$28 million for NAZ to serve families

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Gregory Wheeler, parent of a son at Elizabeth Hall School, was in the audience the day they announced, at Hall, the $28 million grant to Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). He got connected with NAZ through a booth at a school event, and attended NAZ’ Family Academy with all the kids together, ages 6, 5, 4, and 3.

“It’s exciting to be part of NAZ. I recently got laid off. And it’s up to me to find employment,” Wheeler told NorthNews, and NAZ is helping with that. He’s a homeowner who’s lived in the neighborhood 13 years, unlike many NAZ families who are more recently arrived from Gary, Indiana and other troubled towns, he said. At 35th and Emerson, the 2011 tornado knocked out power, costing them their food and three weeks of disruption, “but we were really blessed.”

Wheeler, a divorced parent with all the kids living with him, said of NAZ, “I can see it going places.” He said he finds it a “one stop,” helping a child who has speech problems, supporting and loving all the kids, “plus helping me. It’s really a family affair.”

Helena Neeley, another NAZ parent, stepped into the conversation at Hall as all the suits swirled around talking about what the grant might mean to their agencies. “We are a NAZ family; I have a 5-year-old. My mother’s in college, I’m in college. I was a teen mom. My goal was—I lost my sister to gang violence—school is never not going to be an option for my daughter. NAZ has helped reiterate that to my family.”

Gregory Wheeler and Helena Neeley, who have both benefited from NAZ connections.

In the McKinley neighborhood, they live close to the community garden. “I’m working on healthy eating. I actually have to gain weight to go into the service,” one of her goals. Neeley went to school with the daughter of Jewelean Jackson, her NAZ connector. The connectors, or family coaches, essentially adopt each family’s needs and connect them to whatever resources are necessary. NAZ resource partners are in various organizations from schools to housing.

“I realize I was a NAZ family even before,” said Amy, who also knew Jackson through other connections. “All I needed to do was move in” to the zone, Broadway to 35th Avenue North, from Third Street to Penn Avenue.

Jackson said, “we knocked on all the doors,” and Amy added “even when I didn’t answer, she never gave up.”

“Nor will I,” Jackson added.

The US Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood Implementation grant will help increase the number of engagement team “family coaches” from six to 40. “Family coaches are from the North Minneapolis community and are trained neighbor-leaders who work one-on-one with families to build a culture of achievement within their homes,” a news release explains.

The grant, for five years of operations, was announced Dec. 19 by Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy U.S. Education Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement. He quoted a line from NAZ’s application that tipped the scales, “And if it doesn’t work, we’ll keep trying until it does.”

“It’s a monumental responsibility that we don’t take lightly.” said NAZ CEO Sondra Samuels. “The Promise Neighborhood program and NAZ share the same vision—that all children and youth deserve access to great schools and strong systems of family and community support that will prepare them for college and a career, starting at birth.”

“The Promise Neighborhood funding will allow us to immediately scale up our services to reach many more families,” Samuels said. “It sets in motion our ability to grow from our current 150 pilot families to our five-year goal of reaching 1,200 families with 3,000 children—all successfully on a path to college. We hold the belief that all of our families are going to succeed. This isn’t the end of our journey, but just the beginning,” she said.

For more information about the Northside Achievement Zone, go to www.the-NAZ.org or call 612-521-4405.