In partnership with Hlee Lee of OMG Media, the East Side Funders Group is launching a series of stories to lift up the amazing business community on the East Side of St. Paul. Check out the first story: Cook St. Paul: From Childhood Memories to Community Collaborations

We all know Serlin’s, it was a staple on the East Side for what seemed like forever, well nearly 70 years. Edmond Charles

Photo credit OMG Media: Eddie Wu, owner of Cook St. Paul, bought the “weird food photos” from the original owners.

Hansen III, aka Eddie Wu, remembers it too. His father was a firefighter stationed on Payne Avenue.

‘My dad would get off work at the fire station and I would get dropped off there,” Wu said. “I’d help with his side job: washing windows or trimming trees. The deal would be he’d give me $5 but also he’d take me out to eat and usually he’d let me choose. And I could never remember the name of Serlin’s, but I remember the pictures on the wall. Those food pictures. So I would say, ‘Can we go to the place with the weird food pictures?’ And he knew.”

Check out the full story here.

How AEDS is transforming the African immigrant experience in Minnesota

Entering the African Economic Development Solutions’ (AEDS) office in St. Paul, Minnesota, visitors are instantly greeted with bright-colored, floor to ceiling banners displaying African pride and the work of AEDS.

Founded 10 years ago by Gene Gelgelu, president and CEO, AEDS supports wealth building in communities, with an African-centric focus. In its early years, AEDS provided wealth building through business planning and youth enrichment programs. Over the years, with the help of Nexus Community Partners and others, the work has expanded and evolved.

“We were able to start our loan program in 2013 with the help of Nexus and the grant we received. We have expanded the program so we are able to do micro-lending for businesses, financial literacy, and credit placemaking [in the Twin Cities-Metro area],” Gelgelu said.

Through the various programs, African Economic Development Solutions impact can be felt and seen economically, physically, and socially.

“Our biggest impact through the loan program is that we are helping start businesses that create jobs. From there, people are able to buy homes that are within their budget and that they own. We have our Little Africa festival, which creates space for people to connect to the African community [in Twin Cities] and helps in attracting and retaining talent in the region. All of this creates social capital, adding vibrancy and value to the area.”

When Gene first founded AEDS, it was not the large, vibrant office space it currently is. For the first couple years of the organization, Gene was sharing a desk with another organization and could only give himself part-time pay, though he was working far more than the standard, 40 hours a week.  

“[W]hen I look back, I think about how many people have been impacted. We [African, immigrant communities] don’t get money for the planning stage like in certain communities…Nexus has supported us with funding during our planning stage and beyond. They’re not only our funders, but our friends. The [Nexus] team understands our community. They understand us because they have folks who lived through it or [who] step up to the challenge. They deeply care about what we do.”

The relationship between Nexus and AEDS dates back to 2010, when Nexus gave the organization a $10,000 capacity building grant to develop and strengthen their asset and wealth building programs. “We trusted Gene’s vision and his ability to address the needs of his community,” said Danielle Mkali, Nexus program officer. Over the years, Nexus provided funds to help AEDS communicate their story, attract additional resources and expand its programming. Today AEDS is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and in 2017, the organization received a $150,000 award from the Small Business Administration. “Gene is helping families build a legacy. It has been a pleasure to witness AEDS overcome barriers and watch the organization grow. We have learned so much from AEDS,” said Danielle.

Reflecting on next steps for AEDS, Gene wants to build out the lending program, expand benefits for existing staff, and strengthen organizational capacity; however, he also wants folks to remember how African communities are important to the Minnesotan fabric.

“We, our community, are an asset. We bring and have brought assets to this region…African immigrant communities are thriving in this region.”

Written by Nichelle Brunner

A Broader Framework for Economic Development:

Nexus Community Partners Elevates Community Wealth Building in the Twin Cities

Juxtaposition Arts, Broadway,North Mpls

In 2015, Nexus approved a new strategic plan that affirmed our mission of building more engaged and powerful communities of color. As part of the process, we clarified our approach to achieving the mission and identified three core ingredients to ensure just and equitable communities:

  • Authorship: Engaging community

In a strong, equitable and just community, all members are engaged in and have authorship of their lives and their future. Nexus builds infrastructure for stronger community engagement learning and practice.

  • Leadership: Cultivating power

In a strong, equitable and just community, all members are seen as leaders, are given ample opportunities to grow in their leadership, and are able to represent their communities in multiple spaces. Nexus invests in and cultivates leaders of color who are working to advance a broader agenda for equity.

  • Ownership: Building community wealth

In a strong, equitable and just community, all members are afforded ample access points to generate wealth and to own the wealth they have helped to generate. Nexus challenges practitioners, community leaders and investors to use a community wealth-building framework to revitalize our communities.

As part of the focus on ownership, Nexus expanded our individual asset and wealth building work to include a more comprehensive community wealth building framework.

