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TCGIS likely to tear down former St. Andrew’s Church

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Calvin

The church closed in 2011, and the building has been used by the school since 2013 as an auditorium and gymnasium

The Twin Cities German Immersion School (TCGIS) is likely to tear down the former St. Andrew church building and replace it with a new addition.

Photo left: AThe former church building needs at least $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing. (Photo submitted)

The school has been evaluating solutions to its space needs for about a year as it realized it was outgrowing the buildings on site.

When the school moved to 1031 Como Ave. in 2013, it added a building to connect the existing classrooms and church, and converted the former church sanctuary into a multi-purpose gym and auditorium. The updated space is referred to as Aula or the auditorium.

However, a study of various alternatives concluded that replacing the 1927 Aula with a new, three-level structure is more cost effective than retrofitting the existing Byzantine-Romanesque structure. That building needs at least $1.2 million in repairs and upgrades, including a new roof, boiler, windows, doors, insulation, and tuck-pointing.

The school’s facilities task force also explored the possibilities of renting space across the street in the long-term and acquiring the Mission Orthodox Presbyterian church property, neither of which proved possible. Members also studied moving into other school buildings.

Loss of Aula ‘not taken lightly’
Although she says she will miss the Aula, TCGIS school parent Linda Alhaus says that the removal of the Aula to construct a new building designed explicitly for TCGIS students seems to be the most logical option.

Illustration right: A very preliminary sketch of the possible expanded Twin Cities German Immersion School campus. (Graphic submitted)

“The loss of the Aula is not taken lightly,” remarked Alhaus, who lives in Minneapolis. “I love that building and have many pictures of my children in front of it. I’m slowly coming around to the idea that spending over a million dollars in the next couple of years to save a building that is not energy efficient doesn’t make sense.”

She added, “Adding a third layer in that footprint is a better option than giving up treasured outdoor space.”

School leaders began meeting with potential contractors in March and intend to lock in plans within a month, begin construction in summer 2019, and finish by the end of that year.

At an estimated $4 million, the new addition will have about 23,000 square feet on three levels, and would offer space designed specifically as a gymnasium and cafeteria. It also is likely to add eight classrooms and additional office space.

The plan does not significantly increase the existing building footprint.

According to the District 10 website, plans initially included purchasing the single-family house at 1042 Van Slyke, tearing it down, and using the lot for “outdoor space” or additional off-street parking. Facility Chair Nic Ludwig, the parent of two TCGIS students and a seven-year resident of the neighborhood, told District 10 on March 28 that the school has since cancelled that contingent purchase agreement.

Photo left: The preliminary plan also called for replacing a parking lot with possible green space. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

The plan also included examining the possibility of using the Como Pool parking lot for staff parking. The pool option would need city approval, but could reduce the need for parking lots adjacent to the school and nearby homes.

After District 10 posted the plans to their Facebook page, a discussion began with opinions ranging from a desire to keep the old church building to a recognition that the school needs more space.

“I understand the local community appreciates the beauty of the building, as do I,” said Alhaus. “We are a public school, with a public school budget, so we have to be mindful of making smart financial decisions. Our utmost priority is educating students and making decisions that are in the best interest of these students.”

School over capacity
Now in its fifth year on the Como Ave. site, TCGIS is experiencing its first year of being over its designed capacity, according to TCGIS Executive Director Ted Anderson.

The Como Ave. site was built for 23 individual class sections and 560 pupils. This year, the school has 24 class sections and more than 525 pupils. TCGIS projects enrollment to top out between 615 and 630 in the next three to four years.

The tuition-free, K-8 German Immersion School opened its doors in the fall of 2005, and moved its 370 students to the former St. Andrew’s church and parochial site in 2013. The St. Paul parish had closed in 2011, and its convent and rectory were demolished.

“Our need is to create space for both current programs and a very defined increase in enrollment—from our current level of roughly 550 to our projected capacity of 615-630,” said Anderson. “We are not adding any grade levels.”

TCGIS intends to add three additional sections in grades 6-8, but the school is not expanding beyond three classes per grade. Nearly all of the new students at TCGIS are kindergarteners.

Anderson says the growth is primarily the result of unusually high retention rates; in other words, once families enroll in the school, they don’t leave.

TCGIS is a public school, but it is not part of St. Paul Public Schools.

“While TCGIS serves students from throughout the Twin Cities, around 250 are St. Paul residents. Add Falcon Heights and Roseville and over 300 of our kids come from pretty close by,” pointed out Ludwig. “Around 130 kids are from Minneapolis.”

Upcoming meetings planned
“As they consider how to accommodate the growing number of interested students,” said Ward 5 Council Member Amy Brendmoen (photo left provided), who lives nearby, “we must work together and wade through the complex issues involved. I’ll be listening and working closely with my neighbors and members of the school community to help find a mutually beneficial solution.”

Her office has received calls from citizens regarding the proposal to tear down the church.

“In addition to concern about the loss of the church building, there are concerns about growth in the school including noise and increased car traffic during drop-off and pick-up times,” she pointed out.

District 10 Community Council’s Land Use Committee anticipated hearing about the project at its Wed., May 2, 7pm meeting. Check the District 10 website for further details.

“I believe we can find a mutually beneficial solution to the school’s space needs if both neighbors and the school are willing to work together,” stated Brendmoen.

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Kathy3DBookLargeTransparen slidert

Hamline-Midway mom writes a book on homeschooling

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Calvin

‘Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits’ supports families as they make the transition from conventional schooling

Hamline-Midway resident Kathy Oaks (photo right provided) has just released a book to help new homeschoolers get started.

Oaks wrote “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” to support families as they make the transition from conventional schooling to something completely different, bringing fun, mindfulness, and flexibility to the adventure of homeschooling.

“Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” includes the history of both homeschooling and compulsory schooling, how to talk to naysaying relatives, how to keep your patience, how to make learning fun, and why homeschoolers generally are not hermits and are not worried about the “socialization” question. It also includes things like covering sex ed, finding free or inexpensive resources, and why many colleges like homeschooled students.

Oaks uses an informal and easy-to-read style as she shares about the educational format she knows so well.

One of her best friends at university was homeschooled, so Oaks started out with a good impression of homeschooling. When her oldest son was a baby, Oaks read lots of books on child development.

“Then I read John Taylor Gatto’s ‘Dumbing Us Down’ essay, based on the speech he gave for his New York City Teacher of the Year award. That made me think very differently about the education I had received, especially since my husband and I were both overachievers in school,” commented Oaks.

“The more I read, the more I felt that homeschooling was the way I wanted to go.”

What they enjoy about homeschooling
Oaks moved into the neighborhood in 2006 to be near Hamline University, since her husband teaches chemistry there. In 2011, she earned the Neighborhood Honor Roll Helping Hands award for hosting the Hamline-Midway Barter Market for several years.

