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Rain gardens improving water quality in Nokomis East

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Twenty Nokomis East residents received grants for rain garden installations. In a season or two, the native plants will send roots down deep into the soil — improving water retention, decreasing run-off into nearby waterways, and helping to improve the quality of the local watershed. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Managing storm water runoff is hard work, and nothing does it better than a rain garden.
Planted in a swale or hollow, perennial flowers, grasses, sedges, and ferns send their roots deep down into the soil. This improves water retention, and naturally filters out impurities as water soaks into the ground.
Raingardens reduce the amount of runoff that would otherwise carry pollutants from compacted lawns, rooftops, driveways, and streets directly into waterways through the storm sewer system.
The Nokomis East neighborhood has 20 new rain gardens this summer, thanks to a longstanding partnership between the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA) and Metro Blooms.
Lauren Hazenson, NENA program and communications manager said, “The number one environmental concern we hear from Nokomis East residents is that they want to protect their local watershed: Lake Nokomis, Lake Hiawatha, the Mississippi River, and Minnehaha Creek. Water is the most valued natural resource in our community, both for recreational activities and for visual beauty.”
NENA applied for a Hennepin County Good Steward Grant last year, and learned in January that they had been awarded $12,000. The Good Steward Grant funds small projects to improve environmental quality in Hennepin County.
Hazenson said, “We provided additional funding for the rain garden partnership out of our general fund, because it was such a high priority for residents.”
NENA and Metro Blooms have partnered for years installing pollinator gardens and boulevards along 50th and 54th streets. Hazenson said, “We felt like we hit a good stopping point with the pollinator plantings. We established a viable pollinator corridor between the Nokomis East Gateway Gardens and the Lake Nokomis Naturescape. The 2019 rain garden partnership with Metro Blooms is a continuation of native plantings in the neighborhood, but with an emphasis on capturing rainwater and snow melt.”
NENA received 218 applicants for the project, and had funding to install 20 gardens. There were two pools of applicants; the first was of addresses in the Nokomis sub-watershed, the area right around Lake Nokomis. From these addresses, five households were chosen at random. The remaining 15 grant recipients were drawn at random from the larger pool of addresses throughout the neighborhood.
Once the selection process was done, the names of the 20 grant recipients were given to Metro Blooms. They took over from there, contacting homeowners, making arrangements for site visits to help with garden planning, excavation, and plant drop offs.
Property owners paid $420-$580 depending on the number of plants they ordered and their finished garden size. The average rain garden measured 120 square feet. A comparable cost would have been about $1,500, if property owners had not received grants.
Conservation Corps Minnesota did the excavation work for this project. The regional non-profit gives young people from diverse backgrounds experiences in service-learning and environmental stewardship, while learning practical job skills. Youth and young adults (aged 15–25) who serve with Conservation Corps MN work on projects in conservation and natural resource management.
Property owners were responsible for putting their own plants in the ground.
Hazenson said, “With our pollinator garden projects, we found that having homeowners get their hands dirty helps them to better care for their plants in the long run. Rain gardens require some maintenance, just like any other kind of garden. This program really is an incentive for homeowners to make a positive change in their watershed through gardening.”

Get involved
NENA will be applying for another Hennepin County Good Steward Grant for next year. Details on this (and many other sustainability projects) will be shared at the South Minneapolis Green Fair on Saturday, April 18, 2020.
“Like the rain garden partnership, the vast majority of NENA’s programs and initiatives come from community ideas,” Hazenson said.
New members with an interest in environmental issues are welcome to visit NENA’s Green Initiatives Committee, which meets from 6:30-8 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month. The committee is open to residents, property owners, business owners and their employees within Nokomis East neighborhoods: neighborhoods include Minnehaha, Morris Park, Keewaydin, and Wenonah. Meetings are held at the NENA office, located at 4313 E. 54th St.
For more information, contact Lauren Hazenson at

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NENA update October 2019

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Nokomis East volunteers at the 2018 Litter Be Gone cleanup. (Photo submitted)

Composting facility tour
Saturday, Oct. 26, Bus pick-up: 9:15 am at the Bossen Field parking lot
Join NENA, Tangletown Neighborhood, and Kingfield neighborhood for a free tour of The Mulch Store, a compost facility for Hennepin County and landscape supply business. Tour participants will see firsthand how food waste and yard waste are turned into environmentally beneficial compost. They will also get an up-close look at the equipment in operation and a detailed explanation of the process from start to finish. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and are conducted outdoors, so please dress appropriately. It is recommended that children be age 8 or older and accompanied by an adult.

