This has been a difficult season for kids and families in our community. First, COVID-19 upended the routines, relationships and resources that we count on to sustain us and flooded us with new anxiety. Then, the brutal murder of George Floyd so close to home sparked a national reckoning with racism that is a fact of daily life for many of our neighbors.
Even before the COVID-19 storm hit, despite our exceptional Orono and Wayzata schools, nearly 2,000 kids in these districts were not experiencing the same opportunities and achievement as their peers. The pandemic has magnified existing academic achievement disparities and deepened the racial divide.
During her recent struggles with stay-at-home orders, her mom’s job loss and distance learning with her siblings, Keisha leaned on Interfaith Outreach Neighborhood Program staff for support.
Fourteen-year-old Keisha* and her siblings live with their mom in a neighborhood supported by Interfaith Outreach. Even before the pandemic, Keisha helped her siblings before and after school while their single mother worked two jobs. After school, the kids would socialize and work on homework with Interfaith Outreach Neighborhood Program staff and volunteers in the community room until their mom came home.
During the stay-at-home order, the restaurant where Keisha’s mom worked closed, but she was able to pick up more shifts at the grocery store. As Keisha’s responsibilities grew to helping her brothers navigate unfamiliar technology and complete their school work, her own distance learning often took a backseat. The eighth-grader was exhausted at the end of each day.
In a conversation with Neighborhood Program Manager Olumide Aje, Keisha’s overwhelm poured out in a flood of tears. She shared her worries about whether she could keep her grades up, how her mom was going to keep up with the bills, and – heartbreakingly – her increased awareness of the danger of being Black in America. She felt her dream of being the first in her family to go to college was slipping away.
Olumide didn’t have easy answers for Keisha, but he held a mirror to her strengths, and told her what he tells all the Neighborhood Program youngsters – “Once you’re my kid, you’re always my kid.” He reminded her that her community is invested in her dreams.
We have heard from so many of you the fervent desire to come together, to heal the hurts that divide us, and to create a better future for our kids.
Through Great Expectations, we’re creating a network of support for kids wherever they show up in our community, whether they need school supplies, a child care scholarship, help paying for camps or extracurricular activities, or an adult mentor they can count on in their neighborhood.
“In the end, it is the result of intentional relationships that build an ecosystem of support, piecing it all together for kids,” Olumide explains. “It is not just the neighborhood they live in. It is not just the school. It is not just one organization. It is not just the family. It is everybody coming together.”
Coming together now, in the toughest of times, is more critical than ever.
Learn more about Great Expectations, our local response to helping young people like Keisha.
*The name, image and some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of this child and her family.