Hamilton Bell (Photo courtesy of Wilder Foundation)
By Carlos Gallego
AAP contributing writer
ST. PAUL (November 18, 2010) – Several hundred people attended the community celebration kicking off the announcement that Frogtown was one of just 21 neighborhoods in the nation receiving a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood Grant that will serve as a support resource system for children “from cradle to career.”
The celebration followed the announcement of the selection from U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a press conference. The grantee communities were selected by President Barack Obama with the intent to help them overcome barriers to ensure every child receives the support they need to succeed.
The Promise Neighborhood effort is led by The Wilder Foundation and supported by a variety of community organizations, including key partners: the City of Saint Paul, St. Paul Public Schools, Ramsey County, St. Paul Public Schools Foundation, Summit University Planning Council, Frogtown Neighborhood Association, and the YWCA of Saint Paul.
Mai Kao Hang, Wilder CEO, thanked those in attendance noting that the Neighborhood Promise Grant mirrored was consistent with Wilder’s 104 yrs. of service to East Side of Ramsey County and City of St. Paul serving people regardless of background and mirrored the vision of Wilder’s founder. To this end, Wilder was more than happy to serves the lead on the grant.
“It is good to see community we live in was reflected in those attending this event,” said Hang.
According to the Wilder Foundation just under 40 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are under 18 and two-thirds living in poverty with eighty-two percent of students eligible for free lunch. Between August 2010 and September 2011 the grant will complete a one-year community assessment and planning process.
According to the Wilder website will:
• Assess the assets and major needs of children and families.
¥ Form solution action groups of 20-25 people who live, work, and care about the Promise Neighborhood area to identify strategies for action.
¥ Secure commitments from organizations to partner in the delivery of services to support action.
¥ Create an awareness and outreach campaign to garner support and community participation”
According to the Mayor’s office, Saint Paul’s application was the 4th highest-ranked proposal, scoring 99.67 points out of 100.
Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman referred to the inspiration for the Promise Neighborhood Grant, a successful project in New York City’s Harlem neighborhoods, and how well is succeeded for allowing residents to take responsibility in attempting to address the achievement gap.
Coleman said was very committed to bringing this concept to St. Paul, and that he is very grateful for Wilder’s willingness to be the lead agency. He also commented on the spirit of the community in coming forward for a $150,000 match that was needed immediately – and was impressed on the incredible generosity of local foundations in raising the match within 24 hours.
Coleman said the grant was possible with the support on many levels that included the Department of Education, the Wilder Foundation, Saint Paul Public Schools, Saint Paul Public Schools Foundation, Ramsey County, Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, 4th District US. Congresswoman Betty McCollum.
The audience also included many elected and community leaders.
Paul Mattessich, executive director, Wilder Foundation, served as maser of ceremonies. He affirmed the positive impact in the lives of its participants both in school and in life.
The Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood seeks to enlist a community-wide effort to ensure all children succeed in school and life through the support of numerous community supports.
The Frogrown Promise Neighborhood encompasses a 250-block area within the Summit-University and Frogtown neighborhoods. Some of the key partners joining Wilder in this ambitious project include: the City of Saint Paul, St. Paul Public Schools, YWCA, University Planning Council, and Frogtown Neighborhood. Organizations with informational booths engaged or interested in the initiative included: Wilder, Open Cities, Resources for Child Caring, YMCA, University of Minnesota Public Health, St. Paul Police and Fire Departments.
Saint Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva was animated by wonderful event the significant impact it will have for the children and families of Frogtown. Aside from her informal duty of find children to draw names for the various door prizes she proudly introduced two principals in the promise to the audience.
“If we all trust each other and believe, kids are the most capable,” said Silva. “Kids deserve this and more. We need to put away politics.”
Later in an e-mail interview she responded to two questions helping shed light of the important roles everyone in the community will have if they are truly going to achieve success. Below is the text from her responses:
How does SPPS help support the children and families of Frogtown to succeed?
“We know that in order to help an area and its people succeed, we need to invest in its children. Saint Paul Public Schools is joining with the Wilder Foundation, the city of Saint Paul, the Frogtown Neighborhood Association and several others to do whatever is necessary to bring success to Frogtown’s children and families. Through planning for the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, we all recognize that if we are truly strategic about our planning, we will lay the groundwork for success.
“Even here in Saint Paul, we have seen what that looks like at some schools where families can find help with health care or housing and students are able to concentrate on learning. This is the kind of work we are expecting to bring to Frogtown families. And it will be a model for all of our families throughout the city.”
What are the essential partnerships to help the children / families of Frogtown succeed and what are their roles?
“As is the case with all of our schools, we need to recognize that our schools alone cannot bring success to families. We all have roles to play and they often cross paths. Without family services that are offered by the City of Saint Paul or Lao Family Community of Minnesota, our families and children can’t focus as easily on school work.
“We need community partnerships from organizations even outside of Frogtown that have embraced our schools in the neighborhood, such as the Assistance League Minneapolis / St. Paul that provided coats to keep the children of Maxfield Magnet warm. With each other’s help, we can show that Frogtown is truly a thriving neighborhood with a spirit of cultural awareness is to be celebrated. Many people who come from across state lines know this. With the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, we have the chance to highlight that throughout the country and affect positive change for all of families even beyond the Frogtown borders.”
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter thanked the Frogtown Summit University Neighborhoods and acknowledged the role of fellow Commissioner Janice Rettman.
“The promise is here today, it is us working together,” said Carter. “If the achievement gap can be eliminated in Harlem, then what are we waiting for in St. Paul?”
Saint Paul City Councilman Melvin Carter encouraged the community to work together as it is the “Biggest opportunity our community has had in a long time.”
“The children are just waiting for us to get it right,” he added.
Hamilton Bell, Project Director took time acknowledge the work of the Youth Committee and went on to describe how the program would make sure to create the conditions for a quality education. He inspired the audience, “ Let’s continue to develop and make the light come in.”