Home-based professionals meet Jan. 16

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

There will be an event held in Nokomis East to bring together area home-based business professionals on Tues., Jan. 16, at 6:30pm in the lower level event center of McDonald’s Liquors, 5010 34th Ave. S.

Nokomis East Business Association (NEBA) has announced an important initiative to identify and attract to membership the growing number of home-based professionals who live and work in the Nokomis East neighborhoods (Keewaydin, Wenonah, Minnehaha, Morris Park). NEBA believes it exists to serve, represent, and promote not only business professionals who operate out of commercial space but also those who work from their residences.

The January gathering will be coordinated by NEBA board members. Those who attend will be encouraged to share their thoughts surrounding how they envision a group of area home-based professionals may best serve all those involved. It is hoped there will be a spirited exchange of ideas, and that those present will take ownership of how they would like to see the group evolve within NEBA. If you work predominantly from home and are self-employed or work for others, you are welcome to attend.

The event will include a facilitated discussion surrounding five broad categories believed to be of concern to many home-based workers. Refreshments will be provided.

Preregistration is encouraged. To register or for additional information contact NEBA board member Bob Albrecht, 612-910-2272 or

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KRSM starts airing

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

A new community radio station began broadcasting at the end of November on 98.9 FM to a potential 300,000 Minneapolis listeners.

KRSM Southside Media Project is a low-power FM radio station that operates out of Waite House Community Center as part of the Community Media Initiative by Pillsbury United Communities.

The station, which began live streaming online in March of this year, will share 65 hours per week of original programming in 6 different languages created by a team of over 100 volunteers and hosts.

The weekly schedule includes shows about mental health, community organizing, relationships and sexuality, entrepreneurship, history, music and more.

The station will also feature syndicated content such as lessons in Ojibwe language, history, and culture created by partner stations on Native reservations around greater Minnesota as well as Spanish-language content from Democracy Now.

“From advocating with media justice partners nationally to working in our local communities, we’ve been able to build a station from the ground up,” said Advisory Board member Danielle Mkali. “It’s an opportunity to learn and listen to our own stories, which means that we are shaping our world together. Community radio can be a healing and community-building space.”

KRSM is designed to provide a platform for elevating the voices, narratives, and cultures of communities that have a history of being marginalized, misrepresented, and erased by traditional media. Over half of the shows are run by women, 73% are hosted by Indigenous and people of color, and 80% of the hosts have had no previous experience working in radio.

The station also serves as an on-ramp to jobs in the media industry by offering free training opportunities and access to professional grade equipment.

New programming to expect soon includes a monthly radio novella from El Colegio high schoolers as well as a show run entirely by people incarcerated in prison. The full show schedule is available online at, and listeners can access programming through the website, mobile app, or 98.9 FM.

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Volunteers needed for pond tourney

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

The chill in the Minnesota air brings extra excitement as plans are made for the Labatt Blue U.S. Pond Hockey Championships to be played Jan. 25-28 on frozen Lake Nokomis.

Photo right: Archive photo by Margie O’Loughlin

They are looking for referees and volunteers to join the 2018 Pond Crew. You can be a part of the “Best National Amateur Sporting Event” without even lacing up your skates. Hundreds of helping hands are needed to continue making this event the absolute BEST! This year’s event marks the thirteenth year, and we look forward to continuing with our incredible USPHC Pond Crew tradition!

If you haven’t signed up yet, what are you waiting for? Now is the time to sign up and join in. Players are also welcome to join the Pond Crew and get in on the tourney action from a little different angle.

The four-on-four outdoor hockey competition for women and men will include more than 250 teams coming together from nearly all 50 states, Canada, and many countries worldwide to play hockey the way nature intended.

With more than 600 games in 3 days, they need referees to make it happen. Referees stand off-rink and mainly serve as scorekeepers and make goal-tending calls; hockey knowledge is required. They will provide a training session before the event. New in 2018, referee pay has increased to $15 per game. You may choose to donate your earnings to our worthy charitable partners, and they will receive the benefits of your labor.

For other volunteers, there is no better way to get in on the action than as a member of the USPHC Pond Crew! By volunteering your time, on the pond or inside the massive warming tent, you will play an essential part in providing an unmatched experience to players, sponsors and the tens-of-thousands of fans on the pond.

