Johnny Allen Jr. hopes a new influx of charitable gambling revenue from St. Paul will enable more city kids to go on camping trips and college tours.

Allen’s youth-mentoring organization, the JK Movement, was one of three groups recently made eligible for charitable-gambling funds by the St. Paul City Council. Last spring, the council had considered dropping groups that didn’t serve low-income youths, but in the end all of the organizations previously receiving funds met the new qualifications.

They will be joined by ComMUSICation and the Somali American Youth Enrichment Club (SAYEC), in addition to Allen’s group.

“I’m really excited to see the surge in new organizations on the list,” said City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who along with Council Member Jane Prince suggested the changes to the program. “I’m hoping that these dollars will really flow to the kids who need them.“

A 10% share of gambling funds — which includes proceeds from pulltabs, raffles, bingo, tipboards and paddle wheels — go to the city’s Youth Fund, which supports the list of youth groups. The fund fluctuates year-to-year based on gambling revenue generated citywide, and will be split between 32 groups this year.

They can receive up to $8,000 each, per year.

Before the policy change, the only requirements for organizations in the “10 Percent Club“ were incorporated nonprofit status and operation of programs for St. Paul youth. The youth groups must now show that most of the kids they serve live in St. Paul, qualify for free or reduced lunch, or attend a school or district providing free meals to all students.

The proposal initially received pushback when some programs voiced concerns about the possibility of losing funding. City officials met with the groups, Noecker said.

“We made some of the changes they suggested but we weren’t going to move from the ultimate thrust of the recommendation, which was to make sure we’re serving kids who really need the dollars,” she said.

SAYEC President Abdirashid Ahmed said the group, which provides soccer programs in the summer and tutoring services during the school year, has relied on fundraising efforts and donations from community members to sustain its programs. He said he hopes the additional funding will provide more programming for kids.

“There’s some perception out there that a lot of these programs are for the privileged and for the few,“ Ahmed said. “We’re just giving the kids access and opportunity to work [and] collaborate with kids their age, kids that speak their language and look like them.“

The JK Movement serves more than 400 of the city’s young people, whom Allen hopes to inspire with the sense of community he experienced in the lost Rondo neighborhood.

With the extra money from the youth fund, Allen is exploring options to take the kids on field trips later in the year.

“We’re all about exposing our kids to opportunities and just doing things that they normally wouldn’t do on a regular [basis],“ he said.

 

Mohamed Ibrahim (mohamed.ibrahim@startribune.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.