It Takes a Village to Create Community

Banyan Community

Since 2008, the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF) has made eight grants and facilitated twelve donor advised grants to Banyan Community. In all, these grants have totaled more than $160,000. “It’s not a Catholic organization, but it’s one our Catholic Community enthusiastically supports,” says CCF President Anne Cullen Miller.

Visit co-founder Joani Essenburg at Banyan Community’s current offices in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis and you’ll instantly understand the reason for all that enthusiasm. Above her desk is a wall lined with photos of beaming high-school graduates — who started with Banyan in elementary school and have gone on to colleges around the state and nation, including the University of Minnesota, Loyola University, Marquette, the University of St. Thomas, and St. Catherine University. One youth was admitted to Yale.

From Kids Club to Community Center
When Joani and Tim Essenburg moved to the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1990, it was a high crime area in a city dubbed “Murderopolis.” Though income limited their housing options in the city, it wasn’t the ultimate factor in deciding where the Essenburgs would finally call home. Instead, what they really wanted was a neighborhood in which they could live the incarnation by loving God and loving neighbor. For that, the Phillips neighborhood proved just right.

What began with 25 kids coming to their house for Thursday night “Kids Club” soon blossomed into a nonprofit community development organization serving 120 children, 75 families and 32 block clubs with synergistic programs that are transforming lives.

In 2015, Banyan broke ground on a new 30,000 square foot Banyan Community Center that will allow them to double the number of youth, families and block clubs served.

Innovative Programs for Young People
On any given weekday, you’ll see kids of all ages participating in after-school activities at Banyan Community Center — from elementary and middle school students learning math games and playing in the gym to high school students huddled around tables with their neighborhood friends seeing their homework through to completion.

At Banyan, every activity is treated as a learning opportunity. A camping trip might also involve meal planning, grocery shopping and preparation of nutritionally balanced meals. “We provide tutoring and support to ensure all the basics, like homework, get done but our programs are also fun and designed to cultivate healthy relationships,” says Joani.

Impact on Youth
In a neighborhood where the graduation rate is 59% for all kids, 47% for African Americans and 45% for Latinos, Banyan youth programs have had a significant impact:

  • The four-year high school graduation rate for youth in Banyan’s ASPIRE program is 100%.
  • Banyan retained 96% of youth and families through the 2014-2015 school year, and this successful retention rate has resulted a long waiting list.
  • 70% of Banyan high schools students made the honor roll in 2015.

Impact on Families and Community
Banyan’s youth programs are deeply integrated with family and community programs to create an environment where students can learn, families can thrive and residents can put down roots.

Home visits are a cornerstone of Banyan’s approach to community building. Picking the right elementary or middle school for your child is a decision made sitting in the living room or around the kitchen table with a Banyan staffer who can explain the best options available.

In 2015 alone, Banyan Community:

  • Made more than 400 home visits to meet with parents of kids participating in Banyan programs and families participating in block club activities.
  • Helped 100% of families to attend parent conferences and/or advocate for their children’s education.
  • Added 14 new block clubs to Banyan’s Lighthouse Network and provided support to 32 block clubs that hosted events attended by 1,650 Phillips Neighborhood residents.

An easy way to assess Banyan’s impact is to drive through Phillips and count the number of homes displaying Lighthouse Network signs.

CCF and Other Catholic Friends
In 2015, CCF selected Banyan to receive $19,000 from the Family of Faith Endowment earmarked for life skill development for vulnerable youth. Among others, The Sayer Family Foundation Fund and the Ellen and Scott Sayer Charitable Fund also provided grants through CCF.

CCF is not the only Catholic organization that supports Banyan’s work:

  • At the beginning of each academic year, the Saint Bartholomew Catholic Faith Community of Wayzata donates fully loaded backpacks and school uniforms for every Banyan student.
  • All Banyan students attend De LaSalle High School.
  • Many families with elementary or middle-school age children select either Risen Christ or Saint Helena Catholic schools.
  • The Church of Saint Edward in Bloomington provides generous financial support on an ongoing basis and even hosted the Annual Banyan Dinner for several years

A Growing Network of Supporters
Like a Banyan fig tree, which has central trunks with long branches that generate new trunks and eventually create a grove of trees, Banyan is a Christian community development organization in which youth, family and community programs are synchronized to strengthen the Phillips Neighborhood.

Inspired by Banyan’s impressive results, a network of grassroots supporters, which includes the Catholic Community Foundation and many other Catholic friends, has sprung up to foster the growth of Banyan’s innovative programs.

“The financial support provided by CCF has been important and very much appreciated,” says Banyan Development Director Sue Riesgraf. “We’ve also found it useful when talking to parishes and individual Catholic donors. When they hear that CCF supports our work, it’s like a seal of approval, reassuring donors that we must be doing something right.”

View More Stories