BUILDING BRIDGES TO OUR NEIGHBORS

Our state is home to more Somalis and Somali Americans than any other place in the United States.

Minnesotans have an invitation to discover their stories at the Minnesota History Center, where the new exhibit “Somalis + Minnesota” opens June 23.

The 2,400-square-foot exhibit — developed in partnership with the Somali Museum of Minnesota — will explore Somali culture, a statement says, “from life in Africa through the massive migration that began in the 1990s to today’s large, well-established Minnesota Somali community.”

Free admission will be provided on opening day — “Sambusa Saturday” — by the Knight Foundation and 3M. Included are opportunities to enjoy a sambusa (a stuffed triangular pastry) and Somali tea, as well as activities through 3 p.m. that include performances by the Somali Museum Dance Troupe, poetry, storytelling, weaving demonstrations, book signings, film screenings and an art project to take home.

“With Somali people in almost every sector of Minnesota’s workforce, now is the time to celebrate the strength and resilience of the Somali people and to help build bridges in understanding what it means to be an immigrant,” says Steve Elliott, the historical society’s director and CEO, quoted in a statement from the society.

The society notes that, in addition to photographs and objects, the exhibit features a reconstructed nomadic hut imported from Somalia. It also offers exhibit-goers of all ages a hands-on activity that will show how to load a camel for travel across the desert.

A ‘TOPPING OFF’ CEREMONY

An important St. Paul project reached a milestone in recent weeks, with the “topping off” ceremony at Catholic Charities’ St. Paul Opportunity Center and Dorothy Day Residence downtown near Xcel Energy Center.

To mark the occasion, a crane lifted a tree to the top of the building. The “topping off” tradition in the construction industry typically marks placement of the last beam at the top of a structure.

The Dorothy Day Place complex — named for the journalist and activist who in the 1930s helped establish the Catholic Worker Movement to aid the poor — is the largest public-private partnership in state history in housing and social services, according to Catholic Charities. Its first phase — Higher Ground St. Paul — opened in January 2017, providing both shelter and permanent housing. The phase two opportunity center and residence will include a “one-stop” location for path-out-of-poverty services that include supportive employment, medical, mental health and other assistance, plus permanent housing units.

Catholic Charities, which says it hopes to complete construction in 2019, notes that:

  • This year through April, there were 197 full-time-equivalent construction jobs at the site.
  • From its start through April, the project has involved a total of 30,119 labor hours on the site.
  • Materials included 165,000 cubic feet of concrete and 347 tons of rebar.

OPPORTUNITY FOR TEENS

A second summer of good work involving the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities deserves notice.

A donation from the foundation is providing more than 6,200 free YMCA memberships for Twin Cities teenagers. The program, which runs through Aug. 31, was first offered last year to 4,800 kids, the Pioneer Press reported.

Teens need a safe place to go in their communities that is flexible, engaging and accessible to all, says a statement from the YMCA. It notes that violence, drinking and drug use increase during the summer when young people’s time is less structured. According to the Pew Research Center, only 20 percent of today’s 16- to 17-year-olds hold a summer job, and that rate is even lower among teens of color. The program is “making a real difference in our community by providing a safe space for youth to connect and have fun while learning important lifelong skills,” a statement quotes Mark Dienhart, president and CEO of the foundation, which was created by the founder of Richfield-based Best Buy.

The opportunity it makes possible is a popular one: Last year, the free memberships were filled in 12 days, according to the Pioneer Press. This year, nearly all sites were “waitlisted” by mid-week.

THE BOND BETWEEN BUDDIES

The latest e-newsletter from St. Paul-based CommonBond Communities features a beautiful story of the coincidental “bond” between “Study Buddies” in a program at a city high-rise.

The newsletter identifies the buddies as Bahjo — a 10-year-old living at CommonBond’s Skyline Tower complex and a student at Capitol Hill School — and Hayley, a student at Macalester College, who began volunteering this year. The agency is the Upper Midwest’s largest nonprofit provider of affordable housing with services, and its newsletter explains that when Bahjo learned her school was hosting a “Battle of the Books” contest, she decided to enter a recent favorite, “Bo at Ballard Creek” by Kirkpatrick Hill.

The newsletter describes it as the story of a young girl named Bo who — while growing up in the 1920s in the care of two tough-but-warmhearted gold miners — overcomes challenges and learns about herself in a close-knit, diverse community. The account continues: When Bahjo wanted to enter the book in the competition, “Hayley was floored.” The author is her grandmother.

“I couldn’t believe it,” the newsletter quotes Hayley saying. “It’s definitely not a book that I thought would be read outside of where I’m from — and by my Study Buddy, of all people!” Hayley grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and her grandmother still lives there.

“These are the types of moments that exemplify the connections made through Study Buddies,” according to CommonBond. “Of course, not everyone’s grandmother is an award-winning author, but these seemingly small, serendipitous moments of realization, learning and connection will become the foundation for positive relationships and habits throughout life. For Hayley and Bahjo, it was extra special to see that those connections can arrive in some very unexpected ways.”

Further, warm but tough-hearted, Opinuendo sayeth not.

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