Northway hopes to keep money on North Side

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Shortly after Wesley Walker’s departure as its executive director, the board of Northway Community Trust made the “very painful” decision to dissolve, Northway Treasurer Troy Kester said in a NorthNews interview. Told that rumors were circulating about the organization foregoing in excess of $300,000 in grant funds, Kester said it is a good reminder that they should try to put out some kind of formal statement.

“We’re in the throes of dissolution, working with a couple of attorneys on the final details and facts. We want to do a release once more has been determined,” Kester said. “We’re just a bunch of folks living on the North Side. We’ve found it’s not fundable any longer. We wanted, rather than spending a lot of money on staff, to be able to give back as much as we could. The goal is that all the assets should benefit the North Side.” He did not give details, but confirmed that the intent would be to try to benefit Northside organizations with which they have had history.

Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) has provided most of Northway’s funds. Gary Cunningham, chief program officer and vice president of programs for NWAF, said he has directed the organization to redirect the remaining funds.

He explained that NWAF’s support stemmed from a 10-year poverty reduction program partnership that started in the early 2000’s and was re-formed into a “regular grantee” relationship in 2009, two years after he came on at NWAF. At the time, Northway’s three main objectives, with a deadline for completion in December 2011, were to work on seeding what became the Northside Achievement Zone, to establish and work to develop Northside Economic Opportunity Network, and work to get franchises along West Broadway in North Minneapolis, the one goal that did not materialize in the down economy.

“They can be proud that they had a role in those organizations and did great work in the community,” Cunningham said.

Kester said Cunningham has been part of the dissolution discussion and has been “a very generous partner.”

Kester said Northway’s goal was to be a convenor of interests, facilitating collaboration and providing seed grants to get organizations started to address the needs that they identified. Now, “funders don’t want to hand over money not knowing what they’re going to do with it.” Some individual fundraising has been done and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation funded Northway’s contracted staffing of the NOMI Comprehensive Community Development group. The NOMI CCD was working on a coordinated information approach for potential funders and others who could bring resources to North Minneapolis.

The Northway organization is paying off contracts and obligations relating to the office, and he hopes to be done with all legalities by June, Kester said. The exact amount of money that will be left, and how much will go to each organization, is yet to be determined.

“Part of our thinking was to not end in crisis, but to distribute the assets to the North Side, finding a way to use them on the North Side.” The money, which would have allowed the organization to operate for another 2-3 years, is the “lions share” of those assets.

Did Walker’s decision precipitate theirs, or vice versa? Neither or both, Kester said, they were budgeting for the next fiscal year when Walker shared his intention to leave. “We want to leave proud,” of investments like the Northside Achievement Zone which has gone on to attract $28 million in federal funds, and NEON, the business assistance service, “that don’t get talked about as much. The timing’s never great.”

Kester said he and president Vicky McMillan are working with the attorneys, that the board no longer meets now that the necessary motions have been made to dissolve. “We have a strong fiduciary responsibility. It feels odd, I’m not sure we exactly signed up for this. But we want it to stay on the North Side.”