Congratulations to Warren and Mary Lynn Staley, who have been named the Association of Fundraising Professionals 2016 National Philanthropy Day Outstanding Philanthropists. Their remarkable generosity is driven by a deep passion and care for people and community.
Warren is known for his accomplishments as CEO of Cargill and Mary Lynn for her civic leadership. Their giving has inspired incredible generosity in others, and they continue to make philanthropy and volunteering the cornerstone of their retirement.
Warren and Mary Lynn have supported CommonBond for more than sixteen years.
Note: This Minnesota Good Age article was written by Dave Nimmer, a former CommonBond Communities Board member. He and Minnesota Good Age generously agreed to share this piece with CommonBond supporters. Dave had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor; now retired, he says he has no business card, but plenty to do. He’s at email@example.com.
This month’s issue of Minnesota Good Age is highlighting the topic of housing, which can be a huge challenge for all ages, not just us seniors.
And that got me thinking about how important the idea of “home” has been in my life — and in my service on the board of a nonprofit affordable housing provider. I grumbled a bit when I first joined the board of CommonBond because I knew it was expected that board members of the nonprofit put the organization at the top of their charitable contributions lists — in addition to giving of their time and talent which, for me, meant producing videos about the outfit that’d been around for 40 years.
The Lord’s work
The mood lasted until the second board meeting when I was seated next to a feisty nun, Mary Heinen, one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet of St. Paul. In fewer than five minutes, she let me know how lucky I was to be doing “the Lord’s work” for such a fine organization.
People can’t rise out of poverty, she said, unless they have a roof over their heads and we, who’ve always had that, should be paying it forward.
I got the idea she wasn’t asking for my opinion. Over the next three years of board service, I learned how right she was.
I interviewed senior citizens who found affordable apartments. I talked with single mothers who needed safe places to raise their kids. And I chatted with recent refugees who needed help learning English and finding doctors.
Currently, CommonBond owns or manages 5,500 rental apartments and townhomes in 50 cities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. More than 9,000 people — families, seniors and people with disabilities — call CommonBond home and more than 2,400 of them are children.
For those children, CommonBond offers a “study buddy” program, in which volunteers work with youngsters who need help with learning and language.
One family’s story
Hsa Dohsoe and her husband, Doh Soe, had two young sons when they moved into CommonBond’s Vista Village in St. Paul five years ago.
They came to the U.S. in 2008 from a refugee camp in Thailand. The St. Paul apartment they’d been living in was costly and cramped.
Then they learned they qualified for Section 8 (subsidized) housing and moved into their Vista Village townhome — with two bedrooms.
Their boys — Banyan, 7, and Wilson, 8, — received their own room. And their parents received some peace of mind.
“We felt safe there,” Hsa said. “We had a place to park the car. We had nice neighbors and I didn’t have to worry about being safe. It was easier for me to concentrate on education, my school work.”
She and her husband both got their high school diplomas and she’s now a medical assistant with Allina. He’s a technician with Premium Waters, Inc.
Doh Soe would like to get training to become an automobile mechanic and Hsa wants to go back to college and complete requirements for a registered nurse degree.
Today, as of two months ago, they’re proud owners of a house on Barclay Street in St. Paul.
As I see them now, sitting on the front step, I’m impressed with their grit, gumption and grace. I see refugees who had to learn English, get an education, encounter a new culture and find decent jobs.
After hearing the family’s story, I’m aware that having a safe place to call home is incredibly important and I’ve known that since I was a kid, watching a summer thunderstorm roll in late at night from my bedroom window, and feeling safe from all harm.
Sister Heinen was right: If we’re not paying it forward — especially us senior citizens — we’re sliding backward.
In October, CommonBond celebrated the grand opening of its newest community, Sunwood Village in Ramsey, Minnesota! Sunwood Village serves as a model for other developing suburbs with its dense, walkable character and access to transit and amenities. Its location – less than 300 feet from the Northstar Rail – gives residents easy access to over 45,000 jobs in downtown Minneapolis. It’s also near the Mississippi River Bike Trail and the free bike rentals at City Hall – and offers covered bike parking for residents.
CommonBond is committed to being a good neighbor through green, environmentally friendly practices. To that end, in addition to promoting transit and bicycle use, Sunwood Village features a rain garden and a storm water cistern that holds rainfall and reuses the water for irrigation. There was a strong need for affordable housing in the area; 40 of Sunwood’s 47 units were occupied within the first five days of opening! 100% of the apartment homes in this community are affordable, with four reserved for households who have experienced long-term homelessness. CommonBond’s Advantage Services provides support to those four families.
Thank you to all who came out to celebrate with us, and to our project partners Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Metropolitan Council, Anoka County, and the City of Ramsey!
Bloomsbury Village, in Des Moines, Iowa, is an example of a CommonBond community that benefits immensely from CommonBond’s Adult Education and Advancement Services. The Akol Gai family emigrated from Sudan and has lived at Bloomsbury Village for four years. When Margaret Akol Gai arrived, she had a dream of opening a family grocery store. Advantage Services staff worked with Margaret to develop a plan and to connect her with sources of support.
Margaret spent many hours in the building’s computer lab to develop a business plan and to complete state and federal documents – all while maintaining her career as a Certified Nursing Assistant. After hard work, goal setting with the Advantage Services Coordinator, and taking advantage of various programs around the Des Moines area, Margaret’s dream became a reality and she opened her store this year.
Margaret believes in making a family effort to be successful; all three of her sons assist her in business planning and keeping the shelves stocked. She is now working on adding a bakery department and hopes this will grow her grocery store enough that she will be able to quit her full-time job. We look forward to sharing how things progress for her and her family!
CommonBond Employment Coaches and Advantage Services Coordinators will continue to work with Margaret and other residents on securing and retaining employment. In 2016, adult residents have obtained 184 jobs and 77% of those jobs have been retained long term.
Ben and Mary Stephens choose to support organizations in a quiet yet deliberate way. CommonBond Communities is fortunate to be one of the nonprofits to which they have made that kind of commitment. Ben and Mary have been involved with CommonBond for more than twenty three years.
“We believe so strongly that families deserve safe and affordable housing. CommonBond understands so well, that besides physical housing, many supportive services are needed to help individuals and families move forward toward healthy lives.”
We deeply appreciate Ben and Mary’s ongoing support. They have made a real difference in the lives of the thousands of residents we serve. Due to their generosity – and that of many others – more than 6,500 adults and nearly 2,500 children will celebrate the holiday season living in CommonBond communities committed to their stability, independence, and future success.