Banyan Grows Relationships through Food

A Profile of Banyan Community Center

At Banyan Community Center, the afternoon “snacks” include penne with meat sauce. Snacktime is not only time to refuel with a hot meal after a long school day, but also time for cross-age conversations between kids and staff. Sharing a table “is the greatest thing,” says Banyan Development Director Sue Riesgraf. The intergenerational conversations that naturally “help [young people] see themselves achieving more.” This is just one example of the community development mindset typical of Banyan staff.

A young person adding a carton of chocolate milk to their plate at Banyan Community Center

"Sharing a table is the greatest thing. The intergenerational conversations that naturally occur help young people see themselves achieving more.”

~ Banyan Development Director Sue Riesgraf

93% of the youth qualify for free and reduced-price lunches at Banyan Community Center’s home neighborhood of Phillips. The 105 families who participate in Banyan programming are not only recipients of food and expanded learning opportunities pre-K through adulthood, but also are providers of many of the services themselves, since Banyan employs many community members: parents, high school, and college students. Because Phillips is often a first stop for immigrants, (50% of the Banyan families are Latinx; 12% are Somali; 10% African-American, and 12% mixed race), cross-cultural food tasting is the norm, and youth choice shapes special events menus like the high school end-of-semester dinner.

“For many, Banyan is like a second home,” Riesgraf notes. That family spirit plays out in the design of the space, the murals and paintings by middle school students, the playground in the backyard, and the sounds as K-college students greet each other at the end of a school day.

A contributor to these successes is Youthprise's essential support. Youthprise's Nutrition Hub provides and manages Banyan's meals and snacks, offering all kinds of administrative and logistical support so that Banyan can focus on the community it knows better than anyone. Banyan’s move to its inspiring new space coincided with Youthprise’s original investment in their nutrition program. This allowed the organization to hire from within the community for staff to perform food preparation and delivery.

As the organization marks its 20th year of existence and its third year in its new space, there is much to celebrate. Wilder Research has found that the Banyan experience creates a return on investment of eight dollars for every dollar spent. Banyan has also received the 2018 Minnesota’s Future Award from the Minnesota Business Partnership, as well as supporting to the graduation of another handful of young people from De LaSalle High School.

“For many, Banyan is like a second home.”

~ Sue Riesgraf

With Youthprise’s investment to boost them, the tables at Banyan have inspired conversations, spawned new relationships, and supported access to food year-round. Plus, the partnership continues through Banyan’s summer programming, a time when food can become an issue for lower-income students and their families. As a Nutrition Hub site, Banyan's summer learning opportunities feature nutritious snacks to keep kids' minds and bodies sharp and healthy.

According to elementary program manager Allison Burns, Banyan's next steps include reducing waste and integrating food enrichment activities such as intergenerational cooking. No matter what the future holds for the community of Banyan, the future looks bright.

Writing by Maddy Wegner, editing by Youthprise staff

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