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Warren & Mary Lynn Staley

Warren & Mary Lynn StaleyCongratulations 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.

Housing for All

Housing for All
Hsa Dohsoe, 26, and her husband Doh Soe, 27, sit on their front steps in St. Paul with their boys, Banyan, 7 (left), and Wilson, 8.

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 dnimmer@mngoodage.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.

Landing safely

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.

Grand Opening of Sunwood Village in Ramsey, MN

Sunwood Grand Opening
Pictured L-R: Mary Tingerthal (Minnesota Housing Commissioner); Matt Look (Anoka County Commissioner); Kurt Ulrich (City of Ramsey Administrator); Deidre Schmidt (CommonBond CEO); and Philip Porter (Enterprise Community Partners).

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!

A Successful Business is a Family Affair

Akol Gai FamilyBloomsbury 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.

A Commitment to Giving

Ben and Mary StephensBen 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.

A Light on in the Window

a-light-on-in-the-window

Just over five years ago I wrote about our new housing CommonBond community right off of I94 serving long-term homeless individuals. I drove by daily and watched the building being renovated. One evening near the holidays, when the days grew dark early, it was overwhelming to drive by and see lights glowing in the finished apartments, and even see some holiday lights starting to twinkle in the building. Our residents were out of the cold and living in their own apartments. Many for the first time in years.

I have since moved, but the same feelings overwhelm me this holiday season as I drive home past Fort Snelling Upper Post Veterans Community. Fifty eight formerly homeless veterans and their families now have a place to call their own. Veterans who bravely served our country are now safe, they are warm, and they are truly “home for the holidays.”

Thank you to all who have supported our veterans and CommonBond Communities this year.

Marilyn Peller Nelson, Resource Development

You Can Make a Real Difference in a Child’s Life

TJ and Paul

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, CommonBond Communities raised more than $43,000 on Give to the Max Day!

Every week during the school year at CommonBond Communities all around the metro, there is a flurry of activity between 3-6pm, when kids get home from school and head over to the Advantage Center to begin working on their homework and connect with staff, mentors, and friends. You can be part of both of these inspiring experiences.

This year, our Give to the Max Day campaign raised funds to support the Study Buddies program, an on-site, one-on-one mentoring program that pairs youth with a caring adult for the purpose of academic advancement and personal support. It’s a once a week commitment during the academic year.  As Co-Managing Partner of Dominium, one of the country’s largest affordable housing development and management companies in the nation, and a pretty busy guy, Paul Sween became a Study Buddy last year.  Paul says, “I’ve done other volunteer work with boards and I wanted to do something working one on one with someone. My Study Buddy volunteering really fits the bill!” You can make a real difference in a child’s life.  Paul summed it up well, “I think I get more benefit than my study buddy.” As you can see from the photo above, Paul’s study buddy TJ seems to get a lot out of his time with Paul too.

Here’s how you can still support the Study Buddy program:

  1. Make a gift today!
  2. Become a Study Buddy,  Contact Volunteer Manager Kristina Kithinji at Kristina.Kithinji@commonbond.org

Where Parks Start is Where Communities Start

Whittier Group

The inception of the Whittier playground began in early 2014, when leaders from Calvary Church (www.calvarychurchmpls.org), located across the street from CommonBond’s Whittier Cooperative in Minneapolis, met with Property Manager, Alyssa Kiffmeyer, to talk about how to interest families in their new tutoring program and engage more people in the neighborhood. One of the things Whittier residents had wanted for many years – a playground – was shared with the group. The Calvary board realized what a playground could provide for the 100+ young CommonBond residents and neighborhood children and committed a $10,000 matching gift challenge for the project. What happened next was pretty exciting.

CommonBond’s goal was to build the playground in the summer of 2015, but we were still searching for someone to match funds.  Thankfully, Donnie Brown, the Community Affairs Director at the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) called CommonBond looking for a project they could both donate to, and be a part of.  It was the perfect opportunity for their group.

On a brisk and sunny day in October, seventeen MAAR members, several Co-op residents, and some amazing contractors helped build a new playground for Whittier. “We’re giving back” said Dave Philp, President of the MAAR Foundation.  “Where parks start is where communities start, so we’re going to have families playing out here for years to come”.

Our neighbors from Calvary, current and past MAAR leadership, a number of neighborhood businesses, and CommonBond’s CEO Deidre Schmidt were on hand to be a part of the transformation.

If your organization or group is interested in being part of a project like this, please let us know.  We’ll find the right match between your interests and the needs of our residents.  Contact Julia Dangerfield at Julia.Dangerfield@commonbond.org

A proud day for CommonBond

ribbon cutting 3

A full house of project partners, community advocates, local veterans groups, and distinguished leaders joined CommonBond staff as we officially celebrated the opening of Upper Post Veterans Community on Friday, Oct 2nd. Congressman Erik Paulsen, MN Housing Commissioner, Mary Tingerthal, and Dave St. Peter, president of MN Twins all joined in recognizing the importance and impact of this new development which provides affordable housing for 58 veterans and their families at Fort Snelling. You can still support this historic project – call 651-290-6254 to learn how. To read the event press release click here.