Bill could boost funding for Somali youth


The funds would go to a partnership between the U and a nonprofit group.


State lawmakers want to lend additional support to Somali youth in Minnesota who may be at risk of gang violence, drug abuse and radicalization.

A bill introduced this session would appropriate state money to Ka Joog, a nonprofit that focuses on reducing adverse experiences and increasing educational opportunities for Somali youth.

The legislation would expand the afterschool program the Takeoff 4H STEAM Club, which Ka Joog runs in partnership with the University of Minnesota. In addition, the bill would allocate funding for Ka Joog to start a pilot program that would create internship opportunities and job readiness training for youth.

“It’s all about getting youth engaged and involved and giving them the skills to be productive adults,” said Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the bill.

The bill, which has already passed two legislative committees, would provide $1.9 million over the next biennium to expand the partnership program between Ka Joog and the University to other cities in Minnesota.

Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog, said the proposed state funds would allow the program to reach other parts of Minnesota with large Somali populations, like Willmar, Rochester and St. Cloud.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the Twin Cities, so we’re trying to take that where you have a high population of Somalis,” he said.

Farah said Ka Joog was created in 2007 when a group of Somali youth met and discussed the problems their community was facing.

“They wanted to create a foundation that does two things: One, get young people away from all negative influences, and two, put them in the right direction, which was and still is education,” Farah said.

Jennifer Skuza, an assistant dean of the University’s Extension office, which helps run the program with Ka Joog, said the organizations partnered in 2014 to start the after-school program with funds from private and federal grants.

The program allows kids to meet daily and work on projects related to science, technology, engineering, the arts and math, she said.

“On a given day, they’ll be working on an engineering project. They’ll be working on a performance arts project, so you’ll see a content focus to it, but also there’s time for young people to have some tutoring as well as some homework help,” she said.

The program, which currently exists in Eden Prairie, enrolled 25 members, but there are many more on a waiting list, Skuza said.

With current funding sources, Skuza said the University and Ka Joog will bring the after-school program to schools in St. Paul and Minneapolis starting this summer.

Farah said the organization also wants to establish more of an international presence, and it’s currently opening locations in East Africa.

“It’s not just in Minnesota, but it’s also working with the international community to make sure that young people are thriving everywhere,” Farah said. “In order to do the work that we’re doing, we can’t do it alone.”