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Community learning pods get boost with Allina Health office space donation

To make distance learning more equitable, Allina Health is teaming up with two Twin Cities organizations to help students.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — To make distance learning more equitable, some Twin Cities organizations have created learning pods for students. Now Allina Health is teaming up with two of them, donating office space that will help up to 80 students.

"It's been really good," said Ava Young, a seventh grader at Farnsworth Aerospace. "I just think it's really cool to have that, have your own workspace." 

Young is one of 20 students who started distance learning from inside Allina Health's corporate headquarters in south Minneapolis this week. 

Nearly all of Allina Health's employees based at the Allina Commons in the Midtown Exchange building are currently working virtually. The not-for-profit health care system has donated the extra work space to The Real Minneapolis and the North Star Network, in collaboration with the BUOY Foundation. 

RELATED: New community initiative launches learning pods to address achievement gap

"We have heard from many of our families in our community that they're struggling with distance learning. Many of them don't have stable WiFi potentially and/or their parents are essential workers and are not able to be there fully for them," said Dr. Penny Wheeler, president and CEO of Allina Health. 

The Real Minneapolis has already moved some of their students into the space. Valerie Quintana and Mary Claire Francois are co-directors of the grassroots nonprofit. They started the collective following the civil unrest after George Floyd was killed.

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Mary Claire Francois (left) and Valerie Quintana (right) are co-directors of The Real Minneapolis.

"We wanted to provide people with opportunities and resources that would bring them hope and long-lasting hope," Francois said. 

Their projects have been centered on the community's need with a focus on the city's youth. Through community grants and donations, The Real Minneapolis was able to provide paid summer jobs for south Minneapolis BIPOC teens. This summer they created a youth vegetable garden in south Minneapolis, right across the street from where they're now helping students with distance learning. 

RELATED: How 'The Real Minneapolis' is planting hope in the city after unrest

Originally, their equitable learning pod was based in Phelps Park. But with winter on its way, Quintana said they were having troubles securing an indoor space. 

"There was really no one that would allow us to move in, even to rent a space due to the fears around the pandemic," Quintana recalled. 

Then, Allina Health offered their space. 

"The kindness and abundance is just unreal. It's unreal Minneapolis," said Quintana, laughing. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
A chill zone where students can relax.

Quintana and Francois refer to the space as the "Hope Youth Center." The pair have dreams of one day opening a permanent youth center in the community. 

COVID-19 safety precautions have been put into place, including specific badge-controlled entrances that have been created just for the students and separate from the entrance used by employees. 

In the space, students will have access to high-speed internet, educational support and adult supervision on Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Besides cubicles, the area has a chill zone where students can relax. 

The Real Minneapolis already has 20 students in the space but they expect to host up to 50. They're accepting all students, ages 10 and up. You can sign up by contacting them through their website. The Real Minneapolis is also looking for corporate donors to help them continue their work. 

The North Star Network will begin inviting students in grades 1-8 to the education space on December 7. 

"I get more assistance here because there's more people that can help me," said Young, who started coming to the space on Tuesday with her twin brother. 

Quintana said, "We all deserve to be loved; we all deserve to have dreams and we deserve to have the equal access to these resources."