Dec 19, 2011 • By

Partnership pays off for Minneapolis

Forgive Sondra Samuels for having to wipe tears from her eyes this morning in Minneapolis. She had a good reason to cry. She received some news she’s been waiting months to hear.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), of which Samuels is the chief executive officer, with a $28 million grant as part of its “Promise Neighborhoods” program. NAZ was selected out of more than 230 applications.

Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton made the grant announcement to cheers and applause this morning in the library at the Elizabeth Hall International School.

“The country needs you as much as the children of this neighborhood need you,” Shelton said. “This can be a national model on so many different levels … We know that this is a long journey ahead of us, a hard journey, but a journey worth taking.”

Other national, state and local leaders also were on hand, including U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Some of Shelton’s comments today, as well as those from Sen. Franken and Samuels, are captured in this video from NAZ:

NAZ, created in 2010, represents a collaboration of more than 60 organizations and schools working to build a culture of achievement in a 22-block area in north Minneapolis. Its goal is to ensure that all youth in the area graduate from high school, college-ready.

“We are sharing the belief that all of our children will be college graduates, and they are in the pipeline for college,” Samuels said. “It’s not time for any of us to pull back … This is a monumental responsibility that we do not take lightly.”

The General Mills Foundation has provided financial and leadership support to organizations in Minneapolis, including NAZ, for several decades. We also convene a monthly “Hawthorne Huddle” that brings together a variety of stakeholders in the community to discuss the challenges and the opportunities for the neighborhoods.

I talked about the impact of today’s grant to NAZ with Ellen Luger, General Mills vice president and executive director of the General Mills Foundation:

Why did the Northside Achievement Zone receive this grant?

Luger: NAZ has outstanding community leadership, and that’s important to the government as well as General Mills. The collaborative nature of the venture – to work with the many organizations involved that are all working toward the same goal – is a difficult thing to do, but very important for the desired outcomes there. So this is really about a public-private partnership, providing a broad group of funders and support, in terms of strategic advice and volunteers. We’re just very excited to see all the hard work of the organization, the community, and the public/private partnership come together.

How can this grant help?

Luger: The primary use is going to be putting in place the support structure to really help the kids of north Minneapolis succeed. That’s really exciting for those kids, the families of north Minneapolis, as well as the broader community.

Editor’s note: NAZ is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City. For more coverage of the grants from the Promise Neighborhoods program, read this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.