Gail Rosenblum
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In her more than 25 years working in education and youth development, Danielle Grant said she’s always been amazed by the resilience, creativity and positivity of Minneapolis’ young people. But the president and CEO of AchieveMpls acknowledges that the past several months — defined by abrupt educational shifts and the economic fallout of COVID-19, as well as the traumatizing death of George Floyd — have tested the limits of even the most resilient Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) students. In response, AchieveMpls has launched the MPS Student Support Fund to offer mental health counseling, school-based programs and interventions to let students know how deeply they are valued.

Q: After George Floyd’s killing, what needs arose among young people you serve?

A: I think what happened was a lot of different things coming together. Following all of the challenges of life during a pandemic — including months of distance learning and social isolation, the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing unrest in our community — more and more people began to understand that our Minneapolis children and youth have significant needs, and they wanted to help. We began to get calls and e-mails about how to donate money for immediate needs, such as food, but also how to help students with their social-emotional needs. The new support fund (achievempls.org) provides some immediate needs support, but is primarily about ongoing support.

Q: How much is in the fund and where is it coming from?

A: So far we have received approximately $54,000. The money has come from small donations, as well as a generous $50,000 grant from the Cargill Foundation. AchieveMpls holds the fund in our role as the nonprofit foundation for Minneapolis Public Schools, but it is administered by staff at MPS who understand the specific needs of our students and school communities. They will determine the specific use of the fund to best support the safety, care and social-emotional well-being of our students.

Q: Students across the district?

A: Yes, this is a districtwide fund that will serve all MPS students. Students across the community have been impacted in so many different ways by the murder of Mr. Floyd. While some students have seen the impacts directly in their neighborhoods, others are impacted less directly but still have questions and need help dealing with their emotions. I’m also excited to see so many of our high school students mobilized to activism, and we will be looking to them to generate ideas on how to make our school district and community better.

Q: Did students come to you to share their distress, or were you hearing more from the adults in their lives?

A: Our team works with thousands of MPS students through our Career & College Centers in 11 high schools, so we’ve been hearing their stories firsthand and providing as much support as possible during these past several weeks and months. This spring, like everyone else, we transitioned from in-person support to connecting remotely via phone, e-mail, online video chats and other online tools. Students shared the challenges they were navigating through the pandemic, and then their grief and trauma over George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing unrest. In addition, we were contacted by concerned parents and community members who wanted to know how they could be a part of financially supporting efforts to help young people process their feelings and heal. And MPS teachers and other school staff were also taking on their own fundraising efforts to help their students. So we believe that the new fund provides a good structure to manage and distribute all of these donations.

Q: With MPS planning to go online-only until November, do you have the stamina to keep going at this high level?

A: Fortunately or unfortunately, we have all become much more adept at communicating and meeting online through Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts or Google Classroom. We’re confident that we will be able to adapt opportunities to allow for social distancing.

Q: How has your esteemed STEP-UP program fared this summer?

A: The Step Up Youth Employment Program, a partnership of AchieveMpls with the city of Minneapolis, Career Force Minneapolis and Project for Pride in Living, also had to pivot and redesign how to deliver workforce readiness training. We’ve done that through virtual internships, paid summer online training and mentoring opportunities. Fully 1,800 Minneapolis youth completed Step Up work readiness training this year, with 450 now doing internships at 61 companies and 1,000 participating in a five-week, paid Summer Online Learning Program. But our mission remains the same, to rally community support to inspire and equip Minneapolis students for careers, college and life.

Q: What’s the message you want young people to hear during this tumultuous time?

A: That their community cares about them. We have their backs. I want youth to know that so many people are coming together to help them during these truly difficult times. It is pretty amazing and inspiring to see how many people care, even while they are dealing with their own difficult challenges with COVID-19. We may be socially distanced, but people still want to unite to help others however they can.