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Diversity : Innovation + Job News

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Innovative program gives low-income residents more spending power at farmers markets

Local, fresh produce will now be easier to obtain for people who use food stamps, thanks to an initiative that allows more farmers markets to accept EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards.

The program is a coordinated effort among Hennepin County, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and the City of Minneapolis. Launched last year with two markets, the program has been expanded this year as an incentive for people to shop at the markets and eat healthier foods.

Those participating in the program will receive "Market Bucks" coupons, which match the first $5 in EBT card purchases with an additional $5 in coupons. Participating farmers markets are Midtown, Minneapolis, Northeast, West Bank at Augsburg, West Bank at Brian Coyle Community Center, and West Broadway.

"Technically, it was actually complicated to put into place, because EBT is designed to work in retail settings, at places that have Internet access," says JoAnne Berkenkamp, Program Director for Local Foods at IATP. "We're pleased that so many people worked together to solve those issues and make this happen. Our hope is that we can craft a food system that works for everyone."

The program also benefits farmers, she adds, because it brings in more shoppers and encourages more purchasing. Last year, at Midtown Farmers Market--the first market in the Twin Cities to accept EBT cards--the number of people using EBT more than doubled over the previous year.

Berkenkamp notes that there are other markets and municipalities around the state trying to put a similar program in place, and she anticipates that the initiative will expand in the near future.

Source: JoAnne Berkenkamp, IATP
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

MAVA helps organizations tap into job seeker pool for volunteer efforts

Volunteerism's many benefits include expanded social and professional networks, new-skill building, and community enhancement. And it just plain feels good. So, it's no surprise that job seekers who might feel discouraged and frustrated would have much to gain in taking on volunteer roles.

That's the thinking behind a new effort at the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA), a statewide organization that acts as a resource around volunteerism.

The group recently did a survey on volunteer trends and found that there's been a significant rise in volunteerism among people looking for work. That shift makes sense, since job seekers tend to have time to spare and can expand their networks that way. Recent college graduates have always been part of the volunteer pool, but now, MAVA is seeing more volunteerism among those who've been laid off.

The group also has distinct needs, believes Mary Quirk, MAVA's Volunteer Resources Leadership Project Manager, since people tend to take on short-term projects and have unpredictable schedules. In order to create a more positive volunteer experience on both sides, MAVA has worked to create more tools and resources for organizations that bring job seekers into their environments.

"When people are laid off, volunteering can make a lot of difference for them," says Quirk. "They might volunteer to learn skills like project management, for example. Beyond that, they're getting assurance that their work has value, which is something they might not have been feeling otherwise. Job loss is a depressing experience, and volunteering can bring people back to a place of strength and confidence."

To help organizations draw more job seekers as volunteers, MAVA created a toolkit, which is offered for free on its website. The resource helps an organization to understand the dynamics of job seekers and gives tips for volunteer roles and tasks that work well with that particular group. MAVA also put together a workshop on the topic that it will be bringing to different parts of the state.

Source: Mary Quirk, MAVA
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

African Development Council looks beyond the metro area to help immigrants

Because immigrants are settling in areas outside of the Twin Cities, the African Development Council (ADC) decided to begin reaching out beyond its Minneapolis offices.

"The pattern of movement with African immigrants is changing," says Hussein Samatar, ADC's Executive Director. "They were coming to the Cities in the beginning, but gradually, they've been moving outside the metro for job opportunities or housing, or to have more space for their children."

In order to offer assistance to those in other cities, the ADC recently purchased a building in Willmar to serve as a regional satellite office, with plans to open in mid-September. A new location in Rochester opened in June to serve those in that region of the state. Samatar notes that in downtown Willmar, more than 40 percent of businesses are owned by African or Latino people.

ADC was established in 2003, with its first major funding and full-time staff positions coming just a year later. The group believes that immigrant groups help to revitalize neglected neighborhoods, boost the economy through new businesses, and increase home ownership. The organization focuses on these areas with strategic lending, housing assistance, and other services.

According to a report by The Minneapolis Foundation, about 13 percent of the state's foreign-born residents are from Africa--a higher percentage than in any other U.S. state. Most Africans have come to Minnesota from Somalia, Liberia, and the Sudan, according to the ADC, but there's an increasing influx from Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Eritrea as well.

ADC formed to fill a gap that some saw with mainstream development corporations and the complex needs of African immigrants.

Just as the group is expanding northward and southward outside the metro, it got some help itself recently, when it garnered a two-year grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Samatar points out that Bremer's founder was a German immigrant, who came to the U.S at a different time, but faced many of the same business and housing issues that still challenge immigrants today.

"We feel that there are so many opportunities where we can provide services, and the grant will help us to keep expanding and serving more people," says Samatar. "We're always seeing where we can fill in gaps and provide assistance."

Source: Hussein Samatar, African Development Council
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Minnesota Diversified Industries passes 75-millionth product milestone

You know those big plastic bins you see in mail rooms and post offices � the ones that say "US Postal Service" on them?

Minnesota Diversified Industries (MDI) makes them, and as the sole provider of the USPS Postal Tote, they've made a lot of them.

In mid-April, MDI proudly passed the 75 million mark, says Peter McDermott, president and CEO. Everyone on the assembly line had a hand in manufacturing the 75 millionth tote, according to MDI's website.

