Former St. Paul mayor, director of AmeriCorps VISTA and National Senior Service Corps, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living (one of Minnesota’s largest non-profit housing and job training organizations) and current executive director of Ramsey Action Programs Inc (the Community Action Agency serving Ramsey and Washington counties) spoke at today’s NDDC’s December Forum.
Jim discussed his new book, “The Promise of Partnerships: Tapping into the College as a Community Asset.” He talked about colleges and community groups working together to better provide needed services. He cited examples ranging from tutoring students to cycling college speakers through the community. He stressed that partnerships take time but that the results could be long-term.
Erin Bowley, co-author of the book and a national education consultant, spoke about Campus Compact, a group committed to building partnerships between colleges and communities. There are 50 colleges in Minnesota and 1,000 colleges in the nation that are part of this group. She noted that Carleton and St. Olaf were among the original members of the group.
Jim and Erin said the newest community initiative by colleges is direct investment, typically in affordable housing or economic development. Jim stressed that community development and economic development are not different things; they are two sides of the same coin. At that point, there was some discussion of the Community Investment Fund, started by the NDDC and now operated by the NEC. After the meeting, both Jim and Erin gave me contacts for models of structuring such financial participation.
The discussion then turned to the relationship between affordable housing and economic development. I had met Jim for the first time when I was developing affordable housing in Lowertown (St. Paul) and he was Mayor back in the 1980s. We joked about my “outrageous” requests for financial support for these projects. Jim then pointed out that looking at these projects 25 years later, they were a great investment of city resources.
There were forty some people in the room, many with connections to the colleges. They, and many community members, cited all the activities by the college community, particularly the students, in the community. I thought NDDC Community Advisor and EDA Vice President Bill Cowles summarized it well when he suggested that maybe if the community were clearer on it’s priorities, the colleges would have a better idea about where to put their resources.