A fond farewell to 45 years of human service

Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council Executive Board Chair Curt Boganey, right, presents Council Executive Director Susan Blood, left, with a special commendation award for her service at the council’s final annual event May 10 at Brooklyn Park Community Center. (Sun Post staff photo by Christiaan Tarbox)

After 45 years of assisting residents in the northwest suburbs find and benefit from human services, a human services council is closing down while still honoring its past accomplishments.

On May 10, the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council held its last annual event at the Brooklyn Park Community Center to both chronicle its four-plus decade history while also honoring members and volunteers, both past and present. Throughout its history, the council has served residents from as many as 15 member cities in finding assistance in housing, energy, family services and more.

“Our history reveals that a study done in 1971 … showed a need for northwestern suburb communities to organize and develop a solution to human services problems,” said Residents Advisory Commissioner Juliana Hultstrom. “In 1972, the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council was incorporated as a nonprofit group.”

The council was formed to address the perceived lack of coordinated delivery systems for human services in the region, and it received support from Hennepin County with an initial $12,000 for the first year of its operation.

“In 1975, nine cities—Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Crystal, Golden Valley, Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo and Robbinsdale—valued this community work and formed the Joint Powers Agreement,” said Hultstrom. “This agreement then called for an advisory commission composed of residents from these nine member cities. This structure mirrors the structure today. The plan was to coordinate activities around human services, plan for change and improvement, involve citizens in human services policy and conduct, (and conduct) research supporting our community needs.”

Once the council was in full swing, it completed its first social service inventory and analysis study, followed by its first directory of services guide in 1977.

“Early in the 1980s, Hennepin County gave us another responsibility: administering the energy assistance program for our region,” said Residents Advisory Commissioner Sue Wallace. “We ran this program for years … to serve the 2,500 households who applied. Then another program was added by the county, which we administered for over 30 years until just two years ago. It was the emergency services program [that] Anita Perkins coordinated for 19 of those 30 years.”

In 1982, the council established an emergency services program and also began delivering surplus commodities to residents in need.

“Emergency services were a one-time small amount of money for people in crisis to cover things like meals, utilities, transportation, gas, and clothing,” said Wallace. “But for the program’s history, the single biggest need was always housing, to help cover for a portion of a month’s rent or a mortgage.”

The 1980s also introduced annual demographic profiles of each member city by the council.

“It was all that work that illuminated the areas of greatest need and the state of our families,” said Wallace. “Large networks of advocates and service providers around particular issues grew. They planned for the impact of human services budget cuts at the state and federal level and coordinated and advocated for the families it impacted.”

The 1990s saw the addition of Corcoran, Dayton, Hanover, Hassan Township, Plymouth and Rogers to the council’s service area, with the annual budget increasing to more than $1 million.

“In the 1990s, we were still administrating emergency services for Hennepin County, but we were no longer administering the county’s energy assistance program … and we were not doing the food surplus programs,” said Residents Advisory Commission Chair Ginger Sisco. “Welfare-to-work programs were the focus of the state and Hennepin County in the 1990s.”

In 1990, the council established the Domestic Violence Prevention Network, followed by the Cadet Law Enforcement Program in 1993, and the council began building partnerships to strengthen welfare reform with the Family Independence Network.

“This is when we helped start car clinics, run by volunteers to keep cars running so people could get to work,” said Sisco. “Support groups for moms were run in places like our area churches. Partners in a wide variety of programming at that time were CEAP, Hired, Prism, Hennepin Tech, day care and many area churches.”

As the turn of the century arrived, the council increased its focus on the health of residents, especially in tobacco prevention initiatives. The state of Minnesota provided grant money to the council to target tobacco usage, creating youth leadership to combat smoking.

“Early goals were to reduce use to 30 percent by 2005,” said Council Executive Director Susan Blood. “Looking at accomplishments, there was the first listing of 150 restaurants in our region that are smoke-free. That was tough work back then. People weren’t necessarily looking at that as a positive thing to do to change their living.”

The council also focused on seatbelt and car seat safety via the Northwest Faith Collaborative, which also set its sights on living-wage jobs, support groups for mothers, and assisting newly arrived refugees from nations such as Liberia, Somalia and Russia.

With various government and nonprofit organizations now taking up many of the council’s previous responsibilities, the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council will officially shut down in June of this year, but Brooklyn Center City Manager and Chair of the Council’s Executive Board of Directors Curt Boganey was adamant in his belief that the council’s work would be felt for years to come.

“The result of what has been accomplished over the last 45 years will continue to live on, and will continue to bear fruit and will continue to benefit the residents of the northwest suburban area,” said Boganey. “It’s easy to overlook what’s happening behind the scenes, but I’m sure you heard … that this council and the volunteers who’ve served have done so much. The results are what matter, and of those results we can all be proud.”

Contact Christiaan Tarbox at [email protected]