Graco Tour and the Importance of Engagement

Graco Tour and the Importance of Engagement

October 12th, found  Sundance Family Foundation and the Minneapolis North leading youth from North Minneapolis high schools on a tour of Graco20161013_083938(0) Inc. This tour as a part of the  national, “Manufacturing Days”, featured Graco, a neighbor, as one of the over 2000 employers who opened their doors to youth, highlighting the vast array of opportunities found in an industrial vocation. Sponsors included the Minneapolis School District, Workforce Development, The Minnesota Center for Excellence in Manufacturing, and Sundance Family Foundation.

Our tour group began with students from Henry High School. This is the first tour that Sundance has facilitated with Minneapolis Public Schools faculty.

Of the eighteen youth in attendance, five were from after-school youth development programs called Youth Social Entrepreneurships. They included students enrolled in programs with  Appetite for Change, and Elpis Enterprises. Directors Paul Ramsor from Elpis 20161013_090946and Darryl Lindsey from Appetite for Change were on board for the interactive tour, as well. Youth Social Entrepreneurship (YSE) integrate practices of positive youth development with community engagement and social entrepreneurship. Youth learn while they earn, receiving opportunities to grow their knowledge of business management and entrepreneurial thinking,  leadership development, first time job skills, and learning to become leader representatives within their communities.

Our group was greeted with a warm reception from the Graco staff. This was their first effort hosting a tour for Manufacturing Days, and what an incredible job they did!

We were split into three smaller groups, each with a 30-minute tour of the production facility. This part of the tour focused on the products that Graco makes, but more importantly, the personable tour guides drew our focus to all the captivating machinery that was around us. Without exception, the youth were energized and engaged every moment of the tour.

After our stroll through this multi-million dollar robotics wonderland, we were brought to a space that housed a series of six stations with interactive20161013_092151 activities especially developed for the youth.These activities were designed to highlight a particular aspect of manufacturing success. There was a game that demonstrated supply chain thinking; and a station showing the importance of measuring. These spaces were not focused on “teaching” these skills, as much as allowing youth to “try them out.”

20161013_091842This approach is similar to the Sundance Wunderkammer model designed to engage youth at tech and training fairs in a more collaborative, interactive manner than traditional job fairs. The interactive design model is presented with the goal of evoking curiosity and awe, with
the hope that youth will be sparked to envision themselves working in a job or on a career path within a particular company or industry.

After working our way through the stations, our group
20161013_094130was brought to still another space that was set up with representatives from various trade schools and Graco HR staff. This, combined with donuts and sodas, ended the interactive tour on a memorable note for the teens from Minneapolis Public Schools. Graco Inc. accomplished greatness with the youth, conveying a sense of interest, high levels of skill development, innovation and pride, and showed various career paths available for a future employee at Graco. It could be heard by several youth, post tour, as they entered their school bus, “This would be a cool place to work.”

Cool, indeed. 

The Star and Tribune also recorded moments from this tour. You can find that story by following the link HERE.

YSE Alumni Spotlight Armani Black

YSE Alumni Spotlight: Armani Black


Armani Black is a YSE alumna who’s experienced many forms of success. She recently earned her B.S. degree in International Business and Management Information Systems from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Armani has been awarded multiple internships and a fellowship, and studied abroad in several countries. She was President  of the National Association of Black Accountants her senior year of college, and currently works for the multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 Company Accenture, as a Technology Consulting Analyst.

Armani began her Youth Social Entrepreneurial journey as a youth intern at Urban Roots. This YSE organization, located on  St. Paul’s East Side, offers youth ages 14-21 training in Positive Youth Development, Social and Emotional Learning, and Community Engagement, through a focus on agricultural development.  Armani began  work with Urban Roots in their Market Garden program. This program teaches a cohort of youth to “plant, maintain, and harvest small-scale crop production within urban gardens.”


It might be confusing to some to connect this sort of agricultural training with entrepreneurial development. However, in addition to the gardening basics, Urban Roots folds youth into the management of the gardens, and the distribution of their crops to the community. This distribution takes many forms, including local Farmer’s Market sales, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) relations, selling locally-grown and prepared salads at Twins baseball games in the Roots for the Home Team program, and person-to-person negotiations with local chefs to meet the market needs of their restaurants. These programs are all youth-led, and often with peer-to-peer training. Urban Roots allows for youth to participate for more than one year, which gives the more experienced student workers the opportunity to train the new interns, while developing their own leadership skills.

