Keeping a community healthy

REDEEMER CENTER FOR LIFE, INC., MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

The Otto Bremer Trust’s $70,000 investment in Redeemer Center for Life enables its innovative housing, employment, health promotion, and youth arts programming initiatives.

Built of sturdy red stone, Redeemer Lutheran Church has been a part of the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis for more than 100 years. In 1998, the church created Redeemer Center for Life (RCFL) to further help its community.

“Twenty years ago, this area was known for the deficits of the neighborhood: crime, unsafe, blighted, all that,” says Kelly Chatman, Redeemer’s pastor. “We’ve had a significant role in demythologizing that. The neighborhood said it wanted youth development, affordable housing and employment opportunities. Those have been the mandates we’ve followed.”

A small nonprofit with an annual budget of just more than $800,000, RCFL operates an expansive portfolio of programs with community building woven into all of them. Chatman serves as executive director with two part-time associate directors.

RCFL’s first achievement was saving an iconic neighborhood restaurant. Now, RCFL rents apartments above Milda’s Cafe and operates the Living Room, a community gathering space, next to the restaurant. RCFL’s Venture North Bike Walk Coffee shop sells bicycles and associated equipment and, of course, coffee, in addition to employing young adults, teaching residents about bicycles and their care, and distributing donated bikes. RCFL owns the 16-unit apartment building with a large community garden and bread oven that sits between the church and the coffeeshop, and the attractive duplex across the street.

“During the housing foreclosure time,” Chatman recalls, “a company bought the house and just put up a great big piece of plywood, painted a 1-800 number and ‘For Sale’ on it. That was such an affront. We raised enough money to buy the house and tore it down and built a brand-new duplex. For the last seven years, we have had six young adults who are all college graduates living in the house. They volunteer in the neighborhood five hours a week, but they’re making college seem real and accessible to youth in the neighborhood, 24/7.”

The arts studio RCFL is building makes Chatman beam with pride—“Artists are coming out of the woodwork,” he says—as does its “Youth Bank,” which awards micro-grants to community-based projects proposed and executed by young people.

“The Otto Bremer Trust has been steady support, not one of those one-and-done funders,” says Chatman, who calls OBT’s funding critical to support the established programs and address coming challenges.

Gentrification looms largest. Half of the households in Harrison, as in most of North Minneapolis, have annual incomes of less than $35,000. Next door is the Bryn Mawr neighborhood where the median household income is about $100,000. New housing and commercial development are coming to Harrison’s western border, and new light-rail extensions and stations to its north and south edges. How to support current residents, welcome new ones and achieve inclusive development is a huge puzzle.

“Definitely gentrification is the biggest challenge coming,” says Chatman. “Hopefully we can define and model what healthy gentrification looks like. We’re doing things to provide counseling regarding housing so that people can either buy a home or obtain long-term leases in partnership with neighborhood associations and organizations that advocate for equity and full inclusion. We don’t have a lot of money, but the grant helps us to have the administrative capacity to get funds and volunteers.”

Redeemer Center for Life is a place-based organization that celebrates and reinforces the diversity of Minneapolis’s north side through social action and investment in its people, ideas, and enterprises.