MDI's team is as remarkable as the milestone; the company employs people with disabilities, offering "real jobs that create a sense of pride, value and independence in our workers' lives," states the website.

The company has facilities in St. Paul, Grand Rapids. and Hibbing, and about half of its employees are people with disabilities.

The company works on a "triple bottom line" platform: the "social or mission bottom line" that supports the career and technical development of individuals with disabilities; the financial bottom line, sustained by its competitive contracts with business customers; and the funding bottom line, maintained through grants and contributions from government entities, foundations, and individuals.

The company produces more than its original-product mail totes: plastic trays, plastic boxes, plastic pallet covers, waterjet bricks, plastic tree wrap, and other custom products.

Source: Peter McDermott, MDI
Writer: Jeremy Stratton

Genesys Works now placing low-income students in 28 local IT departments

A nonprofit whose mission is showing low-income high school students a path to economic self-sufficiency looks to be nearly self-funded in its third year.

Genesys Works is a St. Paul program that offers students in an intensive eight-week IT and professional skills training course before placing them in one-year paid internships.

"We are truly a social enterprise. We operate very much like a for-profit IT staffing company, that just also happens to have a nonprofit mission of helping low-income students of color," says Jeff Tollefson, Genesys Works' director in the Twin Cities.

The organization was founded by a former Compaq executive in Houston. It started a Twin Cities branch in 2008 and launched a Chicago program this year.

Tollefson says about 90 percent of the program's budget this year should be covered by fees collected from its corporate partners, mostly large employers that pay to have students placed at their organizations, much as they would working with an IT staffing agency.

Genesys Works partners with Minneapolis, St. Paul, Richfield, and Robbinsdale school districts to recruit students, who apply for the program in the spring. An eight-week training course begins in June, and the top students are then placed at employers, where they work as IT technicians throughout their senior year of high school.

The program hopes to have a summer class of 150 students next year. It's also going to pilot a finance and accounting program in 2011 with about 30 students.

Tollefson says the response from employers suggests the program is working. Not only is it adding partners, but existing ones are increasing their commitment. Medtronic, the largest employer of Genesys Works students, went from 5 to 11 students this year.

Genesys Works will be recognized with the Innovation Collaboration of the Year Award at the Minnesota High Tech Association's Tekne Awards on Nov. 3.

Source: Jeff Tollefson, Genesys Works
Writer: Dan Haugen

Art show celebrates decade of work by UNO creative director Luis Fitch

Luis Fitch makes sure marketers' messages don't get lost in translation.

Fitch founded the UNO Hispanic branding agency in Minneapolis in 1999. A gallery exhibit opening Thursday at Metropolitan State University will celebrate a decade of his work.

The Mexican-born creative director previously worked for agencies including Fame, a division of Martin Williams, and John Ryan Group, which specializes in branding for banking.

Fitch started UNO after seeing U.S. Census figures that confirmed what he already knew: that the U.S. Hispanic population was surging in terms of size and purchasing power.

UNO does some work in Mexico and Latin America, but its focus is on the U.S. Hispanic market, which is incredibly diverse, as Fitch recently explained to a new client:

"They wanted to go after the Latino market, and we said, well, which Latino market?"

UNO uses a method called Filtros (or "filters") to better define who a client is seeking to target. The branding strategy will vary depending on things such as language, religion, and country of origin.

Much of the agency's work involves in-store retail displays or package design. It also helps local advertising agencies adapt their campaigns for Hispanic audiences.

The company has five employees, along with a circle of freelancers. Clients include local Fortune 500 companies such as Target, General Mills, and Nash Finch.

"Ten Years of Hispanic Posters by Luis Fitch of UNO Branding" opens with a reception 4-7pm, Oct. 14, at the Gordon Parks Gallery (645 E. 7th St., St. Paul).

Source: Luis Fitch, UNO Ltd.
Writer: Dan Haugen

BrandLab branches out into six more schools for 2010-11

A few years ago, a group of Twin Cities advertising leaders realized they were missing an opportunity by not better marketing their industry to students with diverse backgrounds.

Their concerns led to the creation of The BrandLab, a school outreach and scholarship program, which is expanding to a dozen metro-area classrooms this school year.

Twin Cities agencies routinely create campaigns for diverse populations around the world, says BrandLab executive director Jim Cousins. Yet if you look around at the makeup of the staffs creating them, they don't always match the target audience.

BrandLab was started by OLSON in 2007 and expanded to include other agencies the following year. Its goal is to create opportunities in the marketing industry for students with diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Since the pilot at South High School, the program has expanded to two, then six, and now twelve classrooms at schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington.

"You can't really ask for a job in an industry that you don't know exists," says Cousins.

That's why the program starts with exposure, explaining to students what kind of careers exist in marketing. The hands-on curriculum is often integrated with an existing media arts or mass communication class. The most promising and energetic students then have a chance to apply for internships and scholarships, with two of each awarded per class.

Schools participating this year include South, North, and Patrick Henry high schools in Minneapolis, Arlington High School and Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul, Kennedy High School in Bloomington, and Minnesota Transitions Charter High School.

Source: Jim Cousins, BrandLab
Writer: Dan Haugen
52 Diversity Articles | Page: | Show All
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