The family has grown to three children, and all are homeschooled: Michael age 14, Benjamin age 11, and Simon age 6.

“I most enjoy watching the kids learning with gusto, choosing their interests, and being motivated to learn all about them,” remarked Oaks.

“I can learn at my own pace, as fast or as slow as I want, and don’t have to get up early to go to school,” said Michael. “There is more time to do other fun stuff like playing piano and doing things with my homeschool groups like book arts, board games, and woodworking.”

“It gives me time to do what I want with who I want,” stated Benjamin. “I can learn about Greek mythology or the Crusades whenever I want to.”

Simon said his favorite thing is all the good books. He enjoys being able to do electronics in kindergarten, and he loves being able to take road trips when other kids are in school.

Each of the kids sees homeschool fitting them as students in different ways. For Michael, it’s having a really small math class where he feels comfortable asking and answering complicated questions. Benjamin appreciates being able to learn at his own pace and deciding what alleys of learning to go down, such as the Punic Wars, and finding YouTube channels that actually make the Punic Wars interesting.

Tips for those starting out
Oaks offers these tips to families just starting out as homeschoolers:
• Relax. Do your best and don’t stress about it.
• Trust yourself and your kids. If you feel homeschooling will be best for your family, don’t let naysayers stop you.
• Don’t try to recreate school at home. Instead, create together what will be the best way to learn for your family.
• Keep your long-term goals in mind. What kind of people do you want your kids to be and what kind of relationship do you want to have with them?
• Be flexible. Things often don’t go the way we expect them to, and kids grow and change. Being ready to change with them will help.
• Look for help. Join groups online and find local groups that suit you. Veteran homeschoolers are happy to offer advice. The Homeschool Adventures site is a great place to start—HSAdventures.org.

Oaks has volunteered for several years with Homeschool Adventures, a homeschool support group that offers information on group activities and events, plus field trips and homeschool groups. She also helps organize classes for homeschoolers, including chemistry labs taught by her husband Tom Anderson and math classes taught by Judy O’Neill.

The biggest misconception out there about homeschoolers, according to Oaks, is that homeschoolers are hermits, doing school-at-home, and sitting around for eight hours at desks with nobody else to talk to or play with. That’s not what it actually looks like, she said.

“We take classes, both with other homeschoolers and those that are open to anyone,” remarked Oaks. “We go on field trips and take museum tours and have playgroups. Our two oldest boys have been involved in theater productions for the past two years with our secular homeschool co-op, Planet Homeschool.”

Another big misconception is that people homeschool only for religious reasons. “Plenty of people homeschool for educational reasons, health reasons, even social and emotional reasons,” explained Oaks. “The homeschool community is seeing more and more people who are pulling one child out of school because school just isn’t working for that child, even when it’s working fine for the siblings.”

School on the road
Kathy Oaks and family are among those who enjoy schooling on the go, commonly called “roadschooling,” and Oaks recently presented a workshop on roadschooling during the Minnesota Homeschoolers Alliance annual convention.

Oaks learned to love travel with her parents, who owned a VW camper van and took the family camping all over the United States. They also lived abroad when her parents took sabbatical leaves from university.

“I had a great time taking road trips as a young adult, but was very intimidated to take small kids on the road,” admitted Oaks. “It was my mother who proposed a road trip with just me and the boys (we had two at the time), and showed me that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”

The family has been taking road trips every year since then, at least one and sometimes two.

Photo right: Kathy Oaks and her family at the Grand Canyon National Park. (l to r) Kathy Oaks, Tom Anderson, Simon, Benjamin, and Michael Anderson Oaks. They enjoy roadschooling throughout the country. (Photo submitted)

“My best tip is not to overdo it,” recommended Oaks. “Lots of people think about road trips and imagine 12-hour days and screaming kids.

We often stop, checking out free rest areas, visitor information spots, and parks. We also stop early, only driving 250-350 miles a day, and get a hotel with a pool or a camping spot with hiking available.”

The family takes advantage of their science museum membership, which gets them into other museums all over the country. “Last year we also made sure to get our fourth grader his free National Parks pass from everykidinapark.gov and took two trips to the four corners states to see 17 national parks and monuments,” said Oaks. “We were determined to get every ounce of value out of that card!”

Simon likes listening to music on trips, sleeping in different beds in hotel rooms, and trying new foods.

Benjamin observed, “It gives me the opportunity to see what life is like in other environments.”

Michael agreed. “I like discovering all kinds of interesting places that I didn’t know existed until we went there,” he said.

Book available on Kindle
Oaks’ book is currently available on Kindle and will be available in paperback by mid-May. A free homeschooling resource kit for new homeschoolers, including road trip resources, is available online with every purchase. It includes her roadschooling talk transcript and video, plus car trip activities, a packing list, and a camping packing list.

More at HomeschoolersNotHermits.com/book.

Next up for Oaks will be the “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits Online Resource Guide,” a compilation of the family’s favorite websites, YouTube channels, games, learning activities, and resources such as the science museum membership benefits, educator discounts, and the Every Kid In A Park pass.

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Marathon Man 05

Marathon man still running strong in his 70’s

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Calvin

Long distance runner John Concannon (photo right by Margie O’Loughlin) is on a mission. The resident of Lyngblomsten Apartments, a retirement community in Como, plans to run a marathon in every state before he dies. A marathon, for those who don’t know, is a 26.2-mile foot race. This year, between his 70th and 71st birthdays, he plans to complete four.

Last October, Concannon ran the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, Massachusetts (his 45th). In January, he traveled to Baton Rouge and ran the Louisiana Marathon (his 46th). In a couple of weeks, he’ll lace up for the Hogeye Marathon in Fayetteville, Arkansas (his 47th). In September, he’ll travel to Nebraska for the running of the Omaha Marathon (his 48th). Next year’s destinations haven’t been finalized, but Concannon knows this. He’ll return to Ireland, the country of his birth, to run his 50th marathon in 2019.

Concannon was born in the village of Timree, Ireland, in 1947. “We grew up poor, on a farm that had no running water or electricity,” he said. “I was the oldest of six kids. I had to quit school at 13 to help support my family by going to work for a blacksmith. I was never a natural athlete, but I’ve been physically active all my life. As a kid, I loved playing two of Ireland’s national sports: hurling and Gaelic football.”

“When I was 16,” Concannon explained, “one of my aunts sponsored our family’s immigration to Boston. Although I hadn’t been formally schooled for three years, I tested into the 11th grade and was the strongest student in American history, geography, and political science. The teachers didn’t quite understand me, but they could tell that I knew my stuff.”

