New Opportunity Center nears its funding goal

The new job training center works with local partners and avoids CVE funding.

Raju Chaduvula

To fight Cedar-Riverside unemployment, a community-based project is looking to gain more funding.

The Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center is designed to provide career and job opportunities through training and accessibility and is aimed to target the neighborhood’s staggering unemployment rate.

The project was spearheaded by Ward 6 City Council Member Abdi Warsame nearly a year ago. The Cedar-Riverside area is composed mainly of immigrant communities, and has unique program needs, Warsame said.

He said Minnesota’s unemployment rate is about 4 percent, yet unemployment in Cedar-Riverside hovers at about 18 percent.

The main goal of the project is to cut the neighborhood’s unemployment rate in half within two years of operation, Warsame said.

“We want to promote education but also provide opportunities for other accessible jobs,” he said.

According to Warsame, many community members do not have access to career training, and some experience skill gaps.

“What [is needed] is a master plan, a program, that is tailor-made for the community,” Warsame said.

The Opportunity Center has made anchor partnerships with the University of Minnesota, Emerge — a local community development center — Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Hennepin County and other local businesses.

Emerge CEO Mike Wynne said his staff will provide assistance in developmental programs as well as handling the Opportunity Center’s fiscal operations.

Cedar-Riverside’s Opporunity Center will also benefit from 16 staff members provided by Emerge, Wynne said.

Warsame said all partners are involved with the development, training and skill-building programs, such as resume-writing and information technology training. The center will also provide language accommodation for people who speak Somali or Oromo, Warsame said.

The aims of the Center are far-reaching. Warsame said unemployment has created an equity gap between Cedar-Riverside and the rest of Minneapolis.

“The equity gap can be solved by [job] training,” he said.

A project of this kind has never been done before in Minnesota, Warsame said, adding that such an undertaking would build confidence for the community’s residents.

Mohamed Jama, chair of the West Bank Community Coalition, said the kind of program is vital to the community.

The WBCC is one of the partners in the project and will play a consultative role in the project, helping with outreach within the community, Jama said. 

“The young people need to be fully aware that this program is for them,” Jama said.

At this point, the project is still looking for further funding, Warsame said. The project has roughly $500,000 and requires up to $1.5 million for operations and capital, he said.

The center’s founders have agreed not to pursue funding from programs affiliated with the U.S Department of Justice’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program.

“We [shouldn’t] equate youth opportunities with law enforcement programs related to violent extremism,” Wynne said.

Wynne said if the project can show significant improvement in funding by June 30, Hennepin County would be able to start financing their building.

Warsame said an additional $450,000 is tied up in the city’s tax bill that was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton.

If the funding comes in, the Center could be operational by next year, Warsame said.