A Somali organization is opening a massive community center in Minneapolis, aimed at bringing a new level of workforce development, recreational activities and cultural programming to the growing East African population.
The nonprofit Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota has tried to provide these opportunities to immigrant populations but has been greatly limited by its space in their Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
“It’s just tough without no community [center], without no building,” said Ahmed Ismail, who runs a youth soccer league in the area. “The majority of the kids don’t have any place to go.”
The nonprofit recently purchased a 24,000-square-foot building at 2639 Minnehaha Av., which is about a mile and a half from its current headquarters at the Brian Coyle Community Center. It plans to have the new programs running by this fall.
“If you want to help the kids achieve in terms of their education, they need a space where they can learn,” Executive Director Mohamud Noor said.
Program manager Bosteya Jama travels to Wellstone International High School multiple times a week to help teach Somali refugee students English and other classes, as an example of one of the organization’s outreach efforts.
The community is in desperate need of a space that’s sole purpose is to help ease issues within the Somali community, Jama said.
“For the kids, the young boys, they’ll feel more comfortable,” she said.
The organization has been operating for more than 20 years. It offers services — from medical referrals to legal advice — for Somali residents.
And it has helped lead successful campaigns to raise awareness of Somali issues, like one last year to designate Minneapolis as a sister city to Bosaso, Somalia. Leaders have also been vocal about their work with combating terrorist recruitment.
Noor said his organization has outgrown its current space, which serves about 4,000 people annually.
“I haven’t even been able to put together my office because every minute there is someone coming in,” said Noor, pointing to a stack of documents that range from setting up truck driving lessons for young men to helping a mother with an immigration issue. “All of this is waiting for me — this is just this week.”
Noor and his staff are in the process of raising funds to cover the $1.9 million price tag of the new building.
The new building is leading the organization into a more hopeful era for the area’s struggling Somali residents, he said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.