Through donations, Vikings put neighborhood organizations on the team

The NFL team is supplying campus community organizations with $180,000 over the next two years through the University of Minnesota’s Good Neighbor Fund.

by Barry Lytton

As purple-clad Minnesota Vikings romp on TCF Bank Stadium’s rented turfy green, the team is supplying green of its own to the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota.

Over the next two years, the team will disburse $90,000 annually in cash and $35,000 in in-kind donations to the University’s Good Neighbor Fund — a bonus that will more than double the group’s roughly $40,000 of funds that are usually available, said Jan Morlock, the University’s director of community relations.

In 2014, the $130,000 will be divided among six community projects, Morlock said, leaving about $14,000 for future grants.

The University’s Office of Government and Community Relations has financially supported neighborhoods like Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como and Cedar-Riverside since 2008, green-lighting projects like bicycle safety programs, crime prevention internships, move-in and move-out cleanup efforts, and music festivals.

Because of the Good Neighbor Fund’s newfound cash flow, applicants said they could undertake more ambitious projects.

“Last year, we got two out of the three grants we applied for —a total of just under $9,000,” said Ricardo McCurley, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association. “We thought that was a lot.”

This year, SECIA and Van Cleve Park will use $25,900 to buy a crop of new sports equipment and to fund fitness classes for neighborhood residents.

In past years, groups typically grabbed between $5,000 and $10,000, McCurley said. This year, the average project cost $19,233.

McCurley said he thinks the Vikings are looking to smooth over any wrinkles arising from their campus presence and foster a relationship with the area by providing a noticeable financial boost to neighborhoods.

“The Vikings wanted higher-profile projects,” McCurley said. “Things they could add their name and their stamp to.”

Across the Mississippi River, two projects are underway on the West Bank.

Through one that received $8,000 from the Good Neighbor Fund, the area’s teenagers will reap the benefits of nearby campuses by taking monthly excursions during the school year to museums, theater concerts and sporting events.

To connect young people with college life, the small group of students also plans to visit the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the Raptor Center, and the science and physics labs of both the University and Augsburg College.

Nearby, the Brian Coyle Center received $24,000 for upkeep and to support a community stage and garden.

“If you’re coming to Cedar-Riverside, there is not a lot of green space,” said Andrea Arts, youth manager for the center. “[Now] there is a garden for youth to grow vegetables and hopefully be able to pave the way for more community gardens.”

One particularly widespread project is the Student and Community Relations office’s venture to light up some 100 homes throughout University neighborhoods.

Project Lighthouse is being supported fiscally and physically by numerous community groups, said Phillip Kelly, the effort’s leader and a member of the University District Alliance’s board.

The project is in its pilot stage, Kelly said, and it’s so far unclear how the program will select which homes receive the free solar porch lights.

The undertaking installed five lights over the summer, and Kelly said he wants to put six more in place this fall.

“This will hopefully make pedestrians going home feel safer,” he said.

With more than $100,000 now in the hands of area tenants and residents, community leaders say they’re grateful for the Vikings’ two-year support.

“This [money] is a gift,” McCurley said.