University grant encourages immigrant involvement

The Center for Regional and Urban Affairs designed the grant program.

Vadim Lavrusik

The West Bank Community Coalition, a neighborhood organization that represents residents of the West Bank and Cedar-Riverside areas, will receive a $5,000 grant from the city to help engage immigrant and non-English speaking residents in the neighborhood organization.

The neighborhood organization’s proposal, Project Open Door, will use the grant money to turn the organization into one that represents all ethnic groups in the West Bank community, said Abia Ali, West Bank Community Coalition treasurer.

Ali said the proposal focuses on meeting with leaders from different ethnic groups in the community and working together to plan an event for each separate ethnic group.

These will focus on organizing ideas of how to better improve and involve immigrant and non-English speaking residents within the community organization, she said.

She said a final report will be documented with recommendations on the steps that need to take place to improve the communication and involvement of all ethnic groups within the West Bank community.

Because a large Somali population lives in the West Bank neighborhood, some University Somali students said they hope to take part in the neighborhood’s project.

Jibril Hamud, president of the Somali Student Association, said a member of the coalition asked for the students to take part in the program.

Hamud said details of the association’s involvement have not yet been discussed, but he knows Somali students are excited to help.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the West Bank neighborhood, he said.

“U of M students are scared to go to the West Bank. They think it is a dangerous area,” Hamud said.

He said he spends a lot of time on the West Bank and never feels threatened.

The West Bank Community Coalition, along with six other neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis, will receive the grant money in the next couple weeks, said Kris Nelson, neighborhood program director at The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University. CURA designed and administered the grant program.

The grant money comes from the Bridging Communities Grant Program, which receives its funding from the City of Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development.

Nelson said the grant program was originally supposed to fund only five neighborhood proposals with a $24,000 budget, but the program received an additional $8,000 from the city and was able to fund two additional neighborhood proposals.

Although many neighborhood groups applied for the grant program, only half received funding, he said.

Project Open Door was one of the proposals chosen because of the large immigrant population residing on the West Bank, among other reasons, he said.

Aliyah Ali, assistant researcher at CURA, said University students have a fear of the West Bank and Cedar-Riverside communities and that overall engagement is quite low.

Ali, who has researched Somali immigration to Minnesota, said the state has one of the largest Somali populations in the country.

She said she hopes the project will encourage students to explore the many things offered on the West Bank and learn “more about the world around them and not just the University.”