Help is just around the corner

Family Resource Center for Brooklyn Center, Osseo and Anoka-Hennepin school districts is a one-stop shop of services

BY KATY ZILLMER

katy.zillmer@ecm-inc.com

On any given day at the Community Corner in Brooklyn Center class is in session for preschool students to adults, employment counselors and family advocates work with clients and staff and volunteers sort donations of food and clothing.

“‘Can you use fabric? Can you use a pallet of potatoes?’ And we say ‘yeah.’ We call some volunteers and bag them up and by the end of the day it’s gone,” said Brooklyn Center School District’s Community Education Coordinator Linda Hanka, who spends her days and sometimes evenings manning the Community Corner.

Brooklyn Center School District Community Education Coordinator Linda Hanka visits the preschool room at the Community Corner Sept. 6 as Aaron Hughes plays nearby. The preschool is just one of the many services for families. (Photo by Katy Zillmer)

Brooklyn Center School District Community Education Coordinator Linda Hanka visits the preschool room at the Community Corner Sept. 6 as Aaron Hughes plays nearby. The preschool is just one of the many services for families. (Photo by Katy Zillmer)

The Community Corner draws in the donations from residents in the area perhaps because of its visible location at a busy four-way stop at 69th and Humboldt avenues in Brooklyn Center.

The food donations can furnish a family with meals if they have a temporary need and the Neighbor-To-Neighbor clothing swap keeps a variety of items stocked. Families can trade in clothes they don’t need anymore for those that are a better fit, Hanka said.

But that’s just the beginning of what the Community Corner staff and volunteers work to offer to families, and Hanka stressed it is not a place where people can go to just get things for free.

At the core of the Community Corner are programs and services to help people complete their education and get back on their feet by finding housing and employment.

People have to take the initiative to get the most out of the Community Corner’s services, but once they’re in the door what they might need is right at their fingertips.

“The mission was to be able to have more of a one-stop shop for people who are struggling with the things needed to be successful,” Hanka said.

 

Fuad Omer, of Brooklyn Park, works on math during an Adult Basic Education class at the Community Corner in Brooklyn Center Sept. 6. (Photo by Katy Zillmer)

Fuad Omer, of Brooklyn Park, works on math during an Adult Basic Education class at the Community Corner in Brooklyn Center Sept. 6. (Photo by Katy Zillmer)

You have to start somewhere

It took some time for the Community Corner to come into its own and determine the needs of the residents in the Brooklyn Center, Anoka-Hennepin and Osseo school districts it serves.

Originally it was housed in a small space next to a barbershop in the strip mall across the street from the current location.

The services in the beginning, coordinated by the Northwest Hennepin Family Services Collaborative, were an after school homework help club and an employee to answer residents’ questions and connect them with resources in Hennepin County.

Hanka said the visibility of the original Community Corner was an issue and the collaborative learned they needed a space where all the services could be available instead of sending people elsewhere.

That was even before her time working at the Community Corner, but Hanka was an employee of the Brooklyn Center School District as an after school program coordinator for 15 years and had considered a transfer someday.

She took on the role to be in charge of the Community Corner when her kids were older and she could dedicate the days and evenings to working there – still when it was located in the strip mall.

Hanka’s long-time ties to Brooklyn Center eventually paid off in finding a larger location that would match the Community Corner’s potential to help people.

About 15 years ago, the perfect home for the Community Corner turned up when Brooklyn Center was looking to sell one of its municipal liquor stores across the street from the first locale.

“Between the school district and the collaborative and the city, they struck up a deal,” Hanka said.

“They got together and they decided what we really need is a place, one place where we could offer a lot of different things under one roof,” she said.

 

A future for all ages

That is evident walking into the Community Corner now, with brochures advertising different services lining the walls and flyers about programs old and new stacked on Hanka’s desk.

There are basic services including access to computers for job searches and creating résumés, a copier and fax machine, to those catered to more individual needs such as staff fluent in many languages, self defense classes, a program geared toward fathers and tenant training courses.

Hanka said there have been families and individuals coming to the Community Corner on a regular basis for years.

Wishenna Taylor is one regular client who grew up in Brooklyn Center and started to come to the Community Corner in elementary school.

Taylor said she struggled with learning and was connected to the Community Corner for tutoring.

“I would come here almost every day,” she said.

In high school, Taylor said she stopped coming to the Community Corner. She was set to graduate in 2008 but started working more to support her family when her mom became seriously ill, Taylor said.

“At the time I didn’t care about school,” Taylor said. “I cared about providing for the home and keeping my mom alive.”

Now Taylor is working on her GED at the Community Corner and reunited with Linda, whom she said is like a second mom.

“I knew that she was going to be able to help me with whatever I needed,” Taylor said. “I think if I didn’t come here, I would probably be in a different path. It’s a stepping stone to a promising future,” Taylor said.

The Community Corner helps people of all ages.

Fuad Omer, who lives in Brooklyn Park, is also working on his GED.

As an older student balancing work and finishing his high school education to go to college, Omer said the teachers at the Community Corner are helpful in working one on one with him.

“I really like the place and (the) teachers are very nice. They work with you tirelessly and they just give you whatever you ask,” Omer said.

Omer moved to the United States from Africa in 1990 and to Minnesota in 2000, first living in Robbinsdale.

He has been using the services at the Community Corner for about a year.

Omer said the classes have also helped improve his ability to speak English too and will help him achieve his goal to attend college.

“This place (has) helped me a lot,” Omer said.

 

‘Heart beat’ in the community

Someday Hanka said she would like to see the Community Corner grow into an even larger space. But for now as long as the schedule and square footage allows they will offer as many services as possible. That includes outside organizations coming in to teach classes and offer additional resources.

The Father Project, a program of the Goodwill Easter Seals, just started at the Community Corner two weeks ago, said Case Manager and Father Advocate David Mirambeaux.

The Father Project is a service to assist custodial and non-custodial dads to with overcoming barriers that prevent them from supporting their children financially and emotionally, Mirambeaux said.

He will be at the Community Corner at least once a week hosting a parenting group and connecting with fathers in the neighborhood who would benefit from the project.

“We think we can make a difference and help fathers be self-sustaining. It’s a service much-needed in this community.”

Another service gearing up at the Community Corner is the tenant training workshops, which help many of the residents of multi-housing complexes nearby.

“They go into everything from the different kinds of leases and what it means to sign it, really giving them a grassroots understanding of what all that is about,” Hanka said. “It shows them how not to just be a victim and we see that so often,” she said.

Hanka said once a day at the Community Corner starts, programs, services and activities are running all the time.

And she is most often the first smiling face people see as they walk through the door or the cheery voice they hear on the phone.

“I love the families I work with, I do and I love this place because I see it as being kind of an organism that is just changing all the time and growing, like a heart beat kind of,” she said.

“It is an empowering place. It isn’t a place where people become dependent in a negative way. They come and utilize things to become independent and that’s the goal of the place to give people what they need to really get strong,” Hanka said.

Info: Community Corner Family Resource Center, 1500 69th Ave. N., Brooklyn Center, 763-561-2481.

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