Home security workshop
Tuesday, Oct. 22, 6–8 p.m., Minneapolis 3rd Precinct, 3000 Minnehaha Ave.
The Minneapolis Police Department Third Precinct is offering a free opportunity for southside residents to learn how to protect your home and garage from property crimes.
At the Home Security Workshop, MPD Crime Prevention Specialists will show you what you need to know to reduce your chances of being the victim:
– Effective home security habits and practices
– What kind of locks and security hardware you really need
– The real scoop on home burglar alarms – are they effective?
– How landscaping and lighting can deter burglary
– The importance of a good block club
– 100% guaranteed way to prevent theft from auto!
NENA is launching a new Home Security Rebate program on Oct. 1, 2019. By attending this MPD workshop, you will meet the requirements to participate in the program and submit your qualified home security projects for a matching rebate from NENA. Visit for more program information.
Organics 101 rescheduled
The Nokomis East Organics 101 workshops have been rescheduled for Oct. 17, 6:30 -7:30 p.m. and Nov. 5, 6:30 -7:30 p.m. at the NENA office (4313 E. 54th St.). Master Recycler Composter Chris Heeter will guide attendees through the process of recycling organic matter, how to address common concerns, and the environmental impacts of this easy habit. These workshops are only available to residents of the Nokomis East neighborhoods of Minnehaha, Morris Park, Keewaydin and Wenonah. Every attendee will receive a free kit including a countertop bin and 25 biodegradable bags.

Litter Be Gone Cleanup
Saturday, Oct. 5, 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Bossen Field parking lot, 5701 S 28th Ave.
Help beautify your streets and protect your waterways and green spaces! Volunteer with your family, friends, and neighbors to clean up litter from sidewalks, streets, storm drains, and parks and take pride in our community. Meet at the Bossen Field Park parking lot at 10 a.m. to sign in, get your supplies and grab a cup of coffee. We will provide you with gloves and bags, and a special free drink coupon from local sponsoring businesses.
Litter Be Gone is a series of fall events hosted by neighborhoods to engage residents and businesses in cleanup efforts across the city. Learn more at

NENA Neighborhood Jam
Saturday, Sept. 28, 4-7 p.m., Wold Chamberlain American Legion Post 99, 5600 S 34th Ave.
Don’t miss this jem of an event to celebrate fall, local music, and neighborhood connections! My Cousin Dallas will bring 70s AM Gold stylings to the American Legion, and Brian Fodstad, fresh off of a gig at the Minnesota State Fair, will please with the music of Seger, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. Enjoy beer, wine, and shop for a bargain at our silent auction table. The silent auction features gift cards and other offerings from local businesses and gifts made by local artists.

Upcoming meetings and events:
10/02/19: NENA Housing, Commercial and Streetscape Committee, NENA Office, 6:30 p.m.
10/21/19: NENA Board Meeting, NENA Office, 6:30 p.m.

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Crowd rallies to support extending Midtown Greenway into St. Paul

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Annual Sierra Club bike tour follows potential trail route in St. Paul

Riders on the Sierra Club’s 24th annual bike tour use a protected bikeway along St. Anthony Ave. as they travel east toward Allianz Field. (Photo by Jill Boogren)