Concannon has learned some stuff about the sport of running along the way too. He said, ”Running has been a vital part of my recovery from alcoholism and my overall health. I decided to quit drinking in April 1994 and ran my first marathon, the Twin Cities Marathon, in October of that same year. When I crossed the finish line, I felt so great that I knew I’d never drink again. I limped away, and every muscle in my body hurt for a week—but I decided then and there to keep running marathons until the day I drop.”

“I didn’t know much about running or how to train when I ran my first marathon,” he said. “If somebody asked me now, I’d tell them to start with 5K races. Work your way up to half marathons, and take your time. See if you can cover 20 miles in a walk/run combination once a month for a while before you even think of running a marathon.”

“At the age of 70,” Concannon said, “I don’t worry about my time at all; I focus on distance, not speed. If I feel something pull or tweak in my legs or back, I just start walking. I train year round because I love running. I don’t own a car, so I walk two miles each way to the gym to run on the treadmill several times a week. If somebody asked me what my philosophy of exercise was, I guess I’d say just to keep moving. If you don’t use something regularly, whether its brains or muscles, you’re going to lose it.”

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Nick Perez

Como family happy with the decision to go with solar power

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Calvin

Como resident Nick Perez (photo right by Jan Willms) and his wife were looking for ways to improve the environment and also for different energy profits. “We always try to be conscientious about environmental concerns,” Perez said, “but we also wanted to see where we could get the most bang for our buck.”

He said they started looking at all the solar energy companies in the city and ended up selecting All Energy Solar.

“With the political climate we are in, we knew there might be a limited time we could get the maximum amount of rebates,” Perez noted. “If we were going to do it, we needed to do it now,”

He got on the phone, called the company and said he would like to get an estimate done.

“They looked at our house online, the slant of our roof, the amount of tree coverage, and gave us an estimate,” Perez continued. He said he had already cut down some trees, so he knew he had more sunlight coverage.

“We set up an appointment for a representative to come out, and I was rushing around, picking up laundry,” Perez said with a chuckle. “We have three kids, and there was laundry all over.”

As he answered the knock at the door, Perez was pleasantly surprised. The woman who came out from All Energy Solar was someone Perez had attended high school with 20 years earlier. ”St. Small is what we call that,” Perez said. ”She did a quick estimate and said we could probably compromise our electricity by 43 percent, and that was just putting solar panels on our south-facing garage roof.” They decided to go ahead with a full inspection, go through all the steps and get the project started.

Perez said he did put on a new roof because to install solar panels the roof must be in good condition.

The project started at the end of last summer, and by Dec. 17 Xcel was at the Perez residence doing a test. “The guy scraped a little snow off the roof, went up there and found we were making energy,” Perez said.

Perez has 14 solar panels on his garage, which is about 80 feet from his house.

“They dug up my backyard and put underground piping from my house to the garage. They added a couple of breakers to my breaker box,” Perez said. “That process took two weeks. Everything was almost 100 percent seamless.”

Perez said only one minor glitch happened, which was not the mistake of the power company. “One day my refrigerator was not working because one of the wires got disconnected. It was replaced, and we were done.”

Perez said one of the main benefits of going solar was supplementing some of the electricity the family uses. “My house is mainly electric,” he said. “Adding more electricity makes sense.” He said that the process removes a certain amount of carbon from the ozone and at the same time saves money.

“You are under construction for a time, and you have to have your permits pulled. Everything had to be 100 percent up to 2018 code. I had my basement renovated, so I knew my house was up to code.”

He said it was possible the panels could be an eyesore, depending on where they are located. “Since ours are on the back end of our alley, you don’t even see them.”

Perez said he is in a 10-year contract with the energy company, which could be affected if he wants to make changes or move. “That could be stressful, but you get rebates every year,” he added.

Perez said tree coverage is a big factor in installing the solar panels, but once they are up on the roof, the sky’s the limit.

Perez said his total project cost $17,000, but with the rebates he will get, it only cost him $7,000.

“Over ten years, that’s not that much,” he noted. “Winter is my high energy time,” he explained. He said the summer is when money is made on energy savings. But he has already started saving on his energy bills. “This winter I have used $500 worth of energy, but bought only $414 worth, so I have saved $85,” he said.

Perez said he also uses apps to track his energy usage and savings. “One of the greatest apps I have ever seen is a website All Energy Solar connected us with,” he said. “I can see exactly how much energy is being used in my home. I can see when the kids put something in the microwave.”

Perez said he found another app on his own that lets him measure the amount of energy he makes through using the solar panels. For example, in January he made over 200-kilowatt hours.

“It all comes down to how the sun hits your roof,” he said. “You need a south-facing angle where the sun comes in. And your roof needs to be up to date.” However, even if your roof is not at the right angle, solar energy companies can work around that, placing them in yards or on carports.

“There are also programs where they do a bunch of solar panels out in a field. They call them farmings, and the panels absorb the sun all day,” Perez said.

He said that employing solar panels for energy use can change one’s lifestyle. “You make yourself conscious of it,” he claimed. “It makes you think about how much energy you are actually using. I can check my app and see how much I used, how much I made and how much I netted. It has changed how we live in our house.” He said the family tries to unplug computers or toasters or television sets when they are not in use.

Perez said he was very pleased with the responsiveness of the solar energy company he used. He liked the ability to take power into his own hands. “I’m an off the grid kind of person, and being bound to Xcel is just another thing that grabs you,” he said. “You can try to save some money.”

Getting other people to try and use solar energy is a goal Perez strives for. “I can give the elevator speech in 30 seconds as to why they should do it,” he said.

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AuSM Ellie Wilson

Midway-based AuSM works to improve lives in Minnesota

Posted on 09 April 2018 by Calvin

Autism Society of Minnesota offers education, support groups, events, convention, and more

Under the helm of a new director, the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) is working to improve the lives of those on the spectrum and educate those around them.

Based at 2380 Wycliff St., AuSM was started by parents as a grassroots organization in 1971. The initial goals were to make sure their kids were understood and recognized in school and all facets of the community.

Today, that’s expanded to represent a broad spectrum and a wide age range. In addition to providing education to parents, AuSM is also committed to connecting people to strategize about autism. Classes are offered for parents, teachers, emergency responders, doctors, business owners, community members and more. Last year, 2,200 people were trained by AuSM.

“We have a very broad and rich diversion of services,” stated AuSM Executive Director Ellie Wilson (photo right provided). “We want to be there for families, but we also want to be out there changing the landscape.”

“It’s a great organization and why I’m trying to give back as a board member,” stated Paul D’Arco, who has a son with autism.

Why work in this field?
Thirteen years ago, Wilson worked as a camp counselor at Camp Knutson in Cross Lake, MN. When the camp for kids with autism began, “it was a like a light bulb went off,” recalled Wilson. “Everything has been about autism since that day.”

