Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #086. First published in the St. Cloud Times online and in print, Sep. 23, 2014

September 11.

Nine letters and two digits trigger a tsunami of emotions.

On that date this year, I was at two events in St. Cloud — a breakfast and a dinner — attended by about 300 each. At both, a moment of silence acknowledged what was on everyone's mind and heart.

The programs, however, reminded us not of the horror of the twin towers, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, but of the surge of national unity and purpose in the days afterward.

In the morning, United Way of Central Minnesota hosted its annual meeting. The theme: "What's your story?" Videos and in-person testimonies put human faces and voices to the graphs, statistics and balance sheets that United Way, like all nonprofits, issues regularly.

Human community is both the means and the end. As one of the voices summed it up: "It's your neighbor."

United Way gives extraordinary bang for the buck through the many agencies it supports. Here are three.

  • More than 1,300 — every one of them the subject of a unique narrative — are served each day at 16 sites by more than 200 staff of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota, aided by hundreds of volunteers. Among many initiatives, last year the clubs provided about 58,000 nutritious meals.

In budget amount and number of youth served, the size puts the Central Minnesota clubs, celebrating their 40th anniversary, in the classification "major metro," alongside New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

You could hardly ask for better evidence that St. Cloud is Greater>!

  • Homelessness in Central Minnesota is increasing. And winter is coming.

Domus Transitional Housing, a program of Catholic Charities, provides temporary housing and supportive services for women with children and veterans, with the ultimate goal of securing permanent housing.

It does not stop at a roof over the head. Credit restoration and long-term financial stability are explicit objectives, and mothers are expected to read aloud every day to their children — literally a story within the story.

  • Ninety percent of brain development occurs before age 5. The Village Family Service Center, offering a practical response to what brain science has taught us, helps parents learn how to raise children so that they become self-regulating, which pays huge social and academic dividends.

The other Sept. 11 event, a dinner, was the annual meeting of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. The theme: "Family Legacy."

Awards were presented to people who are active and engaged in the community: the Alex Didier Award in Philanthropy to Bob and Penny White; the Professional Award in Philanthropy to Bob Kovell; and the Athena Award, for an exceptional woman leader who inspires others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives, to Pat Welter (disclosure: my wife).

The video testimonials to them, which make clear why they exemplify the coming-together we saw post-9/11, are at the Community Foundation website. Their commitments and actions are a legacy to the whole community, which they see as extended family.

At the dinner, we heard about parents who instill in their children the habit — and delight — of philanthropy by giving holiday gifts of money with the stipulation that the child donate it to a cause then report back what the gift accomplished. You don't have to be wealthy to start a family legacy.

At the breakfast and the dinner, there came to mind repeatedly the words of the Rev. James Alberts II about this region that I reported in my January column: "Big enough to make a difference ... small enough to make it work." Greater>, indeed!

The darkness of Sept. 11 will never be obliterated. This year, though, in our neighborhood some light began to shine through.