By Jill Boogren
More than 250 riders and supporters gathered at Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul on Sept. 15, 2019, for the Sierra Club’s 24th annual bike tour and a community rally to extend the Midtown Greenway into St. Paul.
“We’re trying to keep the momentum going in our effort to extend the Greenway over the river and through St. Paul,” said Midtown Greenway Coalition Executive Director Soren Jensen.
A study released in June found that the Short Line Bridge over the Mississippi River, where the Midtown Greenway currently ends, could be rehabbed into something structurally sound that could accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, despite the once-daily train left running to the ADM on Hiawatha Ave.
Its potential has galvanized people and organizations on both sides of the river who are eager to make this connection.
In addition to creating a link from the heavily used Greenway in Minneapolis to St. Paul, its continuation would improve bike access to Allianz Field, the new soccer stadium. Further, with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposal in August to replace two (of four) lanes of motorized traffic on Ayd Mill Rd. with bike-walk paths during its upcoming resurfacing project, it opens the possibility of creating a seamless bike route from the Midtown Greenway all the way to downtown St. Paul.
The five-mile bike tour, led by St. Paul Bicycle Coalition Co-chair Andy Singer, followed the potential route of an extended Greenway, traveling near the railway from Lake Monster to Allianz Field, then toward the river and back. Riders experienced protected bikeways, a road marked with sharrows, and some quiet streets. But there were also some treacherous crossings, underscoring the need for infrastructure that allows people to ride safely.
St. Paul officials, including Chief Resilience Officer Russ Stark, Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo and St. Paul City Council member Mitra Jalali Nelson, biked in the tour and expressed support for both an extended Greenway and the bikeway along Ayd Mill Rd.
Speaking at the rally afterward, St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao said he was “surprised” by the mayor’s Ayd Mill Rd. announcement and called for everyone to be at the table as decisions are made.
Minneapolis City Councilmember Cam Gordon said he was also surprised, but it was more of a “Woo HOO! Yeah! It’s about time!” This he yelled with a fist pump, to big applause.
“It’s time we started thinking of it as the Twin Cities Greenway,” Gordon said. “Let’s connect it up.”

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RR crossing at 35th finally fixed

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Here is a before photo showing the potholes and damage to the surface of 33rd. (Photo submitted)

The notoriously bad railroad track crossings off of 35th St.and Hiawatha have finally been fixed. “It took a lot of effort, but I was able to get this moved up by several years,” remarked Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson.

What was the initial schedule for this project?
Johnson: When I first came into office, this wasn’t in the five-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to fund the repair work. I worked with Public Works at that time to get it added to the CIP, but it was scheduled for 2021. Working with then Mayor Hodges we were able to get it moved up in the CIP to 2019 (as part of the budget process for FY2016). I think it helped driving her Deputy Chief of Staff over the tracks several times!

A new surface means a smoother ride for those traveling over the tracks. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

What were the challenges?
Johnson: As Public Works began working on this, the reality of getting agreement from multiple companies (including the railroads) made it challenging. Another complication was the news that ADM is closing their mill at the corner of 35th (the Nokomis mill) in the near future, which meant that they didn’t want to pay for a permanent fix on a track they would soon no longer need. General Mills also recently sold some silos at the corner of 38th Street and indicated an openness to having it removed. So we were at somewhat of a crossroads on whether to proceed this year or wait for the ADM and General Mills tracks to eventually be abandoned so that they could be removed to make for an even better experience.
This road sees more than 6,500 vehicles a day though, and it has been a major road headache in our community for years, so it was important to proceed with the permanent concrete and steel solution for the track we knew would remain, fix the asphalt grading and improve the crossing for the rest of the tracks, and get the administrative ball rolling on removing these additional tracks in the coming year or two.
Public Works also identified other opportunities for this stretch of road to make it more friendly for users, which they are interested in incorporating into the next phase of work. Kudos to Public Works for how quickly they got this done once construction started!
It’s also worth noting that 33rd Street is getting permanent fixes right now too.

What do residents think about the work?
Johnson: I have heard from many residents since this work wrapped up and they are delighted that the tracks are finally fixed! It’s icing on the cake that we’ll see even more improvements in the next few years here. Glad to see this done!
~ Compiled by Tesha M. Christensen.

