East Side Neighborhood Services expanding programs for Minneapolis seniors, youth


If you’re a senior needing a job with new work skills to make ends meet, or if you’re a young student or have one in the family, East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS or “East Side”) could touch your life, as the agency’s been touching and improving lives since 1915.

After an economically rough five years, ESNS Executive Director Bill Laden said, grants received allow expansions in some key program areas. Laden talked about these programs with Associate Director Susan McCauley and Jazmin Danielson, Youth Department Director. We reminisced about how the agency’s evolved since the days of government commodities distribution in the early 1980s, our mutual time in the neighborhood.

The subject of food came up because East Side’s other expansion was taking over operation of Greater Lake Country Food Bank (GLCFB) in September 2012, after its founder, Hy Rosen, died. East Side already ran the Glendale Food Shelf serving 500-600 monthly, and the Senior Food Shelf at 1801 Central Ave. NE serving 450-500 monthly. GLCFB ran, and East Side has continued, a mobile food shelf program that brings food to 35 high rises throughout Hennepin County serving about 2,000 older adults monthly.

The transition of taking on Greater Lake Country is not quite complete, but Laden expects that when it’s done, the food bank will help more people on a more regular basis.

East Side Neighborhood Services started in the tradition of settlement houses, helping immigrants assimilate. Today their motto is “helping individuals, strengthening family, building community,” and this they do through many different program areas: Youth development and out of school time, summer camp, day care, Menlo Park Alternative School, family services and a violence intervention program, the food shelves. There are several senior programs—transportation, dining, community service employment and various classes, and Friendship Center Adult Day Care. There are jobs training programs for adults and seniors. They also have a volunteer program to help throughout the agency, and offer community use of their space.

Laden said a recent challenge grant by the Otto Bremer Foundation succeeded in raising $15,000 in new or expanded individual donations to match $15,000 of Bremer money. Bremer also gave $50,000 for general operating…the toughest kind of grant for a non-profit agency to get.

Youth programs expand

New funding of about $1.5 million over three years, with another two years possible, allows East Side to work with youth of different ages in what they call “out of school” programs. This refers to before, after, or break times—any time that students aren’t in school. Where East Side had focused on K-8 students, they will now also help get high schoolers college ready at Menlo Park Academy at 1700 Second St. NE, at Edison High School with the Beacons program, and at Heritage Academy in the old Tuttle School building in Southeast.

Out of school programs for 6th-8th graders have been expanded to four days a week at East Side and Luxton in Southeast.

For both age groups, the goals are to increase reading and math core competencies to at least grade level, increase school connectedness to decrease the risk of dropping out, and “enhance 21st Century skills” such as public speaking, research, critical thinking and debate. The grant is called 21st Century, given to 12 sites in Minnesota, mostly non-profit organizations and some schools.

Danielson said this grant also allowed some full-time departmental support from a creative arts therapist who does one-on-one and group activities, as well as meeting with families. A second new resource is an educational consultant providing support for teachers helping develop curriculum and doing observation. And finally, a person is now on board as a quality assessment specialist helping set and measure program outcomes.

“We have had a tough year,” Danielson said, in terms of children and families having various kinds of upheaval going on. “Trauma informed care” and ACE, attention to “Adverse Childhood Experiences” are now commonplace. “With ACE we’re trying to put a name on it so people can heal, break down cycles of dysfunction.”

Excluding Camp Bovey, the other ESNS youth program, 350 youth were served in 2012, which may seem a small number but is intense and effective, Danielson said. “We saw an increase in social/emotional support for the group” and built “great relationships between youth and staff, staff and family. A lot of parents came to Menlo parent night,” for example.

Jobs and training for Seniors

At the other end of the age spectrum: New jobs for seniors. “In the 1980s it was women who outlived their spouses and had never worked outside the home,” McCauley said. “Now we’re seeing people with master’s degrees, ages 65 to 68, who need a change in skills to get a job to make ends meet. It’s a much more diverse group, and of course, there are immigrants.”