When asked  if this type of managerial training helped with her current position, Armani told me that it did and so much of her success derived from “getting in there and doing the work.”  She had her fair share of hours of gardening on hot, summer days, which she believes equipped her with skills of patience, hard work, and teamwork. She often draws on these experiences to help guide her as a leader.

Armani shared a story about an internship that she had while in college. “It just wasn’t a good fit,” she explained. She described that it was not a bad company to work for and that other students might relish her position. However, she complained about the pace of the work being too slow. Armani told me, “I felt like I was wasting their money.” Amani was extended an offer to stay on after her internship, but she took a more entrepreneurial approach.  To get the highest return on her investment, she worked through the internship, doing more than was expected. Amani said, “I left on a great note, and got a reference that I used to get a position that is a better fit.”

Entrepreneurship is so often a combination of high level managerial awareness, leadership skills, risk taking, and problem solving, coupled with the trained ability to see any project through. At Urban Roots, Armani says she startedNABA to develop the skills and habits that got her to where she is, but also guided her thinking about where she hopes to go in the future. Because of her exceptional skills, once she accepted her offer of employment at Accenture, she was offered her choice of locations to work. Accenture has offices across the country and internationally; Armani made a choice for personal growth and moved to experience the American South. She told me it was a hard choice. She misses her family, but that what she is learning personally and professionally now will help her and her community when she returns in the future.

Sundance2We discussed what might have been missing from Armani’s YSE experience. She told me that she would have liked, “more collaboration with other YSE groups.” She said that learning and building skills with others in her program was fantastic, but that connecting with other programs more would have  allowed her to connect with other students across Minnesota who are making a difference in their communities and networking is key to development.

In other parts of the world, Armani points out, “YSE organizations are just called ‘nonprofits.’” She pointed out that these international organizations need a revenue generating component to their operation. This is not just to provide quality programing, but to simply survive. As she sees it, both she, these organizations, and other nonprofits, are greatly served with the adaption and development of an entrepreneurial vision.

You can learn more about Armani’s story. Particularly, what brought her to start working with YSE organizations. This story and others are featured in the documentary produced by the Sundance Family Foundation, Changemaker’s: Teens Who Learn and Earn, and featured on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT). To enjoy this video, please follow this link HERE

Manufacturing Career Interest in Manufacturing Month

Manufacturing Career Interest in Manufacturing Month

October 5th  found the Sundance Family Foundation partnering with Minneapolis North Workforce Center and the Minnesota Center for Excellence in Manufacturing, to bring 24 charter school students on a tour of one of Minnesota’s leading manufacturers, MME Group in Vadnais Heights.

The students came from Minnesota Internship Center (MNIC) and 800 Broadway School, both charter schools in North Minneapolis.

MME Group provided an incredible tour of the possibilities for careers in manufacturing as well as the various ways young people can begin their manufacturing journeys.

20161005_135718Brian Bussmann, company president and founder welcomed the students into MME Group Meeting Room to meet with a panel made up of HR personnel, managers, and Mr. Bussmann. Brian offered part of his professional story, with the other members of the panel (Jared, Jerry, and Tonya) offering theirs as well. From this presentation, we heard that some people can go to school right out of high school, some can get experience from other careers, and others can start
working in manufacturing as soon as they turn eighteen.20161005_135155

The panel opened up for a  round of questions. The questions differed, but the response of the student audience was pretty much the same after each questions. Some would ask something like, “How much would I start at?” which would be followed by an answer that surprised and pleased the group. “Depends on the job. Most in at entry level start at $14 an hour or so.” These answers were always 20161005_132912(0)followed by a moment of shocked silence, and then a quiet rumbling between the groups of friends that made up the school groups. One20161005_133704 young man after this questions called out, “Are you hiring?” A wave of awe went over the crowd as the HR director said, “Yes.”

Following the panel, our group was split up into three different groups. We all had the same tour path, but started at different points. The students were able to meet the people on the floor; Not just on the assemble line, but in the clean room and in the lab area. Students were able to talk with the tool makers and the people involved in higher precision work. Afterwards, it was clear many could see themselves in
these jobs.

