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Nonprofit guides Twin Cities students on their journey to college and beyond

In Communities that KARE, we're highlighting Breakthrough Twin Cities, a nonprofit that offers a tuition-free, six-year program to help students get into college.

ST PAUL, Minn. — "I was a fourth-grade teacher actually in Atlanta public schools, and it was such a different public school experience than I had growing up. And for me, that's when I realized just the unfairness of our system and the inequity that exists," said Josh Reimnitz.

It was that realization that drew Reimnitz to Breakthrough Twin Cities, an equity-based organization that supports children in St. Paul and Eastern Carver County on their paths to college.

"There's a pool of young people in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota more broadly, who just don't get opportunities because of where they're born, what they look like, how much money their parents made when they immigrated," he said.

To break through the barriers, the nonprofit invests resources and time.

It's a six-year journey. "We're recruiting 12-year-olds to make it a commitment that's half their life over again," explained Reimnitz. "We start with three years where students take place in a pretty intensive summer session. So think of it like summer camp meets summer school -- tons of fun but also doing a lot of academic learning." 

Students always work ahead on the material they'll tackle in the following school term. 

"When they do get to those junior and senior years, they sit one-on-one with a college councilor and go through everything from a FAFSA to writing your essay," said Reimnitz.

All of this is tuition-free and conducted during out-of-school time. Since 2005, Breakthrough Twin Cities has served more than 1,000 students, including 306 graduates from the program. 

Hallie O'Neill, a former educator who works in communications at the nonprofit, said these kids consistently inspire her. "Equipping these students to tell their stories and share them with the world is one of my favorite parts of my job," she said.

The support doesn't stop even if a student moves across the country or the globe. "We're so committed to individuals, and we're committed to adding value; they see that and take advantage of the resource," said Reimnitz.

The stats show all of that work is paying off. 

"We have a very strong high school graduation rate, a very strong college graduation rate. Our class of 2021 averaged $40,000 of annual scholarships," explained Reimnitz.

While Breakthrough Twin Cities is a college prep program, the goal isn't just to get these students to college. "We want folks to graduate, to be happy, to be gainfully employed, we want really positive members of society," said Reimnitz. "When you meet any one of our young people, it's like 'heck yes, of course, I want to be involved in this, and of course, I want to help you be the best you that you can be."

Breakthrough Twin Cities is also focused on increasing the number of diverse educators. With the nonprofit's teaching fellowships, participants receive 80 hours of training, followed by 210 hours of classroom instructional experience with coaching from licensed educators. 

In April, Breakthrough Twin Cities hosts its biggest fundraiser,  the Booyah Bash. Tickets are available. There are different levels and experiences. To RSVP or inquire about sponsorship opportunities, you can visit Breakthrough Twin Cities' website or contact Hallie O'Neill at honeill@breakthroughtwincities.org.

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