On December 1, more than 40 local organizations came together at Minnetonka Middle School East with the common goal of bringing the community together and introducing resources to traditionally underserved families.
Members of the event steering committee Anna Bjork and Katie Klemme described the core goals of Minnetonka Community Night. Bjork said, “Our hope was that the students and families learn about and become connected to resources that are available to them–and that they can do so in a format that decreases barriers to access.”
"We made sure they wouldn’t just leave the evening with a flier,” said Klemme. “We wanted them to leave feeling more connected to the school and to community resources that make their families healthier and whole.”
At the center of the event was a resource fair featuring organizations such as Minnetonka Community Education, myHealth and ICA Food Shelf. Families could visit tables and be entered into a prize drawing for gas cards, grocery cards and more. Other services ranged from free flu shots and vision screenings to help with registering for scholarships, sports teams and swimming lessons. Throughout the night, attendees also had the opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves with a pizza dinner and a variety of games and inflatables for the kids.
"I really enjoyed seeing all the smiles on peoples faces as they were moving throughout the event connecting with others,” said Reilly Woodruff, a special education teacher and Yearbook Advisor at MMW. “The positive energy and spirits of each individual in the building during the event were incredible to see.”
Bjork and fellow steering committee members Tara Raisanen and Paula Erbisch emphasized the beauty of Minnetonka’s diverse community and the importance of reaching out to underserved groups.
"Seeing so many diverse families speaking multiple languages and interacting with each other was a highlight for me,” said Bjork. “Several of these families haven’t come to school events in the past, so it was great to see them making connections with other families, staff and students and all the resources available.”
Raisanen added, “To provide support and a sense of community for such a large number of our families was a remarkable feeling. It was also a key moment in showing Minnetonka residents and businesses that this needs to be more than a one-time thing.”
"Multiple students found me that night to say how much fun the event was and are already planning to attend the next one,” Erbisch said. “Two students in particular bonded with the law enforcement officers who plan on dropping by our school to see the kids again. Also, I have had half a dozen students tell me how amazing the free library felt and how helpful the staff were that listened to their stories and directed them to books.”
With such a high turnout and a tangible impact, the event will certainly have new installments in the coming years. The planning committee is already thinking ahead. Meantime, they expressed their gratitude to all the organizations that helped fund the event and contribute food and prizes. They also extended a special thanks to Superintendent David Law and District administrators who contributed their time and hard work in making the event a success.