Community wealth building is a place-based, systems approach to community economic development that ensures local and broad-based ownership; develops cooperative and other reinforcing economic enterprises; utilizes culturally-based economic models; invests in assets that are rooted locally; and engages the procurement power of institutional partners. CWB is grounded in the values of equity, culture, mutuality and stewardship. (See our short community wealth building film here)

In 2016, we carried out a number of activities targeted at “Seeding” and elevating the framework, building shared knowledge and developing partnership to carry our community wealth building work forward. Over the summer, Nexus hosted a three part learning series that focused on the role of anchor institutions and worker owned business models in building community wealth, as well as a session on new financial tools being deployed to promote local and broad based ownership.

In the fall, we partnered with Oakland- based Project Equity to conduct an ecosystem mapping exercise with cross sector partners to begin building an infrastructure in the Twin Cities to support the growth of Worker Cooperatives of Color. Our work in the “seeding” phase included developing and presenting an analysis in partnership with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) around the potential for business conversions to worker ownership. (Read the report, “Worker Ownership A Pathway to Strong Local Economies”)

In 2017, Nexus will focus on cultivating the seeds planted in 2016. Efforts will include launching a Black Cooperative Economics Academy; convening a cohort of stakeholders to build a network of Technical Assistance providers of color; strengthening relationships with key organizations, institutions and community leaders around cooperative models, anchor procurement and financial tools; targeted regranting and finally, partnering with the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation’s C3 VISTA program to develop a Community Wealth Building Cohort.

Want to learn more? Please contact Elena Gaarder at to learn more.

As promised we are sharing an update from the community discussion of a potential Juvenile “Reception Center” on the East Side of Saint Paul. All attendees of the October 16, 2013 should receive invitations via email to upcoming community discussions of this proposal. We will share any updates or invites as we learn more.


Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Stakeholders Group

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meeting notes

Brief on JDAI:

JDAI ensures that only youth who are an imminent public safety threat or flight risk are placed in juvenile detention. A detention screening tool is used to assess whether a youth needs to be in detention, or can be placed under community supervision (community based alternative). Imbedded in the effort which brings justice and community stakeholders together, is eliminating racial disparities, investing in community based and culturally responsive approaches to youth supervision and rehabilitation.

Brief on JDAI Stakeholders Group (from meeting agenda handout):

The Stakeholder Group provides an excellent forum for resolution of JDAI/Disproportionate Minority Confinement and Contact (DMC) issues.  The initiative involves many jurisdictions, agencies, administrations, sectors and communities.  It promotes a high degree of integration into the initiatives’ operational mission performance, but also challenges previous processes and assumptions for juvenile justice administration.  The Stakeholder Group process helps reinforce the positive aspects of the former structures and provides JDAI/DMC-specific oversight and advocacy.

There were a diverse group of agencies at the meeting including (this is not a complete list):

  • Saint Paul Youth Services
  • 180 Degrees
  • YWCA of St. Paul
  • Neighborhood House
  • Urban Roots
  • Communities United Again Police Brutality
  • St. Paul Police Department (SPPD)
  • Roseville Police Department
  • Ramsey County Public Defender’s Office
  • Ramsey County Attorney’s Office
  • Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office
  • Ramsey County Community Corrections
  • St. Paul Public Schools
  • Supreme Court in Paraguay (to listen and learn)
  • A couple of St. Paul community members


Quarterly statistics from Corrections/St. Paul Police Dept. were presented and discussed.  (Information was provided via Powerpoint/handout. Statistical reports and quarterly meeting handouts have been made public on line at  although information has not been recently updated.)

  • Admissions to detention by race continue to indicate an alarmingly disproportionate number of children of color –particularly Black children- compared with white children are being detained.  Quarter 3 admission by race: 62.8% Black; 8.7% Asian; 5.9% Latino; 1.4% Native; 9.7% white; 11.5% other
  • Admissions to detention have increased in the 3rd quarter and are likely to see 2013 end higher than 2012 –continuing a trend of increased admissions since at least 2010.  Primary reasons for detention admissions are: felony –new offenses charged 43.8%; warrant 18.8% and misdemeanor new offense charged 17.4%.  Admissions due to probation violation and court order have declined in 2013.
  • Top offenses that have gone through Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) process ( ) include: Runway, Theft (value of <$499) and truancy
  • From Jan 2012-Sept.2013 there were 2293 RAIs done
  • Top zip codes: 55106 (39%) 55104 (19%) and 55117 (15%)


A brief overview was provided on SPPD prevention programs and partnerships which included individualized officer involvement in mentoring programs and department-wide programs.  Chief Smith spoke about one particular program where grant money was obtained to hire 16 youth workers to serve Downtown St. Paul providing outreach and serving as a buffer between the SPPD and community.  Funding for that program has ended.

An overview of Ramsey County Decision Point Data Pull Process Map was provided that mapped key decision points starting at the input for arrest (school, home, community) to police arrest (citation/refer to County Attorney, diversion, JDC) all the way through the court system and  juvenile probation.  A map of this process was included in the handout.  There were remarks around gaps in the system and where youth/families were not being reached.

