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Partnering with Hope and Dreams

By Stephanie Wilkes

Photo of a house model in a pair of hands.
The University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs is partnering with Hope Community to rejuvenate a south Minneapolis neighborhood. Hope Community helps to provide low-income housing at the corner Franklin and Portland.

From Brief, March 26, 2008

The University's partnerships with Hope Community and Learning Dreams are two examples of the most common type of community and University partnerships: partnering with an existing community organization and partnering with a community to create a new organization within that community.

These different kinds of partnerships follow different timelines and approaches, but they both work to achieve the same goal: to create change by combining University and community knowledge.

Hope Community: From the ground up

If you have driven or walked past the intersection of Franklin and Portland Avenues in the past few years, you may have noticed that it has been changing. These changes to the south Minneapolis neighborhood, which will include four-story buildings at each corner totaling 233 rental units by 2010, are the work of Hope Community (with partner and non-profit developer Aeon).

Hope Community was established in the late 1970s with a shelter for women and children run by three Sisters of St. Joseph. In the late 80s and early 90s, when the south Minneapolis neighborhood was hit by the cocaine epidemic, Hope started to buy and refurnish abandoned houses to provide affordable housing for local residents. It also began to create community and youth development space, which was expanded in the first building on the corner that includes the Hope headquarters and community center.

Hope has partnered with numerous University of Minnesota members over the years, but its recent partnership with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) has allowed two University graduate students to work with Hope Community. Katie Lechelt, a master's student in landscape architecture, has been looking into the best ways to connect Franklin Steele Park (a nearby park across Highway 94) to Hope and the neighborhood, while Alyssa Erickson, a master's student in Geographic Information Systems, has been collecting recent statistical data for Hope Community to use in its future efforts.

"CURA provides community organizations with access to dedicated applied researchers," says Kris Nelson, director of CURA's Neighborhood Planning for Community Revitalization program. "The students are immersed in the community organizations, where they can be used and provide value."

Mary Keefe, executive director of Hope Community, recognizes the unique knowledge these students bring to her organization, but also sees it as a chance to share some of Hope's wisdom with them.

"These students bring their young energy, specific knowledge, and talent to our organization," says Keefe. "It is important for them to be here, so they can learn by taking a different approach. We consider it part of our mission to provide learning opportunities for young people within our organization."

Creating a partnership between the University and an existing organization requires a delicate balance, and it?s not always without challenges. Nelson believes that for these partnerships to succeed, the University needs to come to the table with an open mind.

"It is important that the community initiates the research question," says Nelson. "The University has lots of ideas, but we cannot create the absolute answer. It is only valuable to the community if they are involved from the beginning."

For Keefe, honesty is always the best policy.

"The challenge is to make sure the needs of both parties are met," says Keefe. "On the whole, I have learned that you need to build a relationship first. That is when it works best, when you can be honest in the relationship and talk through any issues."

Learning Dreams: From the inside out

In 1995, Jerry Stein, a community youth group educator in the College of Education and Human Development, was asked to start another tutoring program for children having trouble in school. His answer: "A tutoring program is not what these kids need." It was from this encounter that the idea for Learning Dreams, a collaboration with communities and schools to build a love of learning in parents and in the home, was born.

"Our only assumption is that people have learning dreams, and we help them achieve those," says Stein. "Whenever they are making progress--as defined by them--then we try to figure out how their learning can aid the learning of their children. We play to people's strengths, and it works."

Learning Dreams began in 1997 with its original site in southeast Minneapolis, where their efforts were so successful that they were able to help reopen Pratt Elementary School in 2000. Another site was started in 2006 in Worthington, Minnesota, to serve a primarily Latino community. Their newest site opened in north Minneapolis through a partnership with Hall Elementary School in 2007, and they are working to start another site in Belfast, Ireland, in the near future.

Two preschoolers and a teacher.

Stein sees Learning Dreams as a connector, matching resources to the people who need them. He also believes in the importance of community ownership of its efforts.

"Our underlying vision is that the learning has to be owned by the family and the community," says Stein. "The community needs to be restored and they need to see learning as their own thing. We are there to help build support and make connections."

Each of the three sites employs a neighborhood educator, who is immersed in the community and is attuned to their needs. These learning educators cultivate personal relationships with the families.

"I usually meet in the home, with the parents, and we identify their dream and the learning goal they want to work on," says Andria Daniel, neighborhood educator at the north Minneapolis site. "It could be anything from getting a driver's license to joining a writing class to opening a business. My job is to go out and find the resources for them, at no cost to them."

Once the parents are on their way to achieving their own learning goals, Daniel says their interaction with their children and their learning really begins to grow.

"As the parents become more active in their own learning, you begin to see changes in the houses," says Daniel. "One mother now does her homework with her children, and another does volunteer work at her children's school--it leads to an increase in parent activity."

In addition to fostering a love of learning, this partnership also offers a chance for the community to become better acquainted with the University--to consider it as an option for their future.

"For lots of families, the University seems so far away, untouchable," says Daniel, who is also a recent family education graduate. "For me, [Learning Dreams] is a great opportunity to talk to parents about the U of M and my experiences as a student and a single mother who was at one time in the same place they are now."

As a land grant institution, it is vital that the University engage with the community to fulfill its mission. But it is these partnerships that challenge the University to really innovate and stay current, says Stein.

"These partnerships are pushing us to understand learning in new ways, bringing new ideas and practical ways to deliver learning," says Stein.

Stephanie Wilkes is a senior in English and linguistics and a communications intern in the Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail