On Tuesday, September 15, the sun shone brightly on a grassy lot in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis. The Banyan Foundation, a long-time community partner of DeLaSalle, broke ground on a new facility that will offer over 26,000 square feet of program and support space to youth and families living in the Phillips neighborhood. DeLaSalle President, Barry Lieske, a current member of the Banyan Board of Directors, helped turn the first shovels full of dirt under a bright blue sky. The new facility, which will allow the Foundation to grow in in its outreach and support programs, should be completed by the end of 2016.
The Banyan Foundation was started by Joani and Tim Essenburg, who moved into the Phillips neighborhood in 1990 with a vision to make a difference for their new neighbors, especially the kids. After building initial relationships, Joani and Tim started with a Block Club, and soon thereafter added a Kids Club to better serve the needs of the neighborhood youth. Eventually, Joani and Tim pursued a more permanent solution and formed the Banyan Community and Foundation in 1998. Joani became the Executive Director of the Banyan Foundation and, as the Banyan youth began to approach high school age, first reached out to DeLaSalle in 2003 with an idea of partnership in mission. Meeting initially with Vice President, Mike O’Keefe, and shortly thereafter with then-principal, Barry Lieske, it did not take long to formalize the partnership, and in the years since, over 50 girls and boys have benefitted from the support of both organizations as DeLaSalle students. Current principal, Jim Benson, and other De staff currently provide integral support for the Foundation and the families they serve.
From their website, the overall goals of Banyan are to:
- Provide opportunities for youth to develop leadership skills, engage in positive relationships with peers and adults, and have new experiences.
- Provide academic support and accountability so that youth can succeed in school and college.
- Create an environment of support around youth, through the encouragement and investment of the adults in the community.
- Strengthen families by connecting them to resources and helping them to avert crisis.
- Connect neighbors to each other so they can build a strong community.
Currently, there are 26 students enrolled at DeLaSalle who are members of the Banyan community. Banyan and De partner in providing academic, spiritual and financial support to these students and their families. “Our missions are strikingly similar,” notes Mr. Lieske. “Banyan provides such a strong and nurturing foundation for students and families, not only in their early years, but they sustain that support after the students enroll at De as ninth graders, and even after they graduate and go off to college. It’s our honor to support Joani and Tim, and their entire staff as partners in their mission.
“Not only do we provide financial assistance, transportation services, technology support, and college guidance programs that complement the outstanding work of the Banyan staff,” Lieske adds, “but we are also setting some lofty goals for these students and providing additional resources and supports that we would for any De student. As such, we are opening post-secondary pathways for these students, often the first in their families to even consider college. Education, family and community remain the key elements for turning some tough situations around and building a bright future for kids. Banyan knows this and we do too”
Since 2004, 25 Banyan Foundation students have graduated from DeLaSalle and all have matriculated to college. Four of the Essenburg’s own six children have graduated from DeLaSalle: Laura `08, Michael `10, Catherine `11, and Isaiah `15. Several De alums and parents have become involved with the Foundation as Board members, tutors, volunteers and other supporters.