Tim Manning

Tim Manning believes in the importance of eliminating the racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist in our community. While serving on Mayor Betsy Hodges’ Inaugural Committee, he shared this belief with Kate Mortenson, a long-time Friend and NAZ supporter. She introduced him to NAZ, and he’s been an involved Friend ever since.

“In the four years I had lived in Minneapolis, I attended many events and read many articles touting Minneapolis-St. Paul’s top ranking on lists such as, ‘The Best Restaurant Cities,’ ‘The Healthiest Cities,’ etc.,” Tim says. But there weren’t any parties or happy hours publicizing Minneapolis-St. Paul’s place on another list: Cities with the largest gaps between white children and children of color. “I absolutely believe that NAZ will play a major part in closing those gaps and in moving our city off that second set of lists.”

Tim works as Corporate Counsel for Silver Bay Realty Trust. He also serves on the NAZ Development Committee and the Friends of the Future Leadership Team. “I believe in investing my time, energy, and money in good causes with smart leaders, strategic vision, and results-driven mindsets. That’s NAZ,” he says. “That’s the Friends of the Future.”

Christine Levens and the Ruff Family

Three Generations of Friends

The story of how Friends of the Future Leadership Team member Christine Levens and her extended family came to join the Friends is a favorite at NAZ.

Christine is the Director of Events & Programs at the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and also serves as the President of the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. She became involved with the Friends in its early days when the NE Mpls. Chamber joined as one of the Friends’ first members. Christine quickly joined our Leadership Team where her participation and support has been critical to the Friends continued growth and success.

Christine’s connection to NAZ is also personal. Her family, stretching back through multiple generations, has lived, worked and raised their families on the Northside, and Christine herself lived there for the first ten years of her life. Because of that connection, she understands the NAZ mission in a unique way, “NAZ is important to me because it is supporting families in the exact same area of the city that generations of my own family started their lives and eventually thrived. They demonstrated that developing skills and receiving an education could change everything. Every family should have the chance to develop and build toward a future for their families like mine did.”

Last year, Christine brought her mother and grandmother to a Friends of the Future Panel Discussion on helping communities out of poverty by using education as a lever for change. Her grandmother, Mary Ruff, a retired teacher, was “completely enthralled with the presentation, but specifically with the philosophy and educators at [NAZ Anchor School] Harvest