Citizenship the theme of Harvest Gathering

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With the banging of Northeast Middle School’s radiators reminding us that winter is nigh, a cafeteria full of people discussed questions about getting to know neighbors, joining neighborhood groups, and making connections to make Northeast a better place.

It was the Northeast Harvest Gathering 2011. Music by the Francophone African Chaplaincy from St. Boniface Church set an uplifting tone. The quilt that’s become a symbol of the event, representing various contributors to the Northeast fabric, was once again the backdrop.

While mingling before the program, attendees could find out about and sign up to volunteer at community outreach organizations: Northeast Library, Meals on Wheels, Northeast Senior Services, Hennepin County Child and Teen Checkups, Neighborhood Health Source, Fruits of the City/ Garden Gleaning Project, Northeast Royalty, Emergency Foodshelf Network, and East Side Food Co-op.

Retired news anchor and investigative reporter Don Shelby did the keynote, teased by Ron Handberg of Northeast, who hired him at WCCO in 1978. “He knows everything about everything, and if you don’t believe it, just ask him,” Handberg said.

Shelby says he’ll be spending more time in Northeast, as “my baby, with her baby and husband, will be moving in, in a month. They love Northeast’s diversity, and that it is growing.

He said in citizenship and citizen participation, “all good things come from the bottom up. If the system is working, the top will listen and then pass down” good policies.

Shelby stressed the importance of playing on a team. As a young basketball player he rode home in silence with his older brother after having scored no points. When he finally got the nerve to ask his brother what he thought, the brother said, “as an individual, you’re not very good, but when you’re on the floor, they are better than they would be otherwise.” The assist, Shelby said, is the most important role.

Four NCAA full-ride scholarship recipients came out of his group, and at age 64, they all still give him credit for being a good teammate. Shelby’s new book, coincidentally, is titled The Season Never Ends.

He recommended Harry Boyte’s book, The Citizen Solution, in which Boyte says to affect change, become cohesive. “In the last 100 years people have become consumers of government. Harry argues that we should be the producers, and that’s the task before you.”

“We have to be open if we want to be one community. This is the crucible, the place that it has happened!” Shelby said. “In the past 50 years there’s been a loss of that sense that one vote counts,” but it does. “Now go up and win one for the gipper!”

Circulating around the room after discussions and plentiful sweets from local restaurants, participants shared how they have gone about meeting neighbors.

John Brandes: “We meet ‘like’ spirits at church, there’s a bond within a faith community.”

Kelly Hoffman: “It’s easier in summer, and in bad weather, when more people are out.”

Nathaniel Christian: “It’s unavoidable to engage our neighbors. Invite. Engage at the bus stops, at festivals, and church organizations.

Nick Heille: “I start with the premise that everyone is normal until you get to know them. I ask ‘where do you fit into the galaxy?’”

Sheila Biernat introduced a woman from the Islamic Resource Group (IRGMN.org) who said to get to know people, “be open, approachable” yourself. “There is an openness in Minnesota, but there is also an automatic barrier to get over. I learned to be open, I was the opposite when I was younger.”

Clara Dunnwald, an eighth grader, said her debating experience tells her to say one interesting fact about yourself, to get someone else to open up.

Another comment: “Children are an entry—they’ll play together.” Others said “say hello” or “invite someone to the new coffee house.” Or invite with vegetables (garden grown), they’ll start to talk about their foods. It can be as simple as a smile or wave.