20161005_133231MME Group was kind enough to offer their space, and  as an exercise, they gave us job applications for the students to fill out. There is something to be said about getting students used to filling out real applications at a real job site. . If they do it once they are likely to try it again. Filling out the apps might just lead to them actually turning them in. We will keep these groups in the fold regarding opportunities in industrial vocations. And, we will keep making connections with youth programs and these incredible companies. Set UP Free Subscription Guide

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Evidencing YSE

Sundance Family Foundation & Wilder Research

Evidencing YSE

Developing Preliminary Evidence-Based Research with Youth Serving Organizations in the Greater Twin Cities Metro Area

February 12, 2016–The Sundance Family Foundation and Wilder Research are launching a 24-month project to develop the capacity of thirteen youth-serving organizations working with underrepresented and low-income youth in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area. These organizations offer Youth Social Entrepreneurship (YSE) programs that combine personal and business skills, youth social and emotional learning, and community leadership opportunities. They provide key supports that help youth age 16-24 learn the soft and hard skills needed to get a livable wage job in manufacturing, trades and technology.

Over the past seven years, Sundance has been supporting non-profit enterprises that identify innovative YSE approaches and guide youth to take their place in the economic growth of low-income neighborhoods. “We believe that these promising programs work to ‘put poverty out of business,’” states Sundance Family Foundation Co-founder/President, Nancy Jacobs.

Wilder Research has a long history of enhancing the research capacity of nonprofits, by providing contracted external analysis and reporting. Wilder’s teams of scientific researchers work with organizations of all sizes at the local, state, and national level to help them bring about needed change, increase their effectiveness, and demonstrate the value of what they do.

The Need for Research and Expanded Funding for YSE

The emerging field of Youth Social Entrepreneurship is not yet well defined or adequately funded even though more than 90% of identified Youth Social Entrepreneurship programs around the country specifically target low-income or otherwise marginalized youth.

Successful YSE programs often struggle to receive funding from local and national foundations and government units because their multidimensional programs nested in thriving enterprises are complex. In the best of these programs, youth are not only working at their jobs, but are also engaging in the community and acquiring a gamut of social and emotional skills. These programs allow youth to think expansively and creatively design very bright futures for themselves.

Advancing the Field Through Research

Without providing preliminary evidence based, and longitudinal research, it is hard to prove that YSE programs are indeed the innovative social solutions that improve lives, strengthen communities, foster civic engagement, service and volunteering, and eliminate disparities facing communities and their youth. This project will make evidencing success possible.

The Evidencing YSE collaboration with Wilder supports thirteen youth serving organizations as they enhance their internal data, analysis and reporting systems. The cohort includes: Appetite for Change, Cookie Cart, Cycles for Change, Dream of Wild Health, Elpis Enterprises, Emerge Community Development (EMERGE), Genesys Works–Twin Cities, Juxtaposition Arts, Keystone Community Services, Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau, Pillsbury United Communities, St. Paul Youth Services, and Urban Roots.

According to Darryl Lindsey, Director of Operations at Appetite for Change, “We are always guarded about letting people outside of our community research us–they have been doing it far too long. We are pleased to be a part of a project which will ultimately give us the capacity to generate our own data, and prove that our community engagement strategies are effective.”

The project, in this early stage, is being launched by the Sundance Family Foundation, Dorsey & Whitney Law LLC, Dorsey & Whitney Trust, Jacobs Investments, Metta Financial LLC, and several Anonymous Donors with other funders coming in at various stages of development.

Contact for more information, or visit Copies of a white paper describing YSE are available at


Wunderkammers as Fair Technology

Wunderkammer as Fair Technology

The problem with Job and Post Secondary Training Fairs is that, at times, they are not fair.  When this occurs  the unfortunate imbalance of power  never tips toward the youth, and inadvertently both vendor and youth walk away uninspired. Often, the company’s or school’s vendor expect the inquiring young person to know something about the program, school or job, before ever speaking to the vendor. As well, the vendor may not be well versed about the particular needs, concerns, and possible barriers to opportunity access experienced by the youth. The youth’s life experience simply by default may not include familiarity with this traditional bridging format. Yet, this paradigm is the reality at career fairs and college recruitment events. The belief that every covered table has a welcoming and holistically engaging person behind it is not shared by many of the young people who are served through local youth development nonprofits. The idea that the youth can openly ask questions, or be vulnerable with their hopes and dreams is an assumption not warranted. The Sundance Family Foundation, with the help of community partners, offer an alternative to this traditional presentation.