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The ‘Affluenza Season’ is upon us; advice is to give less

Posted on 21 November 2017 by calvin

Nokomis resident and entrepreneur Brianna Harrington has a suggestion for the holiday season this year: give less! Harrington is not a modern-day Scrooge, but someone deeply concerned about the effects of hyper-consumption on our planet and its inhabitants. She believes that we would all be happier exchanging more moments, and fewer mementos—not just during the holiday season but all year long.

Harrington founded her non-profit organization Seek United in 2016, shortly after returning from a year in Dublin, Ireland, where she pursued a graduate degree in international development.

Photo right: Brianna Harrington, Seek United founder, giving a community presentation at Patagonia in St. Paul. She said of her monthly Live Well Challenges, “They are meant to guide people to live more mindfully.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“Research shows that all the clutter we’ve accumulated in this country causes stress,” she said, “depletes mental energy, leads to impulsive decision making, and is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Families now spend more time shopping than they spend enjoying products they already own.”

Harrington wants to do something about all that. She experienced an “aha” moment while reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by author Maria Kondo last year, and recommends it as a jumping off point for those who want to start living more sustainably. She said, “After reading Kondo’s book and seeing a film about the highly polluting fashion industry called ‘True Cost,’ I decided that I wanted to create some actionable steps to address hyper-consumption. These actionable steps are called the Live Well Challenges, and they can be found on my website..”

“Each challenge is one step that a person can take to effect a change in their own life,” Harrington said. “With each challenge, we become more aware of how small changes add up to make a big difference in the world.”

The upcoming monthly Live Well Challenges will be Give Less in December; Mindful Goal Setting in January; Detox your Personal and Home Care Items in February. More information can be found at

Harrington is available for small group, community, or workplace speaking engagements, and can be reached at She is particularly interested in talking with companies that want to create a happier, healthier work environment. She said, “Many of the Live Well Challenges are home-based, but there’s a lot of crossover from home to the workplace.”

Harrington continued, “The thing about clothing is very important. The fashion industry is the second highest polluting industry in the world—after oil. The trend now is for people to buy cheaply made items of clothing, to wear them (on average) no more than seven times, and them to discard them. This is called ‘fast fashion,’ and it has had a devastating environmental impact.

What if companies created a work climate where it wasn’t seen as negative to wear the same clothes to work a few times each week? What if companies really paid attention to the amount of food waste they generate at corporate events?”

“As the holiday season approaches, consider using your creativity to give more shared experiences instead of more things,” Harrington said. “The amount of waste that American families generate in November and December is thought to increase by as much as 25%, and it’s already too high the rest of the year. If you have to give a gift, try giving it un-wrapped, or wrapped in something re-usable like a piece of fabric.”

Harrington said, “’Coming out’ to family and friends as a minimalist can be a sensitive subject. If you see your family at Thanksgiving, try mentioning then that you would like to steer away from material gifts this year. Suggest an ‘experience gift” like going to an art museum or the zoo, or a donation to a favorite non-profit. Then ask others if they’d like to do the same…”

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The grain to glass distillery movement is thriving in Longfellow

Posted on 21 November 2017 by calvin

Article and photos by STEPHANIE FOX
When Chris Montana (photo right) grew up around the Longfellow neighborhood, in apartments just off Lake St., few would have guessed that he would become a maker of high-end vodka.

He attended South High School before heading off to college for a degree in English. He then spent time working with Wellstone Action leading to a job with Representative Keith Ellison’s office in D.C. Inspired by the political life, he applied to Hamline Law School, was awarded a full Presidential Scholarship, and graduated four years ago.

He joined Fredrikson & Byron law firm, and like many young lawyers he ended up working 12-hour days. But, he still found time for his hobby of home brewing. “I am a fastidious home brewer,” he said. “I like porters and stouts; I’m not into IPAs.” It was a good life, but it took an unexpected turn, thanks to his brewing hobby.