She has considered going to medical school like her parents but changed her career plans to focus on autism, disabilities, and public health, learning everything she could about this disorder. As the pieces began to fit together, she realized her place belonged in advocacy work so that she could focus on the big picture.

Wilson was hired as the Executive Director of the Autism Society of Minnesota in October 2017.

“It’s been an incredible privilege for me,” she said.

What is autism anyway?
“Autism is what we call a developmental disability,” observed Wilson. “You have it from the time you are born, and it affects how your brain develops.”
She added, “All of us develop a little differently anyway. What seems to happen with autism is that development has even more variation.”

Differences show up in how people process information and what their perceptions are.

“Because of these differences, we see differences in behavior, specifically how people contribute and how they interact socially,” said Wilson.

Photo left: Over 1,000 people attended the Steps of Hope for Autism in Minnesota 2018 fundraising walk held at Southdale Center in March 2018. The free event is also a resource fair. (Photo submitted)

April is National Autism Month. Autism is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 68 individuals, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Autism is five times more prevalent in boys than in girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of a child having autism.

Autism is a “spectrum disorder,” which means that characteristics and level of support needed are unique to each autistic individual.

While more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism, that doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer girls are affected, observed Wilson. In fact, it could be that girls are exhibiting the same signs, but because of what society expects girls to be (more shy, for example), it doesn’t send up the same flags as with little boys who are supposed to be boisterous.

“Cultural biases are affecting the pattern,” said Wilson.

One of the oldest myths out there about autism is that people on the spectrum aren’t interested in social interactions and prefer isolation, pointed out Wilson.
“I have never known anything to be less true,” stated Wilson. “It’s more like wanting to play a game, but not necessarily being able to understand the rules.”

She pointed out that the behavior of those who aren’t on the spectrum is dictated by social conventions that develop early. Children have a natural instinct to mimic others. Kids and adults on the autism spectrum can’t do that.

“Everyone I know with autism wants relationships, wants to be successful,” said Wilson. “But it’s like they’re not reading the same playbook sometimes.”

Another misconception about the disorder is that everybody needs to present the same way.

AuSM is working to promote more acceptance of the “neurodiversity” in people, or the idea that not everybody is the same.

“We all think and process in a different way. That’s ok,” said Wilson. “And often, that’s good.”

In some ways, autism can be an invisible disorder, pointed out D’Arco. His son has no real visible disability, so they’ve experienced some misunderstandings and negative comments by others.

D’Arco thinks that sometimes others don’t give his son the opportunity or stretch him to the extent he could go because of his autism.

“It’s really our job as parents, and his as he self-advocates, to give him opportunities,” stated D’Arco.

He hopes that other people focus more on what his son can do rather than his disability.

What sets AuSM apart?
AuSM works to support people with autism throughout their lifespan. Many get diagnosed these days when they are between 3-5 years old, and many programs focus on early intervention and support up through age 20. There are fewer programs available as a person with autism ages.

“Adults on the spectrum have existed forever, but we just haven’t paid attention until now,” observed Wilson.

However, sometimes they go undiagnosed, and their issues aren’t recognized by co-workers or families. “Employment issues are quite complex,” pointed out Wilson. Workers with autism have a lot of intellect, perspective, and skills valuable to employers, but because of social differences can find it hard to get and keep a job.
Among the AuSM programs offered are support groups for those with autism, as well as caregivers and parents.

AuSM provides a community for those on the spectrum. They organize a Dakota County Book Club, Monthly Birthday Celebration and Game Night, Skillshops Tailored for Adults on the Spectrum, and Art On the Town. Other sponsored activities include Minnesota Zoo Classes for Adults with Autism, Advanced Filmmaking with Film North, ComedySportz Improv excursions, On the Town Adventures, and more.

“We’re committed to being a good resource for people across the state,” observed Wilson.

Photo right: St. Paul Police Department members attend an autism training event led by AuSM in February 2018. (Photo submitted)

AuSM is not a traditional service provider and doesn’t focus on offering behavior or speech therapy. The organization does offer a small mental health department to facilitate things like support groups and to help people understand a diagnosis. But mostly AuSM helps connect folks to the many service providers in the state and isn’t attached to one provider. Because of that, when they receive a call, “we’re attuned to listening to individual needs,” said Wilson, and providing a recommendation based on those.

What does AuSM offer?
There’s so much on the website (ausm.org) that some find it hard to navigate. Wilson encourages people to look under the Who Are You tab to tailor information to their needs. Or, give the office a call 651-647-1083.

“We’re really a catch-all,” said Wilson.

AuSM hosts an annual walk, The Steps of Hope, on the first Sunday of each March. Over 1,000 people attended the indoor walk this past year. This free event is also a resource fair.

Their largest annual event is the Minnesota Autism Conference, now in its 23rd year. Set for Apr. 25-28, this year’s conference features four keynote speakers, 35 breakout sessions, exhibitors, and the AuSM Bookstore.

New this year is Julia’s AuSM Autism Celebration on Apr. 25, 3:30-5:30pm at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Minneapolis Park Place. All families are invited to meet Julia, Sesame Street’s new character with autism, and to participate in lots of sensory-friendly activities offered by many organizations in the Twin Cities, including TPT, Walker Art Center, Children’s Theatre Company, Children’s Minnesota, and more.

This year, AuSM is offering nine sessions of summer camp at three different locations for students as young as seven and as old as 40. About 300 people experience camp sessions each summer. Some are overnight experiences while others are day camps.

In 1995, D’Arco’s son Tony was diagnosed with autism. One of the first things he and his wife did was attend the AuSM annual convention. “It was a tremendous first step in dealing with autism,” observed D’Arco.

Photo left: AuSM Board Vice President Paul D’Arco (second from left) with others at an AuSM event. He praises AuSM for the life-changing experiences the organization offered his family. D’Arco’s son, Tony, was diagnosed with autism at age three, and the first thing his and wife Sharon did was attend the AuSM annual convention. (Photo submitted)

When Tony was about eight, he began attending summer camp in Cross Lake and continued that until about age 19.

“For him, it was the opportunity to have the traditional camp experience that any typical kid would have,” said D’Arco. He enjoyed campfires, boating, swimming, fishing and more—learning social and practical skills. “He built some lifelong relationships,” D’Arco added.

“For Sharon and I, it was a vacation. When you have a kid with autism, it’s a full-time job. It’s difficult to have time for yourself.” The couple sometimes went away themselves and used the time to recharge.

D’Arco joined the AuSM board four years ago and is currently board vice president. He’s trying to give back to the organization that supported him and his family on their journey.

“They were life-changing experiences,” said D’Arco.

