Opus Foundation® Helps Bridge Employment Gap in Saint Paul’s East Side


​Supporting organizations that strengthen our communities by positioning and preparing under and unemployed individuals for career advancement and greater self-sufficiency is one focus area of the Opus Foundation®. Recently the Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to the East Side Employment xChange, a coalition of 11 community-based organizations working to bridge the gap between Saint Paul East Side residents needing sustainable work and area businesses with more jobs than they can fill.

Even as unemployment rates reach historic lows, the East Side continues to experience an unemployment rate twice as high as the rest of Saint Paul. While employers struggle to fill positions in healthcare, manufacturing and transportation, many East Siders don't know where to find work locally and end up seeking opportunities elsewhere. With a stronger together model, the xChange is challenging systems and assumptions that keep work siloed and East Siders disengaged.

Addressing Employment Disparities

Emerging from the work of the East Side Economic Growth Initiative (ESEGI), the xChange was formed in 2015 to address employment disparities in the area. Merrick Community Services was a catalyst for forming xChange, mobilizing a leadership team and serving as the group's fiscal sponsor, and in 2016, LukeWorks, an organization focused on meeting labor needs through worker advancement, community development and education, was hired to staff and manage xChange.  

All deeply rooted in the East Side, the 11 community-based partner organizations include the American Indian Family Center, CLUES, Dayton's Bluff Community Council, Eastside Financial Center, Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, Hmong American Partnership, Latino Economic Development Center, Merrick Community Services, Metropolitan State University, Neighborhood Development Alliance and Urban Roots.

“We are very grateful to the Opus Foundation for having the vision and courage to step into the sometimes-messy world of supporting a collaborative effort," said Luke Weisberg, xChange staff and partner from LukeWorks. “Anything involving 11 partner organizations is going to be more complex than working with a single organization. We feel there's tremendous opportunity for collective impact in this work and we appreciate Opus' vote of confidence in our ability to harness the shared power of multiple partners."

As xChange expanded the scope of their operations, they faced issues with technology, specifically the myriad of databases, outcomes tracked, websites, email lists and scheduling systems used by all the partner organizations. While the tools meet the needs of each individual organization, they do not effectively collect and disseminate information and outcomes of their combined work. This is where the Opus Foundation grant comes in.

Expanding, Streamlining Communications

The Opus Foundation awarded the $50,000 grant to xChange via Merrick in January 2019. The funds will support development of key communications systems to streamline collaboration between partner organizations and communicate their mission externally.

“We have three particular needs we'll be advancing with the support from Opus," said Weisberg. “We will be building a website for xChange to inform East Side residents, businesses and other organizations about our work and provide ways to connect with us. We will also research and adopt technology tools to advance communications among xChange partner organizations and help us track our work across the East Side."

Short-term goals include the completion of a comprehensive information technology plan for xChange, including tools and protocols for sharing information across partner organizations, and for developing the website. Leadership within xChange anticipates purchasing software and beginning implementation and training for partners by June 2019.

“The funding from Opus is key to helping us move the needle," said Robbie Seltzer, xChange Staff and Partner from LukeWorks. “It will allow us to invest in internal and external communications tools required to achieve our goals, as well as document and understand the outcomes of our collective impact."

The work of the xChange is anchored in a commitment to cooperatively building racial equity and employment parity for East Side residents while supporting employment needs of local businesses. The Opus Foundation is making an investment in prosperity to support their cause and further their work.

Connecting this grant opportunity to the neighborhood where we just recently cut the ribbon for a new building in Beacon Bluff Business Park is a tangible commitment to leverage the employment opportunities for the local community. Furthermore the first tenant, Terracon, has already taken occupancy and made a long-term commitment to being present on the East Side.

The Opus Foundation is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work.