Sundance Family Foundation hopes to drive change in the field of youth social entrepreneurship (YSE) using the Wunderkammer Initiative  bringing  to life curiosity, discovery, enthusiasm, hope and dreams, with changes we and community leaders are making to Tech & Training Fairs. Designed to holistically engage low income youth with tantalizing opportunities to explore career avenues, we are embarking on the Wunderkammer Initiative as a Bridge and Pipeline strategy to success. Both expo vendors, and youth and their families, would collaboratively engage in opportunities that lead youth and families to embrace passion about previously unexplored career paths,  leading to livable wage jobs and enriched lives.

The Wunderkammer or (also called a Cabinet of Curiosities), was the BuzzFeed of the Renaissance. With the expansion of Empire, and the so-called discovery of new people, plants, and animal life, the desire to collect and display this finds was rampent. The Wunderkammer, was often an entire room filled with specimens appropriated from various trade and exploration endeavors. These rooms would often have large glass cases filled with the stuffed remains of an animal never seen before in Europe, and then have several smaller glass cases or jars stacked on top of it—each with more collected samples. Tools, clothing, bones, maps, dried flowers and berries; all these and more would be littered throughout a room.

The Wunderkammer was an important change from how knowledge was previously perceived. Before, “to have” knowledge of something, you would have to experienced it first-hand, or been instructed on it at a university. If something didn’t fit in the generally accepted model of the world (usually one started by Aristotle, and sanctioned by the Church) it was completely dismissed. However, the Wunderkammer positioned thinkers to challenged these previous assumptions of how the world works. Instead of just reading something in a book or hearing about it in a lecture, the object of study was right in front of the student for personal examination. In this relationship, it doesn’t matter if an old book or teach says something isn’t possible because the proof that it is possible is only a thin pane of glass away.

Just as important as the Wunderkammer’s  effect to push back on previous beliefs of limitations was its capacity to create beliefs that expanded these limitations. They had the effect of causing the observer to ask, “If this is true then what else is possible?” A building of “wonder on wonder” that seems rather natural.

Another unique aspect of the Wunderkammer, compared to other forms of knowledge dissemination like the book or the lecture, is that it demands an active and personalized engagement. There was no predetermined beginning, middle, or end like book. It started when they entered the room, as opposed to a play or lecture, and what they saw first would influence the meaning of the thing they saw next. The observer was left to explore the presentation on their own. They had to move about the room to get the best vantage point for different displays. Items were collected because of their potential interest to the observer and the collector, not to principly complete a set in an established order. Often, an order to what was seen was created in the mind of the viewer based more on the order of when and how it was seen. A person would not simply see a Wunderkammer, but have to experience it. They were allowed to explore the space. “To inspire wonder, by concentrating and containing the rare and the strange, was the original aim of this early modern institution”, and it is the aim of the Sundance Family Foundation to do the same, and more.

The Wunderkammer model at the Tech & Training Expos will not simply be a table with pamphlets, but a space created by representatives from local manufacturers, area colleges, and assistance programs, that invite the expo attendances to hands-on, interactive experience in a visually attractive setting. This is not a table with pictures of a robotics program, but a working example of a robot that young people can try for themselves. The thinking behind this is two fold. Firstly, as stated above, there is a proven historical example of this form as a vehicle for change in thinking. Secondly (and perhaps more importantly) no amount of kind words or free t-shirts or the like, can build the trust needed for traumatically underserved youth to feel like they are welcomed in a vocational field. Especially if they don’t feel welcomed at a table.  

This is a youth focused project, with an emphasis on building relationships that will begin with a concentration on adult presenters. Young people will know they are welcomed, when they are welcomed to do something. To take part in, and be a part of. At the Wunderkammer, youth will be welcomed to explore, touch, try, see, and question in a safe environment. The most important part of welcoming someone is not the welcomer thinking they are adequately welcoming, but the person being welcome feeling they are welcomed. This change however, is not a one-way street. We envision our invited presenter to participate in this change…and benefit from the experience as well.

