also connects parents facing similar issues to build peer support.
“A lot of families contact us and say that they’re isolated and no one understands what they’re experiencing,” said Alewine. “We help normalize what they’re going through and help create that stronger base of support so that it isn’t isolating.”
Angles in Adoption Award
Last fall, MN ADOPT was nominated by Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Tom Emmer for the Angels in Adoption award which honors individuals, couples and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions on the behalf of children in need of families.

MN ADOPT & Amy Klobuchar - Angels in Adoption AwardPhoto right (l to r): Emily Alewine, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar  and Rachel Walstad in Washington DC at the Angels in Adoption Award Ceremony. (Photo submitted)

The award comes from the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute, a Washington DC-based, non-profit organization that works to raise awareness about the needs of children without families, and to remove policy barriers that hinder children from joining adoptive families.

“MN ADOPT has worked for over 30 years helping Minnesotan children find loving homes with nurturing families,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar in a statement to the Midway Como Monitor. “This incredible organization stands as a powerful example of the good that can be done when we work together to support families pre-and post-adoption.”

Walstad and Alewine traveled to Washington D.C. in October for the for Angels in Award ceremony.

“The award was a great honor on our end, but also very validating to know that the type of stuff that we’re trying to do is very progressive by looking at the holistic needs of these children and families,” said Alewine.

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Lyrebird Young Women’s Choir starts second session

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

On Sunday nights from 7-8:30, a dozen young women grades 9-12 gather at Chanson Voice and Music Academy, 795 Raymond Ave. They’ve been together since last fall, in an ensemble called the Lyrebird Young Women’s Choir.

Lyrebird Choir 02Under the direction of Anika Kildegaard and Cassandra McNally, the choir has taken flight with a Metropolitan Regional Arts Grant. The intention of the co-directors was to establish a financially accessible choral program for young women, and with the MRAC grant, they’ve been able to do just that.

Photo left: Choir co-directors Anika Kildegaard (left) and Cassandra McNally (right).

Tuition is payable on a sliding scale, ranging from $20-$150 per five-month semester. Any young woman with an interest in singing is welcome to join; neither lack of funds nor lack of experience is an obstacle.

The Lyrebird Young Women’s Choir exists to challenge and encourage young women singers and to celebrate the wealth of talented female composers in Minnesota.

Lyrebird Choir 07Photo right: Kildegaard directed the Lyrebird Young Women’s Choir on a Sunday night rehearsal. She said, “Singing with a group creates a beauty unlike anything else.”

In its first semester, four significant Minnesota women composers were able to work with the choir. Kildegaard met Libby Larson, one of Minnesota’s pre-eminent composers, at a music festival. “I took a chance and asked Libby, and she was very excited to get involved with Lyrebird,” Kildegaard said.

Other notable composers who worked with the ensemble were Jocelyn Hagen, Catherine Dalton, Elizabeth Alexander and Linda Tutas Haugen. “There’s such a bounty of music by Minnesota women,” McNally said, “that we could keep this focus going for years.”

Each composer shared their musical gifts and their personal stories. They came to composing from many backgrounds—but all shared one common element. “Each felt the continual pull to write music; a pull that just wouldn’t let go,” Mcnally said.
Singing with a group is a very different experience than singing alone. Each voice contributes to something greater than itself, and the chorus would be slightly less without the contribution of each singer. One of the best things about singing in a choir is being part of a community. Singers learn to be team members, to work well with others both on and off the singing stage.

“We’ve been amazed by how quickly the young women have formed a sense of community,” Kildegaard said. “You can see it when a new student joins. The others are warm and welcoming, and when they sing, there’s a real strength in being surrounded by other young women’s voices.”

The co-directors met as instructors at Chanson Voice and Music Academy.

Kildegaard graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in vocal performance. She has sung locally with Vocal Essence, the Minnesota Chorale and Magpies and Ravens, an ensemble composed of half professional and half high school singers.

McNally earned both her B.S. and M.A. in vocal performance from the University of Iowa. She has sung locally with the Minnesota Opera, the Mill City Opera and Mixed Precipitation, a troupe that brings opera, food and outdoor fun to parks and gardens throughout Minnesota in the summer months.

Lyrebird Choir 11Photo left: Students practice technical warm-ups to learn to use their voices skillfully.

The Lyrebird Young Women’s Choir will be working toward a May 21 performance at the Danish American Center this semester. There are still openings for aspiring young women singers. To schedule a visit or to get more information, call 612-630-1599.

Also, there is a Lyrebird Youth Choir for girls, grades 6-8, that meets on Sunday afternoons at Chanson from 5-6:30. There is no sliding scale for tuition for this choir.

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Family Skating Party and Bonfire Photos

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Calvin

On Jan. 22, Northwest Como held their Family Skating Party and Bonfire. Families could skate, cross country ski and snow shoe. And, as evidenced by the photos, everyone seemed to have a wonderful time! (Photos submitted)

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