In 2011, Mark Dayton signed into law “the Surly Bill.” The law allowed production breweries to sell pints of their own brew on site. The number of breweries in Minnesota started to grow, from 30 to more than 100. But, said Montana, “While people focused on the beer, but there was a micro-distillery provision in the law,” lowering the license fee for distilleries in Minnesota from $30,000 to $1,000 for small distillers.

“I got this idea, and it just morphed,” he said.

Montana shared his idea with his wife, Shanelle, a Minnesota farm girl, whose parents Mike and Mona Evens still grew corn on their farm near Cold Spring. It was decided the family would open up a craft micro-distillery. The Montanas would run the distillery in Chris’s beloved South Minneapolis, and the Evans would grow the corn that would become vodka, gin and more. It would be a real farm to glass production.

Montana procured a $60,000 loan from Seward Redesign, a neighborhood-based non-profit development consortium. They chose the name Du Nord (French for ‘north’) in honor of Minnesota and the region, planning to locally or regionally source their ingredients, whenever possible.

Montana bought equipment and started setting up stills in the industrial neighborhood between Hiawatha and Minnehaha Ave. on 32nd St., sharing a building with Shega Foods, an Ethiopian injura bakery. (This will be important, later).

Then, he said, he had to negotiate his way through a maze of regulations and rules. Some days, he’d leave the law firm, driving to the soon-to-be distillery, to meet an inspector or another official. “I had to come down here, take off my jacket, put on coveralls, then change back.”

It was too much. “I had a brand new kid; I was sleeping 2-hours a night. I was under-capitalized, creating a new business. But, I jumped in with both feet,” he says. He left the law firm in 2014 to become a full-time distiller.

When Du Nord Craft Spirits opened its doors in 2013, it was the first mini-distillery in Minneapolis, joining the new move to high-end craft vodkas and gins that began with the 100-year old macro Minneapolis distillery Phillips, that introduced the first American fancy vodka, Prairie Vodka, almost ten years ago.

Phillips sells an estimated 1.5 million gallons of alcohol of various types every year. Micro-distilleries like Du Nord have to keep their production below 20,000 proof gallons to keep their $1,000 license. In the future, if they grow to produce up to 40,000 proof gallons, their license cost would double. (A proof-gallon is the equivalent of a gallon that’s half alcohol and half water.) This year, Du Nord has turned out about eight thousand proof gallons.

Montana had learned about the science of distilling, he says, but what helped the most was his understanding of the law and the lobbying process. While the tax laws for distilleries had changed, spirits makers were still not allowed to sell their products on site. The Minnesota Distillers Guild, whose president was Du Nord’s co-owner and wife Shanelle Montana (also a professional renewable energy and public policy advocate,) lobbied to change that.

In 2014, the state legislature passed a liquor bill finally allowing distillers to open cocktail rooms, a distiller’s version of a brewery taprooms where distillers could sell shots and cocktails to show off their products.

It’s an important part of marketing for places like Du Nord, says Montana. “The cocktail room generates income and gives people access to your product. If we didn’t have the cocktail room, we wouldn’t exist.”

“Someone might spend a couple of dollars to try a new microbrew, but $30 for a bottle of vodka or gin, that’s a different threshold. But, if they have a chance to try it in a cocktail, they might want to splurge on a bottle. It’s a way to say, here’s a product and here’s how to use it.”

Small distilleries are in a unique market category, Montana says, based more on getting people to make a move from standard drinks to high-end craft products.

“Big Liquor, they have their own market. We don’t compete directly with them. We don’t even compete with other local micro-distilleries like Tattersall. We both need to let people know we exist. We all need to pick up the customers who are new to the craft products. If someone is breaking away from big liquor booze, they might try Tattersall, and next time they will try Du Nord.”

A couple of years ago, Montana talked his in-laws into switching their corn crop to a non-GMO variety. The corn gives the product a slight sweetness not found in regular wheat distilled alcohol. There are bins of corn, ready to be milled down to flour and made into mash. They use a cold cook process, a fermentation process that takes longer than hot methods.

“The corn is hard,” Montana says. “It doesn’t accept water in the same way as many other grains. It takes 8-days to cold cook rather than a couple of hours.

“Corn has a lot of oil and not much protein. The alcohol binds to the oil, so you get a lot of flavor,” he says.