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Rebuilding Together, Every Third Saturday partner to renovate Veterans Center

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Every Third Saturday, a nonprofit organization benefitting homeless and struggling Vetera

More than two dozen volunteers pitched in on Saturday, Aug. 3 to build a community garden and paint at Every Third Saturday’s new facility for veterans at 5400 43rd Ave. S. It is expected to open later this fall. (Photo submitted)

ns, has a shiny, new space – inside and out – thanks to volunteers from Rebuilding Together Twin Cities and other partners.
More than two dozen volunteers pitched in on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 to build a community garden, paint the fence and the building at Every Third Saturday’s new facility for veterans at 5400 43rd Ave. S.
Tom and Jessi McKenna are grateful for all the volunteer support renovating their new location.
“We are eternally grateful to Rebuilding Together Twin Cities and Republic Services volunteers for helping us spruce up our new location,” said Tom McKenna, a veterans advocate and Co-Founder of Every Third Saturday. “The new facility will expand our capacity to serve more veterans in need.”
Since 2010, Every Third Saturday has been helping homeless veterans by providing basic necessities including clothing, toiletry items and blankets.
The new building will provide the physical space where community among veterans can be created, explained McKenna. “Much more than walls and a floor, the VREC (Veterans Resource and Empowerment Center) will be a place where veterans can find support, healing, and purpose. Anytime vets are connecting with each other face to face, great things happen, and this new space will ensure the atmosphere exists for those connections to happen,” he said.

Every Third Saturday hopes to open in the fall, possibly Veteran’s Day. More at
Partnering on the project was Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, Republic Services, Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), and the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA), MidCountry Bank, Boston Scientific, and Biffs.
“Our goal is to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods by providing safe and welcoming spaces for communities to gather,” said Kathy Greiner, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together Twin Cities. “We were proud to help Every Third Saturday improve its new facility for veterans.”

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Minnehaha Academy’s rebuilt Upper School opens doors

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

On Aug. 21, 2019, Minnehaha Academy opened its doors to students of its newly rebuilt Upper School for the start of the 2019-20 school year.
Along with incoming freshmen, it will be the first time sophomores and juniors will experience student life at Minnehaha Academy’s historic campus at 3100 West River Parkway in Minneapolis.
It will be a homecoming for seniors who have not gone to school at the 3100 campus since their freshmen year before the tragic gas explosion on Aug. 2, 2017.
“The new Upper School reflects our celebrated history, while meeting the current and future needs of our students, faculty and staff,” said Minnehaha Academy President Dr. Donna Harris. “We are thrilled to welcome everyone back to where we’ve called home for over 100 years, and we are excited for what the next century will bring to Minnehaha Academy.”
An environmentally-conscious approach was taken for the design of the Upper School. Windows facing the Mississippi River are installed with bird-safe glass and window glazing to prevent collisions with migratory birds. Landscape architecture has been integrated throughout the campus to promote local wildlife, pollinator habitats and outdoor science curriculum. Also, a new drainage system minimizes the effects of soil erosion and runoff on the local ecosystem. Outside, over 100 new trees have been planted alongside several replanted after the explosion.
Efforts were made to integrate the school’s history into the new campus. Artifacts like an original sign, cornerstones and historic lockers are featured in the new building. Recovered stair treads are used as the base for two olive trees planted in the commons area, allowing students to literally follow the path of alumni. Salvaged trees during construction are bring repurposed for interior design use.
The building itself has beenconstructed from unique, handmade bricks similar to those used in Minnehaha Academy’s other school buildings.
“A school’s physical environment greatly impacts teaching and learning, and that research and understanding has played a significant role in this process,” said Upper School Principal Jason Wenschlag. “We took a student-centered approach to the Upper School design, and we have a bright future of reimagined teaching and learning at Minnehaha Academy.”
Minnehaha Academy community hosted a “Celebration Walk” with a ribbon cutting and open house at the rebuilt 3100 campus on Aug. 19.

The new building at 3100 W River Pkwy as viewed from the E. 32nd St. parking lot next to the auditorium. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

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Sign missing

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

The front sign for the Danish American Center at 3030 W. River Pkwy. is missing. At left is Bent Paulsen, who hand made the sign. It was revealed to the DAC community at Danish Day, June 7, 2009. “It is still missing and we have no clue where it could be,” remarked Diane Graves. “We thought if the neighbors would just be aware if they see it in an alley or discarded somewhere they might be able to let us know. Or, maybe someone saw it being taken down or transported.” (Photo submitted)

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View from the Messenger: Make your neighborhood your brand