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Spring Café awarded five-year contract to operate at Como Pavilion

Spring Café awarded five-year contract to operate at Como Pavilion

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

Visitors to Como Park and its economic pavilion will enjoy a new dining option. And everyone is hoping that with the new operator, the third time is the charm.
On Feb. 14, the St. Paul City Council approved a 23-page contract with O’Reilly Custom 3 LLC to operate the pavilion, 1360 Lexington Pkwy. N., on a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission. The name announced is Spring Café.

A request for proposals was posted in December 2017, and the restaurant operator was chosen from who applied before a January deadline.

The City Council approved the contract without discussion as part of its consent agenda.

Spring Café will be the third restaurant operator at the pavilion in recent years. Como Dockside closed last fall. In 2015 Como Dockside had replaced Black Bear Crossings, which won an $800,000 legal judgment against the city after it was ousted in 2014. That restaurant had operated for 13 years, and on Como Ave. before that.

Before Black Bear a combination of city workers and caterers provided food service at the pavilion.

New operator Matty O’Reilly is not only a veteran restaurateur, he already works with the Department of Parks and Recreation to operate Red River Kitchen at the City House at

Upper Landing. That facility is in what used to be a head house and sack house for a larger grain elevator complex.

Area residents may also know O’Reilly as owner-operator of Delicata Pizza & Gelato, 1341 Pascal St., in the Como neighborhood.

The agreement takes effect Apr. 1 and continues through 2023, with an option for an additional five-year renewal. It also has a clause allowing termination. It calls for operations between 11am and 9pm weekdays during peak season and no weekday hours during the winter. Saturday and Sunday hours during peak season are 9am-9pm, and 9am-3pm during the off-season. The operator and city will work together to see if there can be promenade access during the peak season, before opening the restaurant.

Peak season is considered Mothers’ Day to Labor Day.

The hours are a major change from the Como Dockside operation, which shut its doors in November 2017. Those operators dealt with very slow weekday hours during the fall and winter months. Como Dockside had to open at 7am under its city contract.

The new operator will also provide recreational equipment rental, room rental and community access to rooms, and catering service with facilities rental. Services such as equipment rental could be contracted to a third party.

The contract gives the new operator exclusive rights to outdoor vending and calls for operations of the concessions window. Window hours cannot be used as a substitute for interior hours of operation. The operators can sell souvenirs, with the approval of such items.

O’Reilly will also take over the theater and music bookings, which traditionally are more than 100 per year.

The contract also allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages including wine, beer, and liquor. Those must be consumed within the pavilion and promenade and can only be sold when the full kitchen is in operation. Liquor could be sold at ticketed or private events.

One point of debate at last year’s community meeting is that while some neighborhood residents enjoyed being able to have liquor or cocktails, others said walking in and seeing a full bar didn’t provide a family-friendly atmosphere. The full bar is expected to go away, with wine, beer, and a few selected premade cocktails offered.

The new restaurant isn’t expected to have table service. A menu of burgers, salads and rice bowls has been suggested, under the guidance of chef J.D. Fratzke.

Another change is that the city can potentially take a larger cut of revenue during the summer. The contract does maintain the $100,000 minimum annual payback to the city.

The contract also calls for the new operator make $20,000 in improvements. That compares to $294,000 put in by Como Dockside, largely on the interior of the pavilion, which needed a new kitchen. It also included a new dock.

The new contract calls for the city to get a guarantee of 10 percent of gross revenues during the peak season. Como Dockside’s contract called for nine percent.

The contract also has thresholds for additional shared revenue if the restaurant receipts top $1.5 million and $1.75 million per year. A percentage of winter brunch revenues are to be dedicated toward additional capital improvements.

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Tiger by Jackie Scherer

Program helps those with sensory processing needs enjoy zoo more

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

Como works with Autism Society on handouts and maps to help families prepare before they get into zoo

All photos by JACKIE SCHERER and provided by COMO ZOO
For those with sensory issues, it can be hard to visit the zoo, but Como is launching a new program to change that.

Visitors who have family members on the autism spectrum or those with sensory processing needs will now be able to enter Como Zoo one hour before when doors open to the general public on selected Sundays and Wednesdays.

“Como has so much to offer when it comes to sights, sounds, smells, and temperatures, that it can sometimes be overwhelming,” remarked Noah Petermeier of Como Zoo and Conservatory. “We are so lucky to have such a dynamic facility that allows visitors to have unique learning experiences. Keeping that in mind, it is important for us at Como to acknowledge what we can do to assist those who might have challenges processing these sensory experiences.”

The goal of this new program is to provide families resources and tools to support them and make their time at Como more accessible.

“We can’t take away some of these sensory experiences like the smells and sounds, but what we can do is provide families with resources to help prepare them for their experience and set them up for success,” stated Petermeier.

“When we go to events like these, we find that knowing the staff and other visitors understand unique struggles can be helpful,” said Autism Society of Minnesota Education Specialist Lucas Scott, who added that it eases any embarrassment that might develop.

Scott is excited about the zoo’s commitment to hold these Autism Sensory Friendly Mornings monthly and make it a regular offering rather than a one-time thing.

Upcoming dates include Sundays, Mar. 11, Apr. 8, May 13, June 10, July 8, July 22, Aug. 5, and Aug. 19; and Wednesdays, June 13, July 11, July 25, Aug. 8 and Aug. 22.

Families can arrive between 9-10am on the selected dates. They should enter through the visitor center main entrance. The early entry days will include early access to zoo exhibits and zoo grounds, a sensory story time, and a quiet room where families can go to take a break if needed. Other partnering organizations will also have resources available for families.

According to Scott, there are many misconceptions out there regarding those with autism and sensory processing disorders.

“I generally think the easiest way to understand anyone is to recognize a person for who they are and not only by a disability label,” he pointed out.

The Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) has also worked with other organizations to provide sensory-friendly events, including Stages Theater in Hopkins and the Schubert Club.

“We’ve worked with Shoreview Library and many Dakota county libraries recently to create more sensory-friendly programs and options. We’ve even brought quiet rooms to events like Pride to create a little sensory-friendly bubble in an otherwise not sensory-friendly environment,” stated Scott.

Plan the visit
Prior to starting this new sensory-friendly program, Como met with representatives from AuSM to create a sensory map, social narrative, and visual schedule. They can be found at www.comozooconservatory.org under the “Plan your visit” tab.

These items help attendees prepare and plan before coming. The sensory map highlights strong smells and quiet spaces. A 20-page social narrative lists which types of animals live in each building or area in the zoo, expectations, and rules to follow in each area, and sensory information that might be important before entering.

Families can print out and modify a visual schedule resource for those who appreciate having a pre-planned visual schedule.

“The hope is that families will be able to better prepare for their visit by reading through the social narrative,” observed Petermeier. “They can look at the photos, read the text, understand expectations, and ease some uncertainties that their family might have before coming to visit the exhibits and zoo grounds.”