Du Nord’s Cocktail Room, which opened on Jan. 9, 2015, is a relaxed and cozy space that serves mixed drinks at tables or the bar, with a view of the distillery through a set of windows.

L’etoile Vodka has a complex flavor caused by the corn-based unconverted sugar. Fitzgerald Gin, the name inspired by the iconic local novelist, has 80 pounds of botanicals like angelica, juniper, coriander seeds, and lemon, in each batch. Both received gold medals at the Denver International Spirits Competition. They also serve silver medal winner Apple Du Nord, a 30 percent concoction reminiscent of apple pie.

There’s Café Frieda, a new coffee-flavored liquor named after one of Chris’s high school English and theater teachers, a mentor, he says. In her honor, he gives a $2 discount to teachers.
Du Nord may soon be coming out with their own bourbon-style whiskey (name yet to be chosen) and a pear brandy.

Montana is also interested in creating more exotic versions of booze. Du Nord’s next-door neighbor, Worku Mindaye, owner of the injura bakery, Shega, returned from a trip to his homeland with a bottle of a local specialty liquor, arque. It’s a traditional smoky, grassy tasting drink, made over open fires in clay pots, mostly in villages and mostly by women. But, it’s unclear how to proceed, since there are no clear rules for making arque. It’s even unclear what the base grain (wheat, sorghum, maize?) might be. Montana’s on the lookout for more information, he says. “There might not be a big market for it, but it would be fun to make.”

For now, the cocktail room is open, and Du Nord’s bottles are available on the shelves in local liquor stores. Montana foresees a healthy growth in micro-distilleries for the next decade. He is also spending time traveling to D.C to lobby for tax breaks for businesses like his. And, he keeps busy with his three young children, one only 3-months old.

For now, the cocktail room outsells the distillery, but he is confident that this will flip. Micro-distilleries and Du Nord, he says, are in it for the long term.

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MakeRoom Artist Residency launching in Longfellow in 2018

Posted on 21 November 2017 by calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Longfellow resident Thomas Wegner has created an opportunity he calls the MakeRoom Artist Residency, and he is ready to start taking applications for 2018. The residency will offer one artist (or two collaborating artists) the time and space to focus on their art for ten days—free of charge.

The MakeRoom Artist Residency will provide use of the common spaces of Wegner’s home, a cozy private bedroom with two twin beds, a work desk, design books, and high-speed internet. The artist residency will not provide tools, materials, additional studio space, or specialized equipment. Children and pets are not allowed.

Thomas Wegner (photo left) is a self-described maker. His pleasant home is full of functional things he has designed and built by hand. Wegner said, “I often make something when I need it. For instance, if I need a stool to put my feet up, I don’t go out to a big box store and buy it. I make it myself. I’ve been making things for as long for as I can remember.”

Wegner’s natural eye for design drew him to design school after a first career spent working in social services on the west coast. A 2010 graduate with an interior design degree, he said, “I’ve always had lots of ideas, but when I went to design school, I really learned how to move my ideas off paper and into reality. Design combines problem-solving, use of materials, and the skills necessary to put something together.”

Wegner has put something very special together with the MakeRoom Artist Residency, literally making room in his own home for others to nurture their creative talents. Individuals or collaborating pairs who are writers, illustrators, painters, photographers, designers, filmmakers, or performance artists living outside of the Twin Cities are welcome to apply for this free, 10-day residency. Applicants do not need to be making their livelihood from their art, and they may be emerging or established artists/makers.

Photo right: Thomas Wegner is a self-described maker.

Ideally, the residency will take place in February or March, but Wegner said he could be flexible with the timing. While he thinks that winter is the perfect time to come to Minnesota to hunker down, focus, and be creative, he recognizes that some visitors may prefer to come in warmer months.

The MakeRoom Artist Residency will offer free lodging, a welcome dinner, a light breakfast each day, and the opportunity for an artist or pair of collaborators to focus on their work, gain inspiration, and take in the rich cultural life of the Twin Cities. If a person’s medium is very big or messy, the 10-day residency could also be used as a networking opportunity to connect with artists or administrators in the creative community.