Often in these situations, the most well intentioned presenter can fall into the traps that perpetuate racist conditions. If they are professional presenters, or if job fair-like activities make up the majority of their work calendar, they might fall into a rut of boredom and passivity. Every person looks the same, they all ask, or don’t ask the same questions–over and over. Or perhaps the presenter is not specifically trained to present, or more importantly, present to low-income youth or people of color. Should each presenter go through dozens of hours of racial sensitivity training, or make personal commitments to advocate for diversity and inclusion in both their personal and professional lives? Well, yes! These things cannot hurt, and their lives would be so much richer for it. However, we cannot expect this, nor should be attempt to manage this. Barring occupational therapy, or in-depth diversity seminars, we at Sundance Family Foundation feel that the Wunderkammer will help to create and nurture the pivotal relationship between youth and access to opportunities.

This is not just our belief. We have found a practice need for a structuring vision–beyond simple principles.

At our first Tech and Training Expo, we spent a lot of time and effort crafting a description of the physical and social presentation for our presenters. We asked that people of color represent their institution when possible. We gave guides on how to use the space differently. We talked about who their audience would be and how it might be different than other outreach efforts. Most importantly, we were explicit on two conditions: the display/presentation offer a practical, generally achievable opportunities for youth; and  engaging, interactive displays. We found few did both, some did one but not the other, and many didn’t do either.

The problem was not that we didn’t share ideas with our presenters, or that just should have made them more clear. The problem was one of “buy in.” We let the presenters know what we wanted to see, but what we didn’t do is let them know how it would benefit them. We didn’t help the institution see that this was a chance to present their programs in a fresh and exciting way to a new audience. More importantly, however, we didn’t guide these experts to understand these expos are an opportunity to share their passions with someone eager to learn. We didn’t let them on the floor without properly vetting them, and helping them to see that their knowledge and experience can completely alter the lives of the young people in attendance, and their families.

This ‘buy in” has more than one level to it. The presenter will have to see this presentation as something they will personally benefit from, as well as understand they are helping others. They will have to understand the heavy weight just their being there creates, and act accordingly. They have to make a commitment to being a presence for change. If seemingly obvious questions are asked for instance, they have to assume this is because the youth are interested in knowing the more, rather than being a “smart alec.” If the youth are speaking slang, or with a more the quite demeanor, the presenter has to make the assumption the youth are comfortable with them. The reverse is also true, but for different reasons. If a young person is quieter than the presenter is used to, the assumption has to be that the person is trying to be respectful. These expos have to be seen as a chance to share something they love, with people that would not normally get the chance to enjoy this thing.

Another level this “buy in” operates on is to make the environment. The presenters have to see themselves as part of the scenery of the expo. Kids are smart. They pick up so much more than we think they do. If a presenter is curt or dismissive of a young person, it is our belief that everyone in the surrounding area picks up on this. The creation of a safe space for youth to ask questions and dream big is stifled. Fancy toys are not enough. The change we envision in this proposed space will not be lasting if it is tarnished by behaviors of cultural supremacy.

This is really an all or nothing staffing policy, but it should not be an aggressive one. This means that we will have to find and foster individual relationships with institutions we identify as having effective/beneficial programs, but that some of these relationship just won’t work out. However as few bridges should be burned as possible. If a presenter did not work out, they should be kept in the loop so that they can see how successful the expo was, and that they are welcome to participate–but with further discussions on how they can best serve the expo’s audience.

It has to be mentioned that this concept, like so many from the past, is connected to oppressive ideas such as imperialism colonialism, and racism. The Wunderkammer housed very few original discoveries. Certainly, none of the cultural artifacts that were taken from non-industrial peoples, were only then “discovered.” These were things that were long known by groups around the world. There is a cultural promotion that knowledge can be embodied, and that certain bodies can be controlled or displayed for the purposes of entertainment. It reifies the ideas of that only certain types of knowledge, and only certain types of people matter. We plan to flip this on its head. This Wunderkammer holds knowledge that does not belong in a glass containers, but rather is for any color hand to hold (and play with, and fiddle about). This Cabinet of Curiosities is not a place of privilege and exclusion but a chance for personal and communal. A space where everyone involved gets the opportunity to grow in a way they may need to grow.

We have already started working with partners in college programs, and are beginning connect with manufacturers directly. We are confident that next Tech & Training Expo (scheduled for spring) will reflect these changes. We are hoping you will join us, and invite the young people you serve to do the same.  

We are hoping to take a risky and revolutionary step, not by fighting or defending, but by hosting. The Tech & Training Expos of 2016 with be spaces in which young people are invited to stretch their wonder muscles, and presenters will be empowered to share aspect of their passions. They will both be in a space to do so.