New Lake Street youth center aims to provide positive direction

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The concept of Urban Venture Leadership Foundation’s Youth Hub is simple. Provide kids with more options to engage in positive activities. Keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.

Or as vice-president Mark-Peter Lindquist puts it, “These kids are on the fence between a world of pimps and gangs and the positive opportunities we provide.”

The Urban Youth Hub seeks to create hope among young people by equipping them with the practical and moral tools necessary for success.

Since 1993, when Art Erickson, a veteran youth worker/community developer, joined forces with Ralph Bruins, a former Lake Street banker, to draft a plan to empower youth and families in Minneapolis’ poorest neighborhoods, Urban Ventures has been providing positive means to positive endings.

They created the Urban Stars athletic club that has grown to include 450 inner-city youth and thirty-five coaches to provide at-risk kids an alternative to street life.

They started family support services with the Center for Fathering and the People’s Exchange and educational services with a computer-based Learning Lab Technology Center.

All these efforts and initiatives were focused in a ten-block area in the Central and Phillips neighborhoods which Urban Ventures refers to as the “Opportunity Zone.”

“It’s amazing,” said former hustler V.J. Smith, now a community leader. “Before, when you set foot on these blocks, there were three things you could do: have sex, get high or get drunk.

“Today, you can do anything from get your G.E.D. to get a bus pass; go to church or find a job; get your kids on a sports team or get them computer access. Only God could have brought these changes.”

With a thirteen-year history in building successful community, their vision for the Urban Youth Hub isn’t exactly a shot in the dark.

Understanding that if they could increase access to opportunities and create different opportunities than the bleak options available to kids on the streets of their neighborhoods, the staff of Urban Ventures knew that they could ultimately divert people away from the cycle of drugs, prison and poverty that consume many urban youth today.

Urban Ventures went to work fundraising, planning, building and convincing people of the positive change a youth Hub could bring to an impoverished South side community.

Economically, the Phillips and Central Neighborhoods are the poorest in Minneapolis; 41% of the residents living within a one-mile of Urban Ventures live at or below the federal poverty level, and 92% of students qualify for free lunch at school.

Through extensive research and experience in urban communities, Urban Ventures maintains that the dysfunction of being poor is not just a financial disorder. The effects of economic poverty trickle down and transcend all areas of life, employment, education and the family. More than a third of the Central and Phillips Neighborhood residents are aged nineteen and younger; and 63% of the youth live in single parent homes. Moreover, a staggering 80% of youth involved in Urban Ventures’ programming do not live with their fathers.

The negative stress, anxiety and fear that result from dysfunctional family situations and parental poverty also contribute to educational poverty, according to the research retrieved by Urban Ventures. The dismal 47% graduation rate of high-school seniors in the Minneapolis Public Schools clearly suggests rampant academic poverty .

In Minneapolis, the reading scores on standardized tests taken by third-, fifth-, and eight-graders ranged from 19-42%, compared to their peers in Minnetonka whose scores ranged from 88-94%. Nationally, Minnesota has the largest disparity in high-school test scores between Black and white students.

Urban Ventures concludes that the frustration and dysfunction stemming from wholesale poverty creates a sense of hopelessness amongst youth that is manifested in the community violence we see played out in the city streets.

“If we are to reach these youth before they succumb to the negative pressures present in this neighborhood, we must provide them with an opportunity and the tools to develop their inner character to such a high level that they can survive and succeed in any environment. The goal of the Urban Youth Hub is to do exactly that,” said Art Erickson, President of Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation.

Enter the Urban Youth Hub, where new generations of leaders are being developed.

Equipped with a skateboard ramp and a state of the art recording studio, the Youth Hub strives to accommodate dreams and aspirations of young people through developmental programs that focus on healing the hearts, the hurts and heads of disadvantaged youth.

Programs that deal with the “heart” stress character development. Encouraging each child’s passion and dreams while also helping to develop his/her moral compass will result in strong character and most importantly, changed hearts, said Lindquist.

Character development programs include, Elevation, a collaborative program with Urban Young Life. Elevation will reach approximately 300 at-risk African-American youth from four Minneapolis high schools.

La Victoria, an established Latino outreach program, aims to involve youth ages 12-19 in small empowerment groups that offer support and character building opportunities. The skateboard park, the recording studio and jump rope team also fall under programming for character development.

Creating a safe place for kids to share their hurts and begin to heal is the first step in developing strong character,” said Chris Snoddy, who works in the Powerhouse program. “The pain of neglect and abuse; the fear of gang violence; the presence of drugs and alcohol and the sense of abandonment faced by prison-prone families are just some of the hurts youth must address in the emotional development programs,” he said. Programs like Powerhouse and Life Coaches offer, group meetings, off-site retreats, positive role models and mentors to help students take that all-important first step.

Finally, the Head faction of programming addresses educational development.

Because education is a key component in building up the next generation of urban leaders, Urban Ventures seeks to expose our youth to the college experience. Students involved in the “Head” programs will regularly tour college campuses, establish a post-secondary educational reality and become emotionally prepared for the stark differences between life in the inner-city and life on a college campus. Interestingly enough, the program Zoom brings suburban, rural and collegiate student groups on a weeklong urban immersion to experience first-hand the issues facing urban neighborhoods.

“Currently, we anticipate nearly 2,000 youth will come through the doors of the Urban Youth Hub annually to participate in Urban Ventures’ programming and other programs established with our partner organizations,” said Kerry Givens, Vice-President of Development for Urban Ventures. “The impact of the Urban Youth Hub will be far reaching in regard to the number of youth reached and the long-term changes those youth and this neighborhood will experience,” added Givens.

For more information about Urban Ventures and its Urban Youth Hub, contact 612-822-1628.

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