The person(s) selected for the MakeRoom Artist Residency agree to attend a welcome dinner, add to the project archive, and present their work at a casual in-home reception before a small group of friends. There is no cost to apply, and the application can be found at www.make–

Wegner is known as a gracious, well-seasoned host, having welcomed many guests into his home through Airbnb. “I have found complete joy in being a host these last few years,” he said. “As an interior designer, my artwork is all three dimensional. It needs to be sat in, lived in, viewed, and experienced.”

Photo left: One of the many creative projects that fill Wegner’s home.

“A huge benefit that‘s come out of hosting is that the world seems like a friendlier place,” Wegner said. Since the emergence of Airbnb, millions of people around the world have become hosts and guests and, in those moments, have experienced the simple gift of hospitality. In many cases, strangers have become friends. This platform, being a host, it has been incredibly enriching for me.”

Wegner concluded, “The idea for the MakeRoom Artist Residency came from these two elements in my life—being both a maker and a host. Over time, it became clear that creating an artistic residency program was the perfect combination of the two. Coming to my home in Longfellow as a resident artist is different than going to an established institution. I’m not asking the participant(s) to follow my agenda; it’s very much for them to get what they need out of the experience.”

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Dementia behavior consultant is carving his own niche

Posted on 20 November 2017 by calvin

Article and photos by MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
From his home office in the Longfellow neighborhood, Dr. Eilon Caspi (photo right) is doing all he can to humanize the face of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Caspi, who holds a Ph.D. in gerontology, has worked his whole adult life in the aging field, starting as an aide in a nursing home where his grandfather lived in Israel 23 years ago. He has been growing his business as founder, owner, and director of Dementia Behavior Consulting LLC since 2015.

Caspi offers an array of services to people living with dementia, as well as their family care partners, staff, and other professionals in the healthcare system, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. These services focus on preventing various forms of behavioral expressions, including those commonly labeled aggressive. Caspi believes that the majority of these distressing and harmful behavioral expressions are the result of unmet human needs intersecting with the person’s cognitive disabilities.

Caspi said, “The quality of care provided to people living with dementia is only as good as the quality of timely support and education provided to family and professional care partners.”

This conviction sets him apart from many specialists in his field. “I place the highest priority on equipping care partners with evidence-based knowledge and skills. This is what will empower them to provide effective, person-directed, dignified care to those living with dementia,” Caspi said,

Photo left: Gerontologist and wood carver Dr. Eilon Caspi holding one of the brain hemispheres he has hand-carved from mahogany.

Caspi emphasized that the primary focus of Dementia Behavior Consulting LLC is on the reduction of the harmful stigma commonly associated with dementia, instilling realistic hope, and providing personalized psychosocial approaches—not drug treatments such as antipsychotic medications. “These expensive medications have been shown in a series of research studies to bring only modest positive effects to a small portion of people living with dementia,” Caspi said. “They often cause a number of adverse and serious side effects that outweigh the benefits.” That said, there are unique circumstances when these medications may need to be used thoughtfully and carefully (including Gradual Dose Reduction Guidelines).

Caspi explained, “There are 5.4 million people in The US estimated to be living with a form of dementia. For those who receive a diagnosis, they will typically leave their doctor’s office or diagnostic center (commonly called Memory Clinic), go home, read about their diagnosis online, and then they’ll panic. How do you find models of hope when there is so much misinformation out there? My passion is bringing evidence-based, best care practices to elders, families, and healthcare professionals in a timely way.”

From Dr. Caspi’s perspective, people living with dementia and those who are cognitively healthy have one very important shared asset: all human beings benefit from close, trusting relationships. “In many ways, people with dementia are just like the rest of us,” he said. “Unfortunately, psychological needs are among the first to be overlooked in home care situations, and (about 80% of people living with dementia are cared for at home) as well as in long-term care facilities.

He continued, “While Alzheimer’s disease and several other forms of dementia are progressive, highest practical psychological a high level of psychiatric well-being can be realized in many individuals when support systems and quality of care are optimized. Strengthening the support system to the person and her/his family care partners, timely evidence-based education, and reduction of fear and stigma—these are the things to focus on.”