At a wide variety of sites, seniors earn $7.25 an hour for an average of 20 hours a week, putting $900,000 in wages in a year into their pockets and the local economy. The skills learned and used vary based on their future employment plans. Some may be tutoring, some may be at Hennepin County. “We had one at Menlo who helped with lunch and ‘circle groups,’” a kind of facilitation training “helping each other through difficult times. We had people who would not have sought each other out, but together had experiences that helped with coping,” McCauley said.

“Senior wages are funded through Title V of the Older Americans Act. Host sites provide in-kind support for the program through supervision of the Senior Workers. In October 2012 the federal contractor (Senior Services America) opted to consolidate its Hennepin County services through its contract with East Side Neighborhood Services, Inc. so our services expanded to include those services that had been provided by Jewish Family & Children’s Services,” McCauley said.

So, the agency is now ramping up from having 74 senior workers placed at 40 community host sites, to 175 at 65 sites. By Feb. 1, they’ll be adding a case manager to help with federal program paperwork requirements; otherwise, there’s one key staff person with administrative support from senior workers taking care of the program.

To qualify for these jobs, a person needs to be 55 or older, at or below 125 percent of the poverty level “which is about $13,500 in income per year,” McCauley said. “And we work with the most in need. Veterans, disabled, spouse of veteran. They have to be in extreme poverty to apply.” A person can be in the program for four years.

Comparing to 30 years ago

Today, winter sun streams in through the east facing wall of windows along Second Street. On a table full of flyers for various services, one in Spanish with no English translation announces that “todos los martes puede consultar con trabajadores comunitarios de la oficina de servicios multicultural (OMS) de Hennepin aqui”—every Tuesday you can talk to Hennepin County Office of Multicultural Services community workers here at East Side Neighborhood Services, about applications for food stamps, “Efectivo,” Medicare, Assured Access.

Another flyer announces “A Matter of Balance,” eight weekly two-hour classes to help people prevent falls. Attendees are in their 80s, McCauley said, though she would like to see younger folks attend before they really need to use the information, or to help their parents. (For info on this, call Laura at 612-781-6011.)

The East Side Neighborhood Services building is just across the street and a few blocks south of the previous building, which has been turned into housing. Fitting, as when the agency was there, the bathrooms on upper floors still had tubs, though there was also a modern addition for a gym. Leading up to the 100th anniversary in 2015, ESNS’s annual reports each take a few pages to reminisce about each decade in Northeast and world history reflected at East Side.

When Laden joined the agency in February 1981 as Director of Family Community Services, the larger-than-life Joe Holewa was at the helm. Most visible fundraisers were the All Nations Festivals—the indomitable Genevieve Draves went door to door for business advertising and donations. And once a summer, a busload of seniors would gather for “Day at the Dome.”

Laden was promoted to Assistant Director in 1987 and in 1989 to Executive Director. The agency went from a million dollar a year budget to around $5 million in these three decades, and built a new building “at just the right time—we were lucky,” Laden said. Thanks to a successful capital campaign at the time, that $8 million building is owned free and clear.

Programs have changed, some have gone away as funding dried up, for example, the Somali Women in Minnesota program. Volunteers of America took over the Senior Place at 1801 Central, a former ESNS-staffed location.

A wine tasting event is now a pretty big fundraising deal, as is the 8th Annual Twin Cities Snowshoe Shuffle on Long Lake coming up Feb. 2. The event honors the memory of co-founder Joe Holewa, and proceeds help fund scholarships for kids to attend Camp Bovey.

When the Twins moved to Target Field, it didn’t work for East Side to get tickets anymore for a baseball outing. But, come Feb. 7, they’ll hold the 37th Annual Senior Appreciation Valentine Dinner.

For more information on ESNS, phone 612-781-6011 or go to the website, www.esns.org.