Excited about the new program
Como’s education department currently partners with the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) to host year-round camps for elementary and high school-aged students.

“We wanted to continue our outreach to these families and other families for a free, early access experience,” remarked Petermeier.

He added, “Our partnership with AuSM has been such a successful and celebrated program here at Como. I am so excited to offer this new program to a larger audience and provide this space and time for families. I am looking forward to learning from our visitors and using their suggestions to make the program more successful.”

So far, the program is doing what organizers set out to accomplish. As one visitor commented, “We have hesitated to come to Como in the past. We are so excited that you are offering this program.”

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Make their summer unforgettable with camp experiences

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

Give your kids childhood experiences they’ll never forget. This summer, take part in a free Forest School—unplug, step back and let their imaginations take the lead. Participate in an outdoor adventure camp and spark a love for biking, climbing, and canoeing that will give them skills to battle stress as they age. Let them soar through the air while learning circus arts, or focus on their artistic side. Give them cardboard to build with, balls to kick around, and Legos to construct robots. Let them pretend to live 100 years ago. Go for the gold in Animal Olympics at the zoo.

That’s just the start of the youth camp options available in the Twin Cities area. Browse below for more information on some of the camps offered locally.


Experience outdoor activities including swimming in an outdoor pool, horseback riding, use of a ropes course and climbing tower, group games, hiking, sensory crafts, and gross motor activities led by a registered occupational therapist, music groups led by a board-certified music therapist, boating, and sports during a Wahode Day Camp in Eagan where campers arrive each morning and leave each afternoon. Two residential camps where campers stay several days and nights are also offered in northern Minnesota at several locations. AuSM camps are tailored for youth and adults with autism. AuSM camps are available for individuals ages 6 and up who are AuSM members. (Photo right provided)
Cost: $725-$1,870

Blackhawks offer several exciting half- and full-day soccer camps for players ages 5-18 that encompass a wide variety of activities and skills. Specialty camps focus on specific skills such as ball control, shooting, and goalkeeping.
Cost: $85-195

Spend some time “Monkeying Around” with your primate pals, go for the gold in “Animal Olympics,” take an “African Adventure” without leaving Como, or try on the hat of a zookeeper or gardener in “Behind-the-Scenes!”. Como’s camps focus on developing children’s appreciation for the natural world through play and exploration, behind-the-scenes experiences, interactions with zookeepers and gardeners, and up-close encounters with plant and animal ambassadors Five-day, half-day or full-day sessions for preschool to grade eight. Extended care is available.
Cost: $135-155

Free Forest School of the Twin Cities is a free group, open to young children and their parents or caregivers. This is a welcoming and non-judgmental group where parents and caregivers can practice giving children space and autonomy to explore and create in nature. Free Forest School meets every day of the week throughout the year at wilderness areas around the metro. Share a snack, take a hike, play in the woods, and have circle time. Parents get a chance to unplug and step back… Kids and their imaginations take the lead.
Cost: Free

Want to make a film just like the professionals do? Feel like biking 10 (or 20!) miles a day? Have a secret stash of poems you want to share? Feel a need to express yourself through paint and paper-folding? Maybe you’d rather argue for the defense in a real courtroom? Friends School will be the place to do that—and more—from June to August for ages 4-14 (photo right provided). Weekdays, half- and full-day. Extended daycare in the mornings and afternoons and need-based financial aid available.
Cost: $105 to $295

Travel back in time and learn about life in the 1800s. Explore seasonal Dakota activities including the maple sugar camp, wild rice village, life in the tipi, hunting games, methods of travel, language, and song. Or enroll in Gibbs Girl or Digging history sessions. Three-day, half-day camps. One-day Pioneer PeeWees camps offered for ages 4-5.
Cost: $19-99

High school students ages 15-18 can explore the craft, prepare for college, and connect with other young writers in the Twin Cities, while working closely with Hamline Creative Writing faculty and published authors.
Cost: $400

Professional Irish Dance training by director Cormac O’Se, an original member of Riverdance.

Join the Minnesota Waldorf School for good, old-fashioned summer fun June 12 to Aug. 18. Outdoor games, natural crafts, water play, gardening, fairy camp, and much more, all on their beautiful 8-acre campus. 70 East County Road B, St. Paul. For children ages 3.5 to (rising) 6th grade.
Cost: $150- $275
651-487-6700 x202

Summer sessions for ages 6-15 are run by the University of Minnesota’s Rec & Wellness Camps, from June 11 to Aug. 10.
Cost: $299

Fun, exciting camps that combine physical fitness and education are offered throughout the summer for school-age kids. Register early for discounts.

Make your own games and design circuits. Paint with pizzazz. Search out connections between visual art and creative writing, and explore the life of a story in journalism. Debate, play chess, learn about mathematical modeling and forecasting, make movies or delve into creative science options. Options at SPA cover a wide range of academic, arts, and enrichment activities for grades 2-12.
Cost: $195-385

Summer is a great time to try dance. Programs include workshops and camps for ages 3 and up, weekly drop-in classes for teens and adults, and a new “mommy and me” baby class. (Photo right by Margie O’Loughlin)
Cost: $8.50-$20/hr

Located at 30+ sites, with several locations in the Midway-Como neighborhoods, St. Paul Urban Tennis offers a summer program for all age groups and skill levels. Tennis lessons combine high-quality instruction with life skills learning. Sampler Camps offer a condensed, 4-day version of the lesson program. Scholarships are available.

Explore the variety of Y Summer Programs at over 60 metro-area locations. Programs include flexible three-, four-, and five-day options. There’s something fun for everyone from preschool through grade nine.
Cost: $80-350


Be initiated into an ancient and esteemed House of The Realm, jump into live-action adventure gaming, build your own arms and armor, and more during these five-day, full-day sessions for ages 6-17. Buses available from Powderhorn Park and some camps held at Minnehaha Park. (Photo right provided)
Cost: $369

Solve mysteries of the past in this three-day History Detective Camp for ages 10-13. Or, young ladies ages 9-12 can step back in time to a unique Finishing School for Young Ladies day camp.
Cost: $220

Unleashed summer campers entering grades 3-10 spend a full week immersed in animal learning and fun. NEW this year: Campers will spend their time exclusively in the shelters.
Cost: $120-300

A variety of art disciplines and mediums with themes like mirror images, urban forest, theater, art car, or paper and book arts offered for ages 4-18. Five-day, half- and full-day sessions available.
Cost: $155-285

Camp and canoe while learning leadership and teamwork skills in a seven-day resident camp for youths age 13-18 who live within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Held on the St. Croix River in Rush City and organized by YouthCARE.
Cost: free

Explore international circus arts at Circus Juventas. Five-day, full-day sessions offered for ages 6-15. Or make your own camp with Circus Sampler Days
Cost: $85-405

Experience cultural and language immersion; 15 languages to choose from. Resident camp for ages 6-18 and family camps.
Cost: $960-$4,510

Explore prairies, wetlands and woodland trails during full- and half-day, four-day camps offered for students entering 1-8 grades. Shorter sessions are available for ages 3-6.
Cost: $55-325

Day camps exploring science, technology, and engineering are offered in partnership with local community education programs. Sessions, length, and price are varied per location and type of camp for ages 4-14.

