A-List appeals for help

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 12:19 PM

Just shy of its one-year anniversary, the teen hub is struggling financially and is asking the community for assistance.

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From left, Marscilina Davis, Quinton Hooker and Chew Yang played Monopoly in the A-List game room.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The A-List needs help.

Not quite a year after the by-teens, for-teens hangout and homework hub opened its doors to north metro youth, it is fighting for survival.

After a $20,000 pledge fell through last fall, the organization went into a spiral of missed rent and difficulties that culminated in an eviction notice this month from its Zanebrook Mall storefront in Brooklyn Park. A-List leaders are working to meet the terms of a settlement with its landlords and other creditors.

They now estimate that if they are able to raise $100,000, that will not only cover past-due expenses, but also create a buffer for future funding uncertainties.

The missed donation "left the organization in a challenging position in terms of making ends meet, which is not atypical in the charitable industry right now," said Jenn Urban, vice chairwoman of the group's board of directors.

They hope to get on more stable footing, she said. But they can't do it alone.

"Now we're reaching out to the community to see what they can do to help us try to stay true to our mission of education, entrepreneurship and creative arts," Urban said, adding that leaders also have redoubled efforts to seek out grants and new revenue sources.

They're asking community members to make donations via the organization's web page, www.thealistyouth.org, or to buy tickets to a benefit concert on Thursday headlined by performer Alison Scott.

A-List Manager Jeanne McMahon estimates that 125 teens walk through the A-List's doors each day, and as many as 400 attend concerts and other special events. Participants have toured colleges, received tutoring, learned test and work skills and formed a musical group, One of Many, which released a CD last year.

The organization also employs 18 students at its snack bar and T-shirt printing business.

Urban wants to emphasize the good the group has done since it opened last April.

• Youth crime in Brooklyn Park is at a 20-year low, which she attributes in part to at-risk kids having a place to go.

• Formerly indifferent students are striving -- and achieving, she said.

• Teens have discovered and developed talents through the A-List's musical groups, open mic and battle of the bands events.

"It takes money to do good things," Urban said. "We really need the community's support to keep providing the necessary services we do."

For the most part, students are not privy to the organization's financial crisis. Organizers know they have to look beyond the teens and their parents for help; many of the students come from families that face financial difficulties of their own.

"These kids are already in a vulnerable position because they're at-risk youth," Urban said. "They come to the A-List for refuge, for a place to get away. With all these things in flux, we're kind of like careful and protective parents. We're trying to protect them and work it out behind the scenes."

Quinton Hooker, a junior at Park Center High School, is the exception. A student representative to the board of directors, he knows what's at stake.

"It's definitely upsetting" in view of "all the hard work we've put into the A-List and going through the beginning stages and the ups and downs," he said. He's committed to seeing the organization through the crisis so he has no regrets going forward.

"It definitely shows we have to be thankful for everything we have and really work hard and just put all of our efforts into keeping the A-List, because it would be really sad if we didn't have this," Hooker said.

The challenge creates interesting times for the group's founders. Matt Norris and Asha Sharma learned of the eviction notice after they returned from a White House event honoring young social entrepreneurs.

"The president did say in his address to the event that there are going to be ups and downs in this work, and the ones who are ultimately going to be successful are the ones who have the grit to make it through the tough times," Norris said. "That's true.

"This is extremely difficult work. It's work where you're having to fight for every dollar, and have to work to carry out your mission. ... What's important is that the city really rally behind the organization and say this is something that's important to the community. We need to invest in it so it's here for the long-term."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

  • HOW TO HELP

    Make a donation at www.thealistyouth.org or attend Thursday's benefit concert featuring Allison Scott, Zulu Nation, Kevin Bowe and the A-List's own One of Many. The concert is at 7 p.m. Thursday at Anwatin Middle School, 256 Upton Av. S., Minneapolis. Tickets for all ages are $6. For more information, call the A-List at 763-566-4545.

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