Unused church basement being converted to a community services hub

Students at Risen Christ Catholic School
Students at Risen Christ Catholic School participate in a before-school paper airplane throwing contest with Ace in the City, a nonprofit forming a new social services hub slated to open in South Uptown this spring. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

A South Uptown church is being renovated to accommodate a new hub for social services and programming.

The Aldrich Presbyterian Church will host the Center for Belonging, a new partnership of groups providing youth programming, job training, counseling, addiction treatment and food shelf services. Scheduled to open this spring, the project is being led by South Minneapolis nonprofit Ace in the City, which has worked on community-building projects in the city’s Powderhorn neighborhood and in Juarez, Mexico.

“We are hoping that what’s better for our neighbors is partnering,” said Tim Anderson, executive director of Ace in the City. 

The Center for Belonging will host Ace in the City, Emerge Mothers Academy, The Food Market food shelf, the South Uptown Neighborhood Association and Wayside Recovery. 

“The real goal of the project is to create a community hub,” said Ruth Richardson, CEO of Wayside Recovery, an addiction treatment organization participating in the Center for Belonging.

Working together

Anderson started Ace in the City in 2008 as “Ace Hoops” after the death of a good friend nicknamed Ace. Inspired by his Christian faith and desire to help kids, the former teacher started by hosting gatherings at Powderhorn Park where youth could play basketball and eat free pizza. Anderson played and coached basketball at Bethel University and through the sport began to understand more about the lives of the children Ace was serving.  

In 2012, the program came to a crossroads. It could either continue as a recreation program or expand into a community-focused organization. Anderson decided to expand Ace in the City’s work. 

After an early focus on youth development work in Minneapolis Public Schools and through the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the nonprofit’s scope has grown to meet the needs of its clients in recent years. 

Today, the nonprofit hosts before-school programming five days a week at Risen Christ Catholic School in Powderhorn. The program allows parents to drop off students early and get to work on time, and also provides tutoring and playtime for kids. Ace in the City offers special elective classes like robotics, and kids get to read, play board games and burn off steam trying new sports like team handball in the gym. “We try to do a little bit of everything for kids who learn differently,” program coordinator Bekah Simpson said. 

Other projects have grown organically from the work at the school. 

Ace in the City serves many children who are first-generation Latino immigrants and staff saw the need to add a literacy program. When the organization realized landlords were exploiting the families it serves, the group began working with the Minneapolis Renters Coalition to advocate for renter rights. Food insecurity is an issue for many of Ace’s families, so it began to partner with food shelves. 

The organization started to see increased results by working with other groups, Anderson said, and the nonprofit decided to find more partners instead of expanding its own services. Staff were drawn to the “Center for Belonging” model, in which many nonprofit organizations are housed under one roof to more effectively serve the community.

“It makes a lot more sense to find the people who are already doing this well,” Anderson said. 

Emerge Mothers Academy, a Bryn Mawr-based nonprofit serving about 100 single mothers in the Twin Cities each year, works to help women become financially independent. The group offers a range of services, from parenting classes to therapy to job training and micro-loan grants. Some clients receive job training for a few months; others work with Emerge’s social workers and counselors for multiple years.

Executive director Becca Erickson said she’s known Anderson for many years and was interested in joining the Center for Belonging to make it easier for clients to access services instead of referring them to another group across town. “There’s so much power in collaboration,” she said.

Wayside Recovery serves about 700 women and 400 children each year throughout the Twin Cities. The 65-year-old organization has a 41-bed inpatient residential treatment center in St. Louis Park, where it also operates a program that houses families for upwards of five years as they recover from addiction and reintegrate into society. Additionally, Wayside runs a family treatment center in Powderhorn where women can attend with their children. That’s where the organization first connected with Ace in The City.

At the Center for Belonging, Wayside will provide mental health services for adults and children, CEO Ruth Richardson said. The offerings will include counseling, diagnostic assessments and addiction treatment assessments. Richardson believes the center will enable all the groups to accomplish more.

“As long as we continue to do our work in silos, we will continue to come up short,” she said.

Aldrich Presbyterian Church
The Aldrich Presbyterian Church in South Uptown is now a ministry cooperative between its original congregation and City of Lakes Covenant Church, known as Resurrection MPLS. Its building is being renovated to accommodate the Center for Belonging, a new hub of social services and nonprofit groups. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Finding a space

When Pastor David Berge was growing up, the Aldrich Presbyterian Church was a busy place. 

The 108-year-old congregation at the corner of 35th & Aldrich has a storied history in the South Uptown neighborhood. But in 2014, the church was on the brink of closing when a longtime pastor retired. 

At that time, Berge had just returned home to Minneapolis and was launching a new congregation, the City of Lakes Covenant Church. His new church needed space, and his childhood church needed some revitalizing, so the two merged and formed a cooperative ministry known as Resurrection MPLS. 

One thing the church has to offer is space, Berge said. The basement, once home to robust weekday programming, is largely unused today. Three years ago, Resurrection began hosting the South Uptown Neighborhood Association offices. The church wants to use its space in a manner that reflects its mission statement: “Do things for the glory of God and the good of the city.” Hosting the Center for Belonging accomplishes both, Berge said.  

“This is exactly what we want to be about — finding partners doing great things within our neighborhood,” Berge said. 

Resurrection Minneapolis is in the process of updating its building to make it ADA accessible, a process that includes adding a new elevator. Ace in the City will be paying for general repairs and a remodel of the basement. Between the two projects, more than $1 million is being invested in the building. 

In exchange for funding the renovation, the organization gets a locked-in 15-year lease at an affordable rate.

“Our churches, in my opinion, have the biggest unused space asset in the country,” Anderson said. “We’re hoping it’s a win for everybody.”