Make butter, ice cream, and bread while learning about science, agriculture, and history at the Bruentrup Heritage Farm in Maplewood. Plus, students will play old-time games like townball and do arts and crafts. Three four-day sessions offered in July and August.
Cost: $150

Fiddle Pal Camp Minnesota is four days to discover, learn and play for children, adults, and families at three locations.
Cost: $395-495

From fusing to casting to glass blowing, ages 9-18 are introduced to the mesmerizing medium of glass through immersive half-day, five-day experiences.
Cost: $325-425

Experience the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder or the engineers and grenadiers who called Fort Snelling home. Experience outdoor skills and life in the early 1800s. Camps range from one to four days.

Speak, hear, sing, and create in German while exploring subjects ranging from history and art to science and music during five-day, half-, full- and extended-day sessions for grades K-3 at the Germanic American Institute.
Cost: $130-150

Summer camps allow time for more in-depth projects, such as Wild & Wooly, Fairies, Gnomes, Knights, Critters, and Classic Crafts, for kindergarten and up.
Cost: $120-$165

Half-day, five-day sessions and single day sessions for beginners through experts ages 8-18 enhance hand-eye coordination, boost concentration and build self-confidence.
Cost: $30-110

Yoga infused throughout the day via story, dance, and games for campers age 5-12. Located on the Greenway = daily field adventures.
Cost: $75-355

Enjoy Summer Tennis in Minneapolis parks for ages 6-17.
Cost: $85-405

Girls and boys ages 6 to 17 can design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science, and technology during partial-day, weekday camps. There are more than 120 classes available over ten weeks of full and half-day Monday-Friday workshops begin June 11, including:
Engineering, art, design, craft and technology workshops available all summer; Friday-only workshops and Extended Day in mornings and afternoons; Theme weeks: Toys & Games + Sci-Fi & Fantasy, including a Giant Mouse Trap Maze and Enormous Viking Ship!; Marvelous teen workshops: metalworking, art, CAD, puzzle room build, video game design, stilting, woodworking and community design project!
Cost: $185-370, scholarships available

Ages 4-8 can participate in a nourishing, creative and relaxing “backyard” summer experience (photo right provided). The morning starts with free play/maker time with loose parts, a mud and wood chip kitchen, supervised use of basic tools, costumes and art projects. Take picnic lunches to nearby Bracket Park or trails along the Mississippi, where there is after-lunch reading time on blankets and in hammocks. Afternoons are spent at Brackett Park, playing ball, climbing trees, or playing at the playground or wading pool. Four weekly sessions offered.
Cost: $180/week

There’s something for everyone—from the youngster just learning to put pen to paper to the seasoned high school senior with a novel already under her belt. Sessions run in week-long blocks July and August, full and half-day options available for ages 6-17.
Cost: $262-525

Roller ski, mountain bike, canoe and more during adventure camps for ages 9-13 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Equipment provided during the full-day, five-day sessions.
Cost: $200

A variety of athletic, academic and enrichment programs are offered, including woodcarving, viola and cello, combat robots, puddlestompers, fencing, movie making, sewing, painting, rocket science, drumming, and more. (Photo right provided) Half- and full-day, one- to three-week weekday sessions. Camp Minnehaha, a full day camp for pre-k to grade 8, includes daily devotions, games, indoor and outdoor activities, daily swimming lessons and a weekly off-campus activity.
Cost: $40-500
612-728-7745, ext. 1

Play music, get creative, bake bread and construct books while exploring the rich culture along the Minneapolis riverfront district. Campers aged 9-11 will explore a new experience each day at four arts centers.
Cost: $225-$250

Work with sculpture, tiles, or wheel-thrown pottery in half or full-day sessions for ages 6 and up.
Cost: $165-315

Snapology camps provide a perfect mixture of STEAM learning and fun. With camps happening at the new Discovery Center in Uptown every week of the summer, as well as at various schools and educational partners around the Twin Cities, Snapology has got you covered for kids as young as 3 and as old as 14—Robotics, Coding, Science, Technology, Drones, Pre-K, Engineering, Architecture and more.
Cost: $150

Southeast Soccer fields a variety of girls and boys teams for ages U9-U18 at beginner, intermediate and advanced competitive levels. Consider the Lil’ Dribblers soccer program for ages 4 -8, or summer traveling teams.

Learn about devised theater, music, and other performance art forms during these one- to two-week, half- and full-day sessions for preK to grade 12. Two theater classes offered in collaboration with the Science Museum and Minnesota Zoo.
Cost: $75-425

Sew, knit, felt, dye and more. Take home completed fiber items from three- and five-day, half-, full- and extended-day sessions for ages 6-16.
Cost: $87-370

Students ages 8-17 enrolled in the weeklong, half-day camps will experience a variety of circus disciplines (including Trampoline, Static Trapeze, Acrobatics, Circus Bike, and of course Flying Trapeze).
Cost: $275

Painting, drawing, clay, theatre, writing, glass and much more for ages 6-14.
Cost: $23-$97


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every camp in the Twin Cities. If you would like to be included in next year’s guide, please send us detailed information on the camp.

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Everyone loves to ‘mix it up’ in the Creative Enterprise Zone

Everyone loves to ‘mix it up’ in the Creative Enterprise Zone

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

The Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) is a well-established hub of industry and creativity, radiating out in all directions from the intersection of Raymond and University avenues.
Home to many creative businesses and nonprofit groups, the CEZ itself became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the fall of 2017, making it possible to receive funding from a broader range of foundations.

Originally formed in 2009 as a task force of the St. Anthony Park Community Council, the CEZ now has its own twelve-member working board.

As part of an ongoing series, they hosted a mixer on Feb. 26 at The Naughty Greek Restaurant (2400 University Ave. W.). The Naughty Greek is a fairly new addition to the restaurant scene that serves up authentic Athenian street food at their two St. Paul locations.

Photo right: CEZ board chair Catherine Reid Day welcomed 100+ attendees to the mixer held at the Naughty Greek Restaurant on February 26th. The topic of discussion was Innovative Development for a Creative Economy. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The mixer addressed questions unique to the CEZ about live/work spaces, the growing trend of maker spaces, the future of space development for creative entrepreneurs, and the opportunities and challenges associated with transit-oriented development.

The event was funded by the Knight Foundation. Jai Winston, St. Paul Program Director for the Knight Foundation, added closing remarks.

