Coming Home to Minnesota

Returning to Minnesota after 10 days in Germany and Austria, my wife Penny and I were struck by just how much time we spend in America focusing on issues that are largely out of our control.

High visibility issues discussed endlessly on television — a New Jersey student’s suicide, primary election results in Delaware, Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, burning the Koran in Florida, marital infidelity in California, Glenn Beck’s rally in D.C., gay marriage, the Tea Party — may trigger inflamed emotions, but there is little we can do to change them.

It’s easy to get caught up in contemporary national topics that arouse our sense of injustice and right and wrong. I often find myself doing so on issues of religious intolerance and discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual preference.

So why do we spend so much energy on them? We should work to change those things that are important to us whenever we can, but we seem to be wasting too much time on issues we cannot impact.

At times like these, I return to Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous serenity prayer, which has been widely adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous:

“God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s time to focus on issues here at home, where we can change things, and our efforts really make a difference.

In August, I wrote about a truly authentic leader, Win Wallin, and the remarkable impact Wallin Education Scholars is having in funding scholarships for local high school graduates who lack the financial resources to continue their education. Now let’s look at some more Minnesotans who are making a difference by focusing on things they can change:

Joe Selvaggio: More than any other single person, this former Catholic priest, who left the priesthood to take the vow of marriage, has helped to restore the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. Twenty-eight years ago, Joe founded Project for Pride in Living that has enabled Phillips residents to obtain affordable, safe housing. These days Joe heads up the 1 Percent Club, where he has convinced hundreds of Minnesotans to commit to giving 1 percent of their net worth to philanthropic causes.

Adrienne Diercks: In 1994 Adrienne founded Project Success, which provides creative and motivational programs for junior high and high school students. Her remarkably successful programs have prepared 10,000 teenagers for solid careers by giving them pride in themselves and teaching them to use their creative skills.

Steve Rothschild: Giving up a highly successful career as executive vice president of General Mills, Steve turned his enormous energy and tenacity to the 1994 founding of Twin Cities RISE! TCR helps people of color, many of them ex-convicts, get trained for sustainable jobs that pay living wages. Steve and his team learned that people needed self-esteem even more than skills, so they transformed their training to help people feel empowered first. Steve applied business principles like “return on investment” to demonstrate that TCR’s programs were economically viable and thus worthy of private-sector investment. These days TCR is a national model for job training.

Mary Jo Kreitzer: The long-time leader of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, Mary Jo has been a pioneer in the burgeoning field of integrative medicine, blending spirituality into the healing process. She co-chaired the Coalition of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. Recently, she convinced the University of Minnesota to create a doctorate in nursing in integrative medicine to train future leaders in the field. Next spring, she is hosting a two-day series of lectures and symposia with the Dalai Lama  on meditation in healing.

Jim Gertmenian: As senior minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, Jim has taken on the immense problems of the homeless in Minneapolis. To understand their plight, Jim regularly sleeps in shelters, talking to homeless men and women, and he organizes youth groups to experience homelessness for a night. He helped create Lydia House as a transition site for the homeless until they can get into permanent housing. Most recently, he launched the Curry Avenue Partnership, in the shadow of the Target Stadium, an area where many homeless people reside. He convinced dozens of corporations and foundations to contribute $350,000 to funding counselors for the homeless to help them find sustainable jobs.

Tim Kenny: As director of education for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Tim recognized that inner-city youth didn’t have transportation to come to the arboretum in Chaska, so he decided to take it to their neighborhoods. Tim organized urban gardening projects in three sites in the Phillips neighborhood. There inner-city youth are growing vegetables and flowers and learning about nature and plants, while beautifying their neighborhood. These sites are run by graduates of the program, who are so committed to its goals that they are building careers there.

Jim Campbell: The former CEO of Wells Fargo Minnesota, Jim never let up in his decade-long challenge to get an authentic outdoor baseball stadium in Minneapolis and keep the Twins here at home. He tirelessly lobbied corporate leaders, government officials and the Pohlad family to find a way to fund it. Thanks to his efforts and those of many other local leaders, Target Field is the finest baseball park in the nation. It is sold out every game, as thousands of Minnesotans arrive on light-rail trains, whose main terminal is at the stadium. Equally important, it is providing new life to downtown Minneapolis.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Ken Powell: She is chairwoman and CEO of Carlson Companies. He is General Mills’ chairman and CEO. They led the jobs task force of the Itasca Project to develop a strategy to create sustainable private-sector jobs in Minnesota. Their widely-acclaimed report won plaudits and support from politicians and corporate leaders alike and is moving aggressively into the implementation phase.

These are just a handful of the thousands of Minnesotans who are devoting their efforts to make Minnesota a great place to live and work. If the rest of us would devote our prodigious time and energy to tackling local problems instead of endlessly debating things we cannot change, Minnesota would be an even brighter beacon for the rest of America.