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen


We were vacationing up along the North Shore last month and it was a great time of the year to see those iconic spots that make Minnesota the great state it is: the views at Gooseberry Falls, the crafts of Grand Marais, ships pulling into the Duluth harbor, the sea gulls serenading the tourists along Lake Superior, and the list goes on. The North Shore is like a picture postcard at every turn.
As we stopped in at various merchants in and around the North Shore I was struck at how often the North Shore, a vacation destination that draws visitors from around the state and the country, still proudly promotes its own “Buy Local” campaign. Businesses religiously remind local residents that they need their support to be successful.
But that Buy Local state of mind is not unique to the North Shore. I think it goes without saying that many residents and business owners believe that their own neighborhood is the best place to live and work. I know that’s true of the Longfellow and Nokomis neighborhoods. I think it’s also true that when given the opportunity, many residents want to do whatever they can to support their local merchants. They know the stability of their neighborhood and their city depends on the vitality of their business community.
That’s why when advertisers ask me what they should promote in their advertising, I usually tell them that in addition to their products and services, they also should promote the fact that they are longtime Longfellow Nokomis businesses that are devoted to the community and devoted to making their community the best place to live and the best place to do business. And I believe those businesses that partner with local schools and charities to “give back” through special promotions where a portion of the proceeds goes to the charity make a strong statement that they are committed to the community in which their business is located.
Now when Longfellow Nokomis business owners ask me about what the best options are for them to advertise in the Messenger, the answer can get a bit complicated. In addition to a run of press ad in the paper, we also offer clients inserts and online advertising. Sometimes a marketing plan might call for a mix of options that might include print, radio, TV, social media, and so forth.
And while there’s no doubt that a full page ad with color is bound to attract the attention of our readers, the story of advertising is much the story of the tortoise and the hare. While there is always that temptation of wanting to get to the finish line faster than anyone else, the magic of advertising is really about the long game. It’s about having a presence in your local media on a regular basis for the long haul. And when Messenger readers finally have the need to buy their next home or that pepperoni pizza for tonight’s dinner, and maybe can’t remember your name or your contact information, they will pick up a copy of the Messenger and see your ad.
But in addition to those fine products and services that businesses are offering, I hope businesses also know to convey their local ties and community investment when they advertise their wares. Certainly mammoth companies like McDonald’s, Apple, WalMart, or Heinz Ketchup will always be companies that capture market share in their respective industries, but there are times when being the local guy, the merchant down the street, can be an important selling point in the equation.
Make your neighborhood your business. And be sure to share that message in your advertising in the Messenger and in other media. It’s a message that your customers will appreciate and respond to. And to our loyal Messenger readers, don’t forget to support local businesses, and particularly, those businesses that make a statement by advertising in the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger. They are asking for your business, reinforcing the fact that they are a community minded business, and need your support to thrive in our community. And we need those same advertisers to hear that from you.
As always, thanks to our loyal advertisers to making advertising in the Messenger a priority in their marketing plans. And thanks to our loyal readers who take the time to keep up on important community news in the Messenger and also take the time to support our advertisers with their pocketbook.

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Meet Our Staff: Writing about environmental issues