According to board chair Catherine Reid Day, “At the heart of everything we do for the CEZ is the belief that creativity and economic development go hand in hand. We very much want to preserve the lively mix of people and enterprises that make up our zone. In the usual scheme of gentrification, this presents real challenges.”

The main mixer event was a panel discussion about these challenges. Panelists were Can Can Wonderland’s Rob Clapp, owner and real estate broker of Summit Group/KW Commercial; First and First CEO Peter Remes, a company that transforms derelict urban warehouses into creative, inspiring, worker spaces; and Renee Spillum, Senior Project Manager with the community development corporation Seward Redesign. CEZ board member Lucas Koska moderated the panel discussion.

Photo right: Dr. Bruce Corrie, newly appointed Director of Planning and Economic development for the City of St. Paul said, “We have every intention of becoming the best city in the country for the creative economy.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Clapp explained, “Can Can Wonderland (755 Prior Ave. N.) is proud to be the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota (called a B Corp). That means that we can place value both on being an economic engine for the arts and on being a profitable company. The American Can Factory was the perfect place to create Can Can Wonderland because it had the space we needed at a price point we could afford.”

“The positive energy of the CEZ,” Peter Remes said, “was a big part of what drew me to want to develop Vandalia Tower at 550 Vandalia St. The 220,000 square foot building was in terrible shape, but so many other things about the decision felt right. Ultimately, it was because of the neighborhood that we decided to put our stake in the ground.”

Renee Spillum works as a senior project manager for Seward Redesign in Minneapolis, is a resident of Hamline-Midway, and a new CEZ board member. Her work is focused on business development, commercial leasing, and new development projects. She is also a licensed commercial real estate agent. “I get to go to my job every day and work on re-connecting neighborhoods. What could be better!” she said.

Reid Day concluded, “The Mixer Series has been great because we’re able to invite all kinds of people into creative spaces in the CEZ for conversation.”

In addition to many creatives and makers living and working in the CEZ, staff of the Department of Planning and Economic Development showed up in full force for this mixer. And why shouldn’t City Hall be interested in what’s happening in the CEZ? According to Reid Day, “this district provides more tax revenue to the state than any other.”

The next mixer will be held in early April, time and place still TBD. Check the website at www.creativeenterprisezoneorg for updates.

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Giraffe by Jackie Scherer slider

St. Paul Ballet is breaking down barriers so all can dance

Posted on 08 March 2018 by Calvin

In only five years’ time, St. Paul Ballet (SPB) has established itself as a thriving non-profit dance school and company in the Midway neighborhood. Their mission is to rejoice in the beauty and immediacy of dance with the widest possible audience, to lift the human spirit through the art of ballet, to provide outstanding dance education, and to perform a vibrant repertory with excellence. To accomplish all of this, they’re breaking down barriers to participation in ballet—one after another.

Executive Director Lori Gleason, said, “At first glance, the things that seem to get in the way for people are transportation and cost. Our studios are conveniently located just three blocks north of the Greenline LRT station at 655 Fairview Ave. We also have ample off-street parking. The first class here is always free for new students, and we offer many affordable drop-in classes.”

Photo left: Children in the Parent and Me class on Saturday mornings enjoy movement to music, along with songs and games. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“Our philosophy at SPB is to address each dancer as a whole person,” Gleason continued. “Traditionally, ballet dancers have had a certain look. Members of SPB’s company created something a few years ago called ‘Take Back the Tutu’—which sets the tone for inclusiveness at the school, and shows that all body types are welcomed and celebrated. ‘Take Back the Tutu’ empowers dancers to claim ownership of their bodies, and to throw out the idea that every dancer has to look the same.”

In the past, SPB has partnered with the Melrose Institute and the Emily Program to provide information and guidance about nutrition and eating disorders. They also sponsor an annual health fair in the fall that is open to the public and provides a wealth of health and wellness information.

Photo right: The Parent and Me class welcomes Spanish speaking families, with the help of pre-professional student Emilia Garrido, who is a native Spanish speaker. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The recreational program at SPB serves about 300 students through music and movement classes, beginning with a class called ‘Parent and Me” for dancers ages 2.5-4 and their parents. This class (offered on Saturday mornings 8:45-9:30) welcomes Spanish and English speaking families.

“Not speaking English shouldn’t be a barrier to participation,” Gleason explained. “This is the fourth session that we’ve offered this class; it was the idea of Mary Coats, Director of our Young Children’s Program. One of our pre-professional students is the teaching assistant. She’s a native Spanish speaker who greets families at the door and translates as much of the class as is needed into Spanish. We feel this broadens the experience for everyone.”

Laura Greenwell is SPB’s School Director and an instructor in the pre-professional program. She is also the only ballet teacher in the state of Minnesota certified by the American Ballet Theatre at the highest level of their National Teacher Training Curriculum. Because of this, she is eligible to bring American Ballet Theatre’s Project Plié out into the community. Greenwell partners with local Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs in the summer, offering classes and watching for students ages 7-14 from communities of color who might have a natural ability for ballet. The goal of Project Plie is to diversify the field of ballet and keep it culturally relevant for years to come.

Photo left: Children in the Parent and Me class on Saturday mornings enjoy movement to music, along with songs and games.(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Another perceived barrier to participation in ballet can be age. SPB offers an intermediate level class from 10-11:30am on Mondays and Wednesdays called Life Long Ballet. Taught by Anna Goodrich, the class is a magnet for people who want to keep dancing all through their lives. The oldest students are in their 80’s, with an average age of 60. The class is followed by an optional 30 minutes of strength conditioning.

“Dance is for people of all ages, as long as it’s enjoyable,” Gleason said.

‘Boys Club’ is a new class happening on Saturdays from 1-2pm. This introduction to ballet, for boys ages 7-12, is offered free of charge. Gleason said, “In keeping with our philosophy of treating dancers as athletes, this class emphasizes conditioning, flexibility, and strength, as well as technique.” A dress code of black ballet slippers, shorts, and a white t-shirt is required.

Lastly, SPB and their neighbor/landlord have created a partnership that is busting through barriers. Next door to SPB, Element Gym is owned and operated by Dalton Outlaw—a boxer who trains competitive fighters and leads fitness classes. SPB and Element Gym teamed up for a series of performances last year called “The Art of Boxing – the Sport of Ballet.” The performance will be repeated this year at 6pm on Apr. 15 at the Ordway Concert Hall. Gleason said, “One of the many wonderful things that have come out of our partnership with Dalton and his athletes is that more women and girls are taking boxing classes, and more men and boys are taking ballet. We learned that our two organizations have a lot of shared values around training and community building.”

To learn more about the work of SPB, call 651-690-1588 or visit their website at www.spballet.org.

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