There was a brief discussion on recommendations by consultant Bobbie Huskey ( regarding juvenile justice redesign. In her report where her consulting group was retained by Ramsey County Community Corrections Department, she recommends new programs “for pre-adjudicated youth to reduce the number of youth who would otherwise be brought to detention or confined in detention” including a “Community Intervention Center (CIC).”  The full report is available at:

There was a posing of questions around community based investments in positive youth development with a brief discussion.   The point was to consider a range of services that youth need in the community to be both productively engaged and to avoid involvement in formal services (i.e. police, courts, juvenile corrections and human services.)  The group was asked to consider the following questions:

  • Do we have a full array of community-based investments in positive youth development for Ramsey County youth?
  • Are these investments targeted where the need is the greatest?
  • What critical investment are missing in Ramsey County?
  • What is/are the purpose(s) of each of the investment gaps identified?

Some suggested critical investment gaps included:

  • More recreation centers in challenged neighborhoods
  • Park and Recreation Centers hours that correspond to youth need
  • Youth outreach workers
  • Mobile Crisis Unit (with youth focus)
  • Safe zone’s for youth
  • Self-referring shelter facility for youth
  • More homeless youth shelters
  • Employment opportunities for youth
  • Juvenile reception/service center
  • Mobile mental health crisis unit for youth
  • Drop-in counseling and crisis center for youth
  • Culturally responsive community-based services to youth and their families.

The group was asked to think about they see priorities are for positive youth development.  For the sake of discussion, they were asked, what could $500k do to support this?  There was discussion around the limited capacity of rec centers and disinvestments in (summer) youth employment programming.  One person brought up that many nonprofits are operating at 80% of what they were 3 years ago and stretching to provide services.  The Selby Ave. Jazz Fest was brought up as a significant community investment to build community.

The idea of a Juvenile Reception Center was the final item on the meeting agenda for JDAI to begin to discuss how (if) they want to be a part of the process.

Toni Carter, who was chairing the meeting, prefaced the discussion of a Juvenile Reception Center by stating this was a first discussion for the JDAI Stakeholder Group.  In light of the discussion, she recommend on a couple of occasions to weigh the idea centered on JDAI’s guiding principles (which can be found at ), specifically referencing the principle that “the initiative cannot succeed without the active engagement and full participation of families and communities as stakeholders.”

There was a brief overview of the two Juvenile Reception Center models from Hennepin County and Multnomah County (Oregon):

1) Hennepin County partners with the Link in Minneapolis to run the Juvenile Service Center where the Link services children who are picked up for truancy, curfew of low level offenses.  Youth are assessed and referred to community services.  They had 2,546 “visits” in 2010, providing more intensive case management to 232 youth.  ( The LINK web information )

2) Multnomah County’s goal is to provide police with an easy and quick place to release juveniles, allowing the officer to get back on the street.  Youth are screened, provided referrals and have on-going case management. (County web information )

There were a few comments specifically critiquing the above models.  One person who traveled to Portland to see their Juvenile Reception Center expressed great concern over Multnomah County’s model, saying that it merely creates a middleman to the process, which isn’t necessary.  He also referenced that the center did little to support youth and their families by providing a weak referral to other community services.  One person cited issues that the Link staff did not reflect the demographic of youth coming into the center ( ), putting into question the effectiveness of their engagement with youth.  In Hennepin County, there is also an alarming disproportionate number of Black children coming into the Juvenile Service Center and system as a whole.

Ramsey County Attorney’s Office appeared to take the stance of figuring out how to resolve gaps within the County’s system and what the role of a Reception Center might be in this case (here the Ramsey County Decision Point Data Pull Process Map would be insightful).  They expressed wanting to understand what the system lacked.  An example of this sentiment could be found when John Choi stated, “A community reception center is a part of the solution if it’s done correctly…(it) will be a value to the community.”

The group was asked to consider if a reception center model is the solution they want to see –was this something JDAI wants to engage and advocate for?  (The question of who/what agency has the ultimate decision power to decide up on a Reception Center was brought up but not specifically addressed.)

One question brought up multiple times was what was the goal of a reception center?  If we understand that a system is built for the outcomes that the system wants, then just what does the system want?  There was a lack of clarity about the “why.”  One woman brought up a point of schools and truancy stating a need for advocacy responses that don’t require an introduction to the system.  Multiple people (including 180 Degrees) raised the question of youth and community engagement about the model –what do youth have to say about this?

There was discussion about next steps for JDAI Stakeholders Group to consider their engagement with the Reception Center Model.  At first, the idea was thrown out that a work group get together and provide an initial recommendation to the Stakeholder Group at the next Quarterly meeting, which will be held January 15, 2014.  Chief Smith recommended people actually take a closer look at the LINK and Portland models, citing enthusiasm for SPPD’s VIP model (Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative).  It was decided that an email would go out to the group (including people who provided contact information on the sign in sheet) to draw together a group to pursue next steps.

The next JDAI Quarterly Stakeholders Meeting will take place Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (noon-1:30pm) at St. Paul Public Schools, 360 Colborne Street, St. Paul.



Hmong American Partnership will be hosting a Farmers Market starting September 23rd until October 8th running every Monday and Tuesday. This is a pilot project with the aim of bringing affordable locally grown produce to the East Side of St. Paul. The location of the HAP Farmers Market will be on-site at their office to serve all members of the community, especially those who are receiving WIC.