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Margie O’Loughlin

I’ve worked as a reporter for the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger and Midway Como Monitor since 2015. I came into the job with a fledgling interest in community activism, a 20+ year career as a photographer, and a life-long love affair with newspapers.
As the years have passed, one topic has grown in importance for me as a reporter. I’m grateful that our new owner/publisher, Tesha Christensen, has let me take ownership of a few pages in each issue of both papers – and dedicate them to environmental stories happening close to home. We’ve dubbed these pages RRR, which stands for Rebuild, Repair, and Recycle, and we hope they’ll keep you informed about ways your neighbors are taking action.
Minnesota is one of the more aggressive states nation-wide in its efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, and many other initiatives. In this time of growing concern over the climate crisis, we want our newspapers to be an intelligent, clear-thinking, and practical resource. Are you trying out a new idea or product in your home that you think our readers might want to hear about? Let us know!
I’ve gone on two public tours recently that have strengthened my commitment to writing about environmental issues: at Eureka Recycling in Northeast Minneapolis, and the Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center in Downtown Minneapolis. Seeing mountains of recyclable materials and waste in these facilities was convicting, to say the least. I stopped thinking in a theoretical way about the amount of waste my own small household produces, and vowed to make better choices for the environment. Both tours are open to the public, with a little advance planning, and are offered free of charge. Check out these websites to learn more or to sign up:
I just completed the Climate Reality Leadership Training held at the Minneapolis Convention Center Aug. 2-4, hosted by founder and former vice president Al Gore. There were 1,400 people in attendance from 32 countries around the world. Participants ranged in age from 13-86, and we’ve now joined the ranks of more than 20,000 trained Climate Reality leaders worldwide.
Within one year of completing the training, graduates are required to perform 10 acts of climate leadership. These acts can be anything from giving a formal presentation, to writing a blog post, to submitting a letter to the editor, to organizing a climate action campaign, to meeting with local community leaders.
My main act of leadership in 2019 will be working as an artist –in-residence at Eureka Recycling this fall. I’m offering a quilting workshop there on Nov. 2, and will create three wall hangings for Eureka’s education space – with the help of 15 community participants. The cost of admission to the workshop is one cotton garment that would otherwise be destined for the trash. We’ll talk about the growing problem of textiles in the waste stream, due to fast fashion (on the production side) and overconsumption (on the consumer side.)
This summer, my husband and I are trying to live plastic free, which has been eye-opening and, in some ways, kind of fun. I’ve discovered the best milk I’ve ever tasted, produced by Autumn Wood Farms of Forest Lake. It’s available in half gallon glass bottles at Oxendale’s Market in East Nokomis, and the Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul. My husband came home from PetCo in Highland Park last week, proudly carrying a re-fillable 30-pound plastic pail of cat litter. We’re learning about all kinds of new products, including tooth powder from the bulk bin at Tare Market (to avoid tooth paste packaged in non-recyclable tubes.) Who knew?
If there’s one thing I came away from the Climate Reality training with, it’s this. Dr. Jonathan Doyle, founder and CEO of the non-profit Project Drawdown, said, “We have to solve the climate crisis with our heads and with our hearts. But, especially, we have to solve it with our hands.” I believe there’s a way for every one of us to make a positive contribution to this movement, according to our circumstances.
I look forward to sharing what I learn along the way.

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Nokomis business owner levels the playing field for people of color with mental health and addiction issues

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Matching clients of color with therapists of color

As an adult, Katy Armendariz has delved into how she lost her cultural identity after being adopted from Korea, and she’s working to help others sort through various types of trauma through that lens. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Nokomis resident Katy Armendariz wanted to start an agency that would level the playing field for people of color seeking help with mental health issues, and diminish the disparities between them and the dominant culture.
And so she did.
She started Minnesota CarePartner, located at the old Central Medical Building at I-94 and Lexington on the Saint Paul side of the river. Starting with a couple of part-time therapists, the agency has grown to 55 employees.
But this did not happen overnight, and along the way, Armendariz has struggled with her own traumas and issues while forging a path forward in building and strengthening Minnesota CarePartner.

Stripped of cultural identity
“I am from Korea,” she said in a recent interview, as she described her background. “My birth mom was homeless and had a mental health condition. She couldn’t parent, so she gave birth and then walked out of the hospital.”
Armendariz was first placed in an orphanage and then foster care, and eventually was adopted by a Minnesota couple.
“There were good intentions, but I was completely stripped of my cultural identity,” she recalled. “They denied any racial experience I had. I was exposed to a lot of comments growing up, and I started to grow very critical of the systems that create disparities between who is adopting and who is being adopted.”
Armendariz noted that oftentimes the child’s adoptive parents did not know how to do their hair, did not know much about their culture, and did not raise them around people who looked like them.

Burn out leads to new business
She attained her master’s degree and became licensed and started working as an Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS) worker, then became a therapist. “But I was unfulfilled; it was just a burnout,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in the social work field,” she continued, “so I went out and got my real estate license when I was pregnant with my second son. One week after I had given birth to him, I held my first open house. And I hated it, really hated it. I decided I didn’t want to do that.”
Armendariz was drawn back to the field of social work, but she determined she wanted to provide mental health services for individuals who faced disparities and families at risk of child protection services.
“In Minnesota, 85 percent of child protection services are with families of color,” she said, “in a system that is unfair and unequal.”
Armendariz went out and applied for a business name, got a tax ID and got certified for ARMHS and Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS.)
“I hired a therapist part-time, I made some flyers and brochures and set up a website, and I went out to several counties and told them what we wanted to do. And it just exploded. We now have 55 employees.”

