Hospitality House steers youth toward positive futures

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North Minneapolis nonprofit grounds programs in faith

“I really encourage the community to get involved in good things that help…and help them grow. Because I believe that if the community were to come together as a team and identify those programs and entities that are doing great work with kids…we could really make [an] impact and change our community.”

Jackie Martin is program director at Hospitality House. She and her staff of four maintain the programs for the faith-based organization that has been a part of the North Minneapolis community since the 1960s. Martin herself has a long history in the North Minneapolis community and the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). For MPS she coordinated all youth events outside of academic activities. This included student council, parent meetings, and Black History Month programs.

As program director with Hospitality House, she creates programs for kids as well. Programs such as the Sista’ to Sista’ group for girls ages 11-17, the Little Diamonds group for girls ages six-10, and a teen parent support group currently work to support the social health of the children they serve. But their biggest activity is their midnight basketball games, held on Saturdays from 7 pm until midnight, for teenaged boys.

“We also feed them [the boys] and then they have a power talk, which means we invite somebody in — such as a clergy or jobs person or housing person — to come in and do what we call a power talk.” The power talk is followed by prayer and basketball.

Generally, those who participate in activities at Hospitality House hear about them through word of mouth. Their long-standing presence in the community works to their advantage. “We’ve been around for so long [that] we had generations of families [to] participate in our program,” Martin explains. They also publicize events through flyers and sharing information at community gatherings.

Martin explains what brought her to Hospitality House: “God gave me a vision to start having youth dances that are all faith-based, where kids can come and have a good time… I drove by the Hospitality House one day, and the Lord really spoke to me and told me that’s the place that I need to embark upon to get this off the ground.”

After this experience, Martin says that she spoke with then-director Larry McKenzie and started holding the dances at Hospitality House. From there McKenzie called upon Martin to facilitate other groups and activities. Martin continued to volunteer with Hospitality House for three years. When McKenzie left as director and there was no one in place for programming, Martin went after the job of program director, which was a position that didn’t exist at the time.

Why? “I’ve always just had a heart for young people,” she says. “I can’t even really tell you why. It’s just always been imbedded in me, and everything that I’ve been throughout my career has had to [do] with young people.”

Hospitality House is located at 1220 Logan Ave. N. in Minneapolis. For more information, contact them at 612-522-4485 or http://hhyd.org.

While at a Hospitality House, Martin would like to improve upon a mission she feels has already been set in motion: “Creating good programs of substance that would benefit our kids — not necessarily [as] a recreational facility but [as] a center of learning, a center of empowerment, a center of self-identification, where kids can come and really gain information that will help them be better citizens.”

Programs like the Urban Learning Center, where kids can come and receive two-to-three hours of tutoring a day, is one of the many things that are already in the works. The tutoring sessions are conducted by retired teachers.

“We have statistics that show that because of our work our kids are excelling. We have seen kids that come into our program [during] first grade. By the time they are in second or third grade, they are well above their grade level,” Martin states proudly.

Although Hospitality House is based in North Minneapolis, Martin says they welcome all children. Unfortunately, they can only provide transportation for children in the North Minneapolis area.

Hospitality House is a small nonprofit organization, and Martin says that they are not financially independent. “We are very much supported by the suburban churches. I would love to see us be more supported by our community churches. However, the fact is that probably 80 percent of [the] funding that helps us survive is from suburban churches and private donations… We never have too much — we never have plenty. We always have spaces where we need financial help.”

Those seeking to support Hospitality House in their efforts may do so through monetary contributions, but they may also do so by donating their time. “We have a wonderful volunteer coordinator who really gets people into our building who support kids and our programming, but as you know, an extra body is always helpful.”

Martin says that the most important aspect of Hospitality House is the fact that they are a faith-based organization. “Any and everything we do has to include God. It has to include his word. It has to include prayer… I want kids to know God, because I believe that through him, that is the only way that they will be able to overcome certain barriers and certain tragedies and traumas.”

Martin says that she wants the experience that youth have at Hospitality House to last them for a lifetime. “When kids are done with their time [here] they can absolutely look back and say that they are a better person because of the things that they’ve learned at Hospitality House.”

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokesman-recorder.com.