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New Job, Same Problems

July 25, 2012 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

Last month, Noya Woodrich made one of the shortest moves possible to help Minnesota move forward. She took about 30 steps down the hall.

Woodrich became president of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC), the largest community ecumenical council for social welfare programs in the United States.

She served the past 12 years as executive director of the Division of Indian Work (DIV), the nonprofit, community service organization that GMCC founded to serve Native American groups and communities in 1952. That makes it one of the oldest, if not the oldest such service organization in the country.

The two affiliated organizations share a building at 1001 East Lake Street in Minneapolis, and serve people of faith, foundations and corporations. They share the same challenges. “We have to do more, with whatever we have. And we have to cope with problems that are greater than our resources,” she said.  

Woodrich has a bachelor’s degree and master’s in social work from Augsburg College and is working on a doctorate in public administration at Hamline University. She joined the Division of Indian Work as a volunteer in 1991, and, as she tells it, has always “walked in two worlds.” She was born an Athabascan Indian in Alaska, was adopted and raised by German Americans in Wisconsin. In a background sheet provided by GMCC, she notes, “I was brought up Lutheran and German. To this day I am one of the few Indians that like sauerkraut.”

Census data show that American Indians in Minnesota continue to disproportionately live in poverty (39.5 percent compared with a statewide rate of 11.6 perent). Woodrich was adamantly positive that progress is being made and Census data are a bit misleading from changes made with the 2000 Census, she said.

Looking ahead to her GMCC work with an even broader population, homelessness continues to be a problem across racial and ethnic lines. Unemployment, while it has improved in Minnesota, is still a serious problem for many families, and healthcare remains out of convenient reach for far too many people young and old.

“All of the above,” she answered when asked if state, cities and counties need to do more to meet human needs, and whether nonprofit organizations also need to provide more services to meet demand for basic human needs. “We can see progress reaching 30 people here, or 50 people there, or 100 people with some programs,” she said. But that’s like counting fish in the sea. There are thousands out there that still need help.”

An emerging area of concern for her is eldercare and youth care. Finding young people jobs, building their skills, and moving families out of poverty are critical, she said. The former could become a growing problem if baby boomers age without proper community support.

“One of the things I want to survey our (church) members in the future will be what some are doing to help with eldercare, explore what we should be doing and anticipate the growing need for these services.

“We have great healthcare in Minnesota for which we should be proud,” she said. “But we know it isn’t available to everyone in need. And we know we fall down on eldercare.”

That was born out recently in a federal analysis of health care systems for Medicaid that ranked Minnesota as No. 1 overall for health care, but only 43rd among states for in home care for seniors and others.     

The Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches has 30 programs that help an estimate 350,000 seniors, urban American Indians, families, people in need of hunger assistance and helping people impacted by crime. It has an annual budget of $7.5 million and is supported by 7000 church congregations and 25,000 volunteers.

The Division of Indian Work, meanwhile, provides youth leadership development services, parenting programs, health services and health awareness programs, and various educational, foster care and juvenile justice system services, primarily for people in the Twin Cities metro area. It has an annual budget of more than $3.5 million and operates with 150 program volunteers.

These are the great systems of support that help ensure that all Minnesotans move forward. 

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