By Emily Hest
Our lives are defined by a series of open and closed doors. Opportunities are continuously presented or withheld from us, and as a result, things can often feel like they are spiraling out of our control. Every once in a while, someone will come along in our lives and throw open a window. Shannon Foreman is a dedicated window opener. She finds meaning and joy in helping others achieve the things they never thought possible.
The Best Candidate for the (Volunteer) Job
Shannon’s journey to Urban Ventures (U.V.) has been a serendipitous one. Her life experiences make her profoundly qualified to contribute to the U.V. team. Shannon was raised in the same south Minneapolis neighborhood that Urban Ventures focuses on. Her mother held down three jobs, while simultaneously struggling to protect Shannon from the crime and addiction that permeated their neighborhood. Despite this, Shannon acknowledges the love and warmth that many of her neighbors and family surrounded her with growing up; the dangerous edge to the street meant neighbors looked out for each other with a special reverence. She describes walking out of her childhood home as stepping out in to “a sunny day with a dark cloud hanging over it.”
Eventually, her mother moved herself and Shannon to live with Shannon’s grandfather in the suburbs. This move allowed Shannon to receive a thorough high school education and go on to college. However, Shannon still always had “skin in the game.” She worked hard throughout all of her schooling, continuously building the ethic that would eventually carry her all the way to Urban Ventures. Additionally, after taking several social justice courses in college, Shannon felt equipped and compelled to bring her “two worlds together.” However, as a busy mother, wife, employee, daughter, and friend, Shannon does not have time to do anything her heart is not in. She was connected to her board member position at Urban Ventures through her employer and insists she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Big Goals to Fill a Big Need
Eighty-six thousand Minneapolis residents live below the poverty line. Each year, Urban Ventures touches the lives of 1 in 5 of those folks. Urban Ventures looks to improve lives touched by poverty through art, education, health initiatives, and so much more. There is no one solution or characteristic of poverty; therefore, U.V. does not attack it singularly. By focusing on a specific portion of south Minneapolis – the same area that raised Shannon – U.V. is able to invest in and truly get to know their residents. Shannon speaks of their “end goal” with confidence and hope: Urban Ventures strives for every kid in their neighborhood to have some sort of post-secondary experience by 2040. This post-secondary experience can range from college to technical school to military participation and more. With the neighborhood hosting around 1,000 households, this is no small dream.
As a financial adviser for Urban Ventures, Shannon is well-versed in the way U.V. allocates their time and resources. She underlines their priority of creating sustainable change. The charity is not simply “in the business of issuing handouts.” Rather, U.V. seeks to affect poverty at its core in south Minneapolis. Shannon and her cohorts just want to give people a shot. That means surrounding children – and their families – early on and becoming an invested and genuine part of their lives. It takes a village to raise healthy, happy, and prosperous children; Urban Ventures is a vital part of that south Minneapolis village.
Getting Down to the Basics
Urban Ventures does a lot. But, as Shannon points out, nothing matters unless the students they’re aiding have full bellies. In their designated neighborhood, there are very few healthy, affordable food options – grocery stores and otherwise. While it’s common to be inundated with grocery stores when driving down a street in the suburbs, very few dot the map in south Minneapolis As a result, many of the U.V. families rely on convenience stores or subsidized school lunches. In order help alleviate this issue, Urban Ventures has been teaching local young people to grow. Through greenhouses, gardens, and hydroponics, students learn to grow the fresh, nutritious food that their neighborhood lacks. Many of the area youth have found they have tremendous green thumbs; this is one of the countless ways U.V. has sought to create sustainable change.
When describing their specific programming, Shannon emphasizes the importance of surrounding young people within, but especially outside of school hours. While Urban Ventures offers in-class tutoring, support, and homework help, they especially look to create meaningful programming to fill the evenings and summertime that can sabotage in-school progress. Beyond scholastic support, U.V. also offers athletic and religious activities, along with the aforementioned nutrition initiatives. Shannon and her team acknowledge that it’s important to keep students busy with positive extracurricular activities – including ones that they typically wouldn’t have access to in impoverished school districts. By participating in U.V.’s offerings, students are able to earn scholarships, connections, and ever-expanding opportunities. Shannon has lived her life grabbing the bull by the horns, and never settling for “no.” She empowers and expects her students to constantly strive to maintain this same resolve. Her life provides a meaningful example for so many of the young people she works with.
Spreading the Good
Shannon iterates that much of the change Urban Ventures is trying to create starts within each of us. She challenges everyone to dismantle the stereotypes that exist within their own hearts. Moreover, she poses an important set of questions: Who inspired you as a child? Why doesn’t every child have that sort of person to inspire them as well?
In a practical sense, Urban Ventures can always use financial support. Your dollar goes far at U.V., partially thanks to Shannon’s wise financial guidance. Moreover, the charity always needs volunteers to sustain its programming. They take in to consideration your specific interests and talents, and find a place within the organization where you can make a real impact.
At the end of the day, Shannon knows everything comes back to the people Urban Ventures supports. They are the bread and butter of everything U.V. does. When asked what she hopes to achieve within Urban Ventures in the next decade, Shannon expressed a desire to know these students and their families on an even deeper level. After all – when you shed the numbers, the growth charts, and the endless statistics – we are all just human beings looking to support, love, and better one another no matter the circumstances. Isn’t that what community is all about?