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Back To School

This school year, consider doing something extra to help Minnesota’s children.

It’s autumn and the start of a new school year. Our community abounds in ways for you to get involved and help Minnesota’s children prepare for educational and life success. Not sure how? That’s no excuse. There are dozens of nonprofits that can channel your time, energy and financial resources into action for Minnesota youth.

Data show why more of us need to apply ourselves to improving the lives of Minnesota’s nearly 1.3 million children. According to Minnesota Compass, the Wilder Foundation’s informative website about all things Minnesota, more than 180,000 Minnesota children live in poverty. Only 57 percent of our children met or exceeded third-grade reading standards in 2013, and only 59 percent met or exceeded standards for eighth-grade math. A full 20 percent of children fail to graduate from high school.

Career success becomes more difficult as children fail to reach these successive benchmarks. You and your business may be in a position to help. Here are some avenues to consider—some you’ve probably heard of, with others that may be new.

Minnesota Literacy Council
Founded in 1972, the Minnesota Literacy Council now serves more than 90,000 children and adults through free English classes, GED preparation and other services provided by trained volunteers. Information sessions on volunteering are held regularly to help people identify the best ways to get involved. Visit the council’s website for information about upcoming sessions.

Public library systems
The public libraries in Hennepin and Ramsey counties have extensive volunteer programs. Volunteers can help staff after-school homework help centers, for example; if evening works better for you, why not help tutor teens in the evening? On-line tutoring is also a possibility. Check the library websites for information and click on “volunteer.”

Cookie Cart
Don’t have time to tutor but you’d still like to help? Order cookies for your next office event from Cookie Cart, a North Minneapolis bakery that trains youth 15 to 18 years old in entrepreneurship, customer service and financial literacy. You can order traditional and hand-decorated cookies from the nonprofit’s website or visit Cookie Cart’s bakery Sunday through Friday at 1119 West Broadway in Minneapolis and buy cookies straight from the oven.

Urban Boatbuilders
This St. Paul-based nonprofit teaches young people to build boats and launch them on area lakes and rivers. Not only can you volunteer to work side-by-side with youth to build the boats, the finished craft are available for purchase, with proceeds from sales helping support the organization. Youth learn science, technology and math skills while learning to use tools and materials.

Junior Achievement
Want to help youth develop their business interests and skills? Consider volunteering with Junior Achievement. Through classroom programs, job shadowing and financial literacy training, Junior Achievement aims to introduce youth to business practices and to develop their economic skills.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters
Big Brothers/Big Sisters matches children with adults who can serve as supportive friends and mentors. By serving children who are living in poverty, whose parents are incarcerated or who live in single-parent households, Big Brothers/Big Sisters targets kids who most need an additional caring adult in their lives. Adults who want to become “Bigs” commit to at least a year’s activities, meeting their “Little” about two to four times per month, with activities as easy as sharing a pizza, going to a playground or going for a walk. One of the most evaluated among youth programs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters has positive impact in several key areas of youth development and in school success. But the Littles aren’t the only beneficiaries; Bigs also express joy and satisfaction at the impact they’re able to have in the lives of their Little. Information about becoming a Big is readily available on the organization’s website.

Think you’re too busy to volunteer? First consider this. How was your own childhood affected by caring adults besides those in your family, who helped broaden your vistas, introduce you to new ideas and support your development outside school and family? Maybe a music teacher, sports coach, scout leader or neighbor introduced you to whole new worlds. Now it’s your turn.

But if time’s just too short, there’s always money. Any of these nonprofits, and many, many more, would welcome your financial contribution. Look for the “donate” button on websites or do more research into youth-serving organizations through the Charities Review Council, Greater Twin Cities United Way or any of our community foundations such as Minnesota Philanthropy Partners or the Minneapolis Foundation.

Why not make September the month you commit to helping a school-age child? You’re both likely to benefit from the connection.

Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media and philanthropic sectors.

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