By Charles Hallman
For 45 years, Sabathani Community Center has been a hub of resources and services. Once a junior high school on the corner of 38th Street and 3rd Avenue South, the center could become a new Hennepin County human services hub beginning early next year.
“Clients on the South Side of Minneapolis could come here as opposed to going downtown,” says Sabathani Executive Director Clyde Turner of the County’s proposed use of 8,000 square feet of the building. County officials met with community residents in April to answer questions about the plan.
“We had some individuals who wanted a real dynamic contractual agreement if we were to partner with Hennepin County,” recalls Turner. He predicts that if Hennepin County sets up their hub, it would bring an additional 200 people daily to Sabathani. More importantly, it would bring the center to full capacity — Turner says it is presently 80 percent occupied.
Since being hired as executive director in February, Turner has been working to improve the center’s image. Many community residents only see Sabathani “as a building,” he believes. “We’re a lot more than that. We have a renaissance concept going here.”
As a result, he has met with local elected officials, including Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and State Representative Jeff Hayden, along with heads of other local organizations. “There is no turf issue here,” proclaimed Turner. “I want to continue to meet with them.”
“I think Clyde has been the energy and leadership injection, along with will, wisdom and competency, that Sabathani has needed,” says Rep. Hayden. “He has done things in two months that in 18 months they haven’t been able to do.”
Turner facilitated an all-day Saturday “advance strategic planning session” in May with Sabathani board members and key staffers. That session produced three key areas of focus: improving organizational capacity, which includes hiring a program director to oversee the day-to-day operations; developing “creative fundraising” efforts due to tough economic times all over to achieve financial stability; and improving or creating relationships with community organizations, churches, schools and businesses.
“It was a real productive day,” recalls Turner. “A lot of emotion and a lot of discussion went on concerning where the organization is at now, where it was 10 years ago, and where we need to go in the future.”
“I think [Turner] has some big ideas on how he wants Sabathani to be serving the community in the future,” says Council Member Glidden. “Right now he has been focusing on getting the ship in order, doing things that will make Sabathani more competitive for getting foundation money and other grant funds to make it successful.”
“Clyde’s energy and enthusiasm has brought new life to Sabathani,” says Board Chair Shana Zaiser.
Sabathani is “a campus…a wraparound ‘one-stop shopping’ social services building” that currently houses 40 agencies and other offices, along with the center’s own programs: family resources, a health resource center, youth programming, and a senior center, explains Turner. According to him, it serves a diverse multicultural population, including Blacks (41 percent) and Latinos (39 percent) as well as Hmong residents.
“I really think that Sabathani is unlike any other organization in the Twin Cities,” Turner says. “It’s so unique, and in some ways very powerful. We need to find a way to emphasize our brand so that it would stick out.”
“We’ve been doing good work all along,” states Zaiser, “but I think our services have been a well-kept secret. We need to step up and be a leader in the community. We don’t want to be a secret anymore.”
Bringing Hennepin County on board “would be a very positive development for the Southside community,” continues Turner, who has over 34 years of experience in human services both at the public and private levels.
The executive director also believes that as early as next year, Sabathani must decide “if we are going to reconfigure or renovate this [100-year-old] building, or tear it down and build a new building, which would mean a capital campaign, and millions of dollars would need to be raised in order to do that.”
Turner says he’s been told that if Hennepin County moves into the building, they will spend at least $1.8 million on capital improvements. “By the first of the year, we will make a decision as to whether we upgrade it in such a way that it will be a beautiful building, or tear it down and build a new one,” he surmises.
Turner has provided a “clear vision on where Sabathani is going to go,” Rep. Hayden points out. “I am so excited for Sabathani’s future with Clyde at the helm.”
“I plan on being around for a while,” concludes Turner. “Bottom line — it’s about serving the community.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]