It’s a known fact that the age pyramid in this country is shifting in a big way. The Baby Boomer generation contains about 76 million people in the United States. As they age, the number of people living with dementia is expected to soar. Some of the risk factors that may raise the likelihood of developing certain forms of dementia include poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, lack of cognitive stimulation, smoking, high blood pressure, high stress level, lack of personally meaningful social engagement, and lack of purpose in life. These factors are thought to be cumulative.

Caspi is looking for a senior volunteer (55+) to help him with office-based projects that will improve the lives of people living with dementia in Minnesota. To inquire, email him at or contact him through his website at

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Day of the Dead celebrated at Roosevelt High School

Posted on 20 November 2017 by calvin

As told by JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ, Spanish Immersion
This was the first year that Roosevelt High School organized an event for El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. The idea was to celebrate our Latino diversity and multicultural traditions at Roosevelt High School with the broader community. La Catrina is the most popular icon of the Day of the Dead festivals from around the world. She is known as the ‘ambassadress of death,’ a beautiful skeleton lady dressed in elegant clothes. In Latin American countries, we react to death with mourning, but also with celebration and joy. We know that death is among us, and we have learned to accept it.

As a teacher, I want to make sure that my students acquire the language and culture of Spanish speaking countries through meaningful exposure. Re-enacting some of the legends and traditions of El Dia de los Muertos was such an opportunity.

Photo right: Student Romina Tello dressed as La Catrina. The story of La Catrina inspired me to involve the high school students: to make them aware of the beauty and the richness of our roots and to help the students show that to others with pride. México is not the only country in Latin America that celebrates the Day of the Dead. In many other countries as well, it is believed that the dead come back and re-join their families on Oct. 31, and depart again on Nov. 2. 




Photo left: To include all of the students, we created a collection of legends that are told across Latin America. The legends were chosen by the students themselves, and this was the beginning of a writing process in both English and Spanish. Many of the students’ essays appeared on the altars they made for the Museum of the Dead, which was set up down in the basement.


Photo right: In many homes and cemeteries, altars such as these are prepared to honor the dead.





Photo left: Student Marie Peterson offered face painting to visitors of all ages. Following the presentations and and tours, which were given in both English and Spanish, pozole was served to guests at no cost. Pozole is a traditional Mexican corn soup made on special holidays. 



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Fun / community was Spooktacular theme

Posted on 20 November 2017 by calvin

Children, families, and tenants all turned out on Oct. 28 for the 4th Annual Spooktacular Halloween Open House at Minnehaha Senior Living and Providence Place Senior Living, 37th St. and 23rd Ave. Many families turned up in costumes (photo right provided) and played the games which included a fishing booth, a duck pond, pumpkin bowling, and pumpkin golf. There were also themed costumes (one family had a circus theme with a ringmaster, a lion who jumped through a hoop, a lion trainer, a strong man, an acrobat, and a popcorn vendor). The “circus” family walked through the facility entertaining tenants and surprised them with a lion act (a child dressed up as a lion jumped through a hoop that a “lion trainer” was holding).

There was a shadow room, a haunted house, craft rooms with pumpkin painting and door hanger crafts, games, and cookies and cider for all who attended.

“Our tenants and residents got a big kick out of seeing the children in all of their creative costumes! Lots of our tenant’s grandchildren turned out, and lots of neighborhood kids turned out to show off their Halloween costumes. One highlight was when people oohed and awed when they saw a giant T’Rex dinosaur (photo left provided) enter the doors of Minnehaha. They were also delighted to see babies dressed up as unicorns, owls, pumpkins, and other fun costumes. We had over sixty children and their families walk through our doors and celebrate with our tenants this year.” said Molly Blomgren, Community Life Director.

It was also the kick off for their annual food drive for the area food shelf. Food shelf donations are being accepted up until Thanksgiving at both facilities.

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International president of Toastmasters says organization changes lives around the world

Posted on 20 November 2017 by calvin

Toastmasters changes lives.

Balraj Arunsalam (photo right by Jan Willms), international president of Toastmasters from Sri Lanka, said he has seen the proof of this many times.

In the Twin Cities area to speak at a fall conference in Rochester Nov. 3, Arunsalam said he has seen the impact Toastmasters has not only on its members but their families, communities, and businesses.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.

