“Banyan, to me,” says Aidee Orocho, “Is family.”
Aidee, a freshman at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, has participated in Banyan Community programs since she was in the second grade. Her two younger sisters are involved in Banyan programs, her mother works there now, and her father is one of the many parent volunteers Banyan depends on. But Aidee says that’s not why she calls Banyan “family.”
For residents of Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, Banyan Community provides opportunities to connect with each other and outside resources and break out of the isolation that poverty can cause. Banyan offers academic support services to 120 young people in grades K-12 throughout the year (including scholarships to a local private high school) and also provides parenting and basic needs support to 75 families. In addition, Banyan’s block club initiative involves some 800 residents.
About 40 percent of the children in the Phillips neighborhood live in poverty. The racially diverse adult population faces an unemployment rate of nearly 11.5 percent. Generational poverty or recent immigration can mean families have no experience with maintaining employment, managing household finances or achieving a college education. Banyan’s three-pronged approach begins with ongoing academic encouragement for youth and ripples out through the community by helping parents better understand their children’s development and offering all residents the opportunity to make positive change in their neighborhood.
“Banyan has definitely changed my path in life,” says Aidee, who is studying graphic design. “The Higher Ground scholarship meant I could go to DeLaSalle High School. They really care about you at Banyan and I feel like they try their hardest to boost you up.”
A grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation enabled Banyan to purchase land from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on which to establish a permanent base in its service area. The new home will double Banyan’s capacity to serve kindergarten to college youth and allow it to add a preschool and increased opportunities for adult education and leadership. In addition, Banyan will now be able to share its model with other neighborhoods and nonprofits. The Otto Bremer Foundation’s support of Banyan flows out of its mission to assist people in achieving full economic, civic and social participation in and for the betterment of their communities.
“Banyan is a community development organization,” says Joani Essenburg, Banyan’s founder and executive director. “That’s who we are and who we’ve been from the beginning, but the reality is that the youth piece is what people have noticed—our kids shooting to the top. Honestly, in any community, the only way youth can shoot to the top is if they have a base of support.”