Roots in Recovery
Minnesota CarePartner has a unique outpatient program, according to Armendariz.
“It is not a typical Minnesota model,” she said. “We take a social justice approach, where we validate and support.”
The program reaches out to people where they are, staff meeting with them in their homes or homeless shelters or libraries. “A lot of our clients have been underserved and over oppressed,” she said, “and programs designed by the dominant race don’t always work for people of color.”
As well as addressing mental health concerns, Armendariz’s agency has set up its own substance abuse program called Roots in Recovery. The program, which started last December, now admits 200 participants. The substance recovery, also, approaches things from a cultural standpoint, according to Armendariz.
“We deal with the experiences, systematic and traumatic, that contribute to addiction,” she said. “We take some of the more violent clients who have been kicked out of other programs. We will help them.”

Her own addiction
As Armendariz continued to build her organization, she struggled with her own problems with addiction.
“I was doing payroll, billing, hiring, marketing, clinical supervision and compliance, raising a family and dealing with a lot of unresolved trauma, and I started drinking a lot of wine. It became an addiction. I went to treatment, and it was one of the best things I could have done.”

Coffee Rehab
As the substance abuse program for Minnesota CarePartner took off, Armendariz started planning for a project that could employ addicts as they grew in their sobriety. She wanted to start a coffee house called Coffee Rehab, run and operated by individuals in recovery.
“I did a Kickstarter and found a location on East Lake St. in Minneapolis,” she said.
She had support from her Twelth Ward council member Andrew Johnson, who said the following about her proposal: “For anyone struggling with addiction, knowing they are not alone and getting support from others can make a huge difference. Having Coffee Rehab in our neighborhood is going to help many people on their path towards healthier and happier lives. It’s truly an asset for our community.”
Mayor Jacob Frey and Chef Andrew Zimmern were also supporters. She got T-shirts made. But the location fell through.
“It was kind of a sign I needed to slow down,” Armendariz said. ”Í needed to clean up in any areas where we are struggling.” She said that in a couple years, when her current lease is up, she will look again for a location that can house her agency and the coffee house.

Reflecting community they serve
Regarding her agency, Armendariz said, “I wanted to reflect the community we serve.” She said she looks for staff members who may speak the same language, share a similar background and look like the clients they work with.
“It is hard during a therapy session to have to use an interpreter,” she noted.
It is Armendariz’s hope that Minnesota will make an investment in communities of color, offer more opportunities for clinicians of color and help them get into school.
“We apply the same standards to all people, but starting out I had less credibility and more issues getting off the ground,” she said.
Looking back a few years to when she began her agency, Armendariz said she was not certain she had what it took to run a company. “Who am I, to think I can do this?” she recalled asking herself. “But through the process of recovery and sobriety, watching things fall into place and attracting a great staff, I know I can do this.”
Currently Minnesota CarePartner provides addiction services for adults only, but in mid-September this will include an adolescent program that will help children suffering from addiction. For mental health treatment, the agency treats all ages, including babies.

Exactly what she’s supposed to be doing
Armendariz said initially one of her biggest challenges was retaining staff. “There’s a big staff turnover when you don’t offer PTO or benefits,” she said. She also realized she was doing too many things at once and wearing too many hats. “When you do too many things, you can’t do everything with quality,” she said.
“But now I have an administrative team, a clinical supervisor and staff. I can wear the hat of manager.”
She added, “Being a start-up is really hard. People want to judge you and criticize you, and it is hard to build from the ground up.”
Right now, Armendariz said she feels amazing. “I am in a perfect spot, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing,”
She said one of the greatest rewards she has felt has been seeing a culture at her company that is truly a safe space for clinicians and counselors of color, as well as others. “We have fun.”
“The staff members now stay because they get the mission and they believe in it,” Armendariz said. “Finally, after blood, sweat and tears and being out in the arena, I am glad now things are shaping up.”

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