The first international president from Sri Lanka and also from South Asia, Arunsalam joined Toastmasters in 1989.

“What drew me to Toastmasters is that I wanted to be with a like-minded social group, and I looked at Rotary and Lions,” he said. “But I ended up at Toastmasters.” He said he liked the way they conducted meetings, their evaluation technique, and fellowship.

“The fellowship aspect was fantastic,” Arunsalam said. “There was a good display of food, drink, pastries, iced coffee, and tea….from 1989 until now we have 30 minutes of fellowship before we start the meeting.” He became president of his club in 2002. “And ever since I have been going nonstop.”

The first Toastmasters meeting was held Oct. 22, 1924, in Santa Ana, CA. Ralph Smedley, who was a director of education for the YMCA, wanted to start a group that could assist men in public speaking and leadership. From those beginning fellowships, the organization has grown to 16,500 clubs represented in 142 countries, with more than 352,000 members.

“We had one club in Sri Lanka in 2000, and today we have 128,” Arunsalam said. “There was one club in India in 2001, and today there are 750.” He said the fast growth of clubs is attributed to the needs of the hour, from India to Tanzania to Australia to the USA.

“The need is the same; the need for communication and leadership is universal,” Arunsalam stated. “That is why we are growing year after year, and we have exponential growth when other organizations are struggling to grow.”

Although the average person thinks of Toastmasters as a place to learn to speak in public, Arunsalam said that is not true. “You can also learn to speak in public, but that is only 10 to 15 percent of our program,” he said. “The balance is about you and me and all the skills that we can learn together to improve our quality of life, to improve our skill levels to be better entrepreneurs or business leaders. That is Toastmasters.”

To emphasize this point, Arunsalam talked about the huge difference belonging to Toastmasters has made in his family business. “I have reduced our meetings from running four or five hours to one hour,” he said. “That’s because I now know how to get the same effect in one hour. I prepare myself, and I get my staff prepared before the meeting, and all this is possible because I learned meeting management in Toastmasters. I learned the step by step process to fix an agenda and not get distracted by other items that might waste time at meetings.”

Arunsalam said that many companies and organizations have meetings all the time. “I don’t know when they get the time to do their work or meet people. I am free to meet people because my meetings are short, sweet and crisp but have a huge impact.”

He added that what he has learned from Toastmasters has also resulted in his not losing a single staff member for the last nine years. He said Toastmasters has taught him that people do not work only for money, but for quality of life, self-esteem, skill building, sharing and being able to impart knowledge. “These are all things we do at Toastmasters, and we are working in an environment of family,” he said.

Arunsalam said Toastmasters is probably the only nonprofit that exists within a profit organization. “You can run speech meetings, skill building, courtroom, debate competition and festival meetings,” he said. “But we must not forget our fundamentals. We also have to include our speeches, evaluations, table topics and all those regular things we do.” Building skills to be effective evaluators, according to Arunsalam, is the secret to the club’s existence over the past 93 years. ‘It’s friends helping friends, and it’s learning by doing exercise,” he said.

During his tenure as international president, Arunsalam said two huge projects are planned. The headquarters of Toastmasters, which has been in Santa Ana all these years, will be moving to Denver, CO. And a new program, Pathways, is being launched. This features new online programs to capitalize on technology. “There will be 300 competencies and skill sets to learn from,” Arunsalam said.

He explained that he has seen the impact Toastmasters has had on his children, who he said have been involved since age 4.

They went through youth leadership and speechcraft programs. My daughter was selected to represent Sri Lanka as a youth delegate to the United Nations, and she spoke at the 25th general assembly,” he said. “I have seen many Toastmasters’ children become presidents of organizations, leaders in sports and their communities. The impact of Toastmasters is huge.”

“I can learn to speak in Toastmasters,” Arunsalam continued. “That is one small thing. But you can be a better human being and successful in life with all these skills you can develop in Toastmasters. That’s why we call ourselves an education organization.”

He said Toastmasters can be a lifelong journey, with members currently ranging in age from 18 to 105. “I see people changing in front of my eyes every day,” he noted. “If you use your club to be the best you can be, you have the opportunity to change the world.”

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