Cedar-Riverside program furthers work to reduce social isolation

The West Bank Community Development Corporation recently received a grant for its social programming for local women.

The Somali House, a structure made of sticks and held together by various forms of weaving, is fixed by Cedar Riverside resident Ayan Isaq on Thursday, Sept. 27 in Minneapolis. The house serves as a space for Somali people to gather and experience Somali culture.

Tony Saunders

The Somali House, a structure made of sticks and held together by various forms of weaving, is fixed by Cedar Riverside resident Ayan Isaq on Thursday, Sept. 27 in Minneapolis. The house serves as a space for Somali people to gather and experience Somali culture.

Imani Cruzen

Cedar-Riverside community leaders are using grant money to foster community for women living in affordable housing.

The grant, awarded through the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, provides more than $66,000 toward the West Bank Community Development Corporation’s programming over the next two years, starting July 1, 2019. The money will go toward a WBCDC program that aims to decrease isolation among East African women in Cedar-Riverside.

WBCDC, which owns around 500 units of affordable housing throughout the neighborhood, includes weekly programming aimed at supporting the women in those units.

Activities include sewing classes, gardening, field trips and dancing. Grant funding will go toward sewing instruction, cultural and art activities, neighborhood events, child care and more.

Debbie Wolking, WBCDC program manager, said these activities help promote community and socialization.

“What I’ve seen happen in this programming is that women who didn’t know each other met each other and developed relationships,” she said. “And then now drive each other to their ESL classes or watch each other’s kids or pick up groceries for each other.”

Past programming has included a “Somali House” designed for residents to gather and drink tea as a way to bring community members together.

Ayan Isaq, WBCDC outreach coordinator, is behind much of the nonprofit’s community involvement. Isaq said multiple factors, including culture and age, can contribute to isolation and stress among residents.

“So we thought to bring some days that people can meet, to be able to meet and then you can talk freely,” Isaq said.

The grant award is one of the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Healthy Connections program grants awarded to 18 different nonprofits in Minnesota.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Senior Program Officer Bilal Alkatout said WBCDC’s work aimed at promoting civic engagement in the area, whether in neighborhood planning or voting, made the organization a good candidate for the grant.

“This was a means of creating that social connection, that could lead to those conversations and kind of increase their ability to understand and connect over what are the issues that are happening in this really new surrounding and these new systems that are pretty difficult to navigate for newcomers,” Alkatout said.

Alkatout said social challenges faced by marginalized communities can lead to health disparities.

“There’s also kind of data indicating that if people are experiencing just even a sense of isolation, social detachment, a fear of safety within their community, that leads to negative health outcomes down the line,” he said.