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A Community Thrives awards $100K grant to St. Paul nonprofit, $10K to local groups
St. Cloud Times - 12/17/2020
Dec. 17--ST. CLOUD -- A Minnesota organization that provides after-school academic support and art residencies to Black teens will get $100,000 and two local organizations will share $10,000 as part of A Community Thrives, USA TODAY Network's $2.3 million nationwide crowdfunding and grant program.
The Yes Network and Central MN Dementia Community Action Network, which provide services to Central Minnesotans across the age spectrum, will get local operating grants of $7,500 and $2,500, respectively, to support their efforts.
A Community Thrives is a competitive grant project of the Gannett Foundation; Gannett is the parent company of the St. Cloud Times. In 2019, St. Cloud'sHomefront Resource Center and the Paynesville-area Crow River Trail Guards received $35,000 in ACT grants.
National awards are determined by a national committee, local grants by regional committees across the nation.
The Yes Network was founded in 2011 to provide food to students in the St. Cloud area's low-income neighborhoods. It has since expanded its mission to encourage recreation and provide learning opportunities in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) fields to kids from low-income families.
The ACT grant will fund the Full STE(A)M Ahead Project, which provides free activity kits to children in Central Minnesota.
"We continue to do some work through the winter and through the COVID season but it's a totally different format than we hope to provide in the spring," said Executive Director Jerry Sparby.
Once it's safe to do so, the Yes Network will pair high school students with student mentors from area colleges who are studying to become teachers in STEM fields. High school students will also attend leadership training sessions -- and then begin leading after-school activities for children in their own neighborhoods.
"It's engaging and giving kids the opportunity to do something together and build relationships," Sparby said.
The project also aims to close the educational disparity exacerbated by the pandemic, which is hitting low-income communities and communities of color harder than most.
Sparby said the kits are also just fun and creative activities, which can be a refreshing break from the screen time children are exposed to during distance learning.
"It was so amazing what we experienced with the kids," Sparby said, recalling a time when food and art packs were distributed in neighborhoods. "We found some kids were sitting down on the ground and doing the art packs already before they went home with the food."
Creating a network of dementia care
The Central MN Dementia Community Action Network, also called D-CAN, aims to tackle problems related to dementia, including stigma, caregiver stress and limited dementia care available from primary care providers.
While the Sauk Rapids-based nonprofit's mission is to create a local dementia resource center, it plans to use the grant to embark on the creation of a directory with information helpful to health-care providers, patients and families, according to Dr. Pat Zook, who serves on the board of directors.
Zook said the nonprofit is continuing to raise money for a resource center, at which patients could undergo dementia assessments before visiting their primary care doctor. The center could then collaborate with area clinics and provide services for caregivers.
"The idea is to get people thinking about what dementia risks they have, even if they don't have symptoms yet," Zook said, noting early screenings are important for improving or stabilizing symptoms. "You can't change your genes but you can alter the expression of those genes by healthful behavior."
Creating an arts and tech hub
A Community Thrives, in its fourth year, awards grants to causes in communities across the U.S. to help drive positive change. This year, more than 900 organizations from 45 states submitted requests.
The grants include $1.3 million in local operating grants, as well as $1 million in national grants. One of the 16 recipients of a national grant was 30,000 Feet, which will use its $100,000 ACT grant to help establish a Black arts center in St. Paul.
The nonprofit was founded in 2013 to create career and college opportunities for young people who face barriers in education and career opportunities, according to Executive Director Kevin Robinson.
It provides after-school academic support, art residencies and computer science opportunities for Black teens in St. Paul.
More than 90% of participants receive free and reduced lunch -- a common indicator of poverty -- and nearly 40% receive special education services.
Of the 140 youth served in 2019, 74% improved school attendance, 64% increased their GPA and 52% decreased school suspensions.
"We try to solve issues from the communities that we grew up in. So we have those relationships already and that's key to help doing the impact work that we really are doing," Robinson said.
The nonprofit launched a $1 million capital campaign in August to provide a permanent space for programming and expand the space where youth can explore African American culture, arts and computer sciences.
The residencies will support the livelihood of Black artists while providing culturally relevant programs to empower students, which will in turn create economic opportunities for teens, reduce recidivism and expand the number of Black youth in computer science careers.
"We want to get an arts and tech hub on the east side of St. Paul," Robinson said. "We don't have a long-term home for our organization. To maximize impact, we want to have a permanent space, especially for kids who are displaced so often in their own lives. We want stability."
Jenny Berg is the cities and schools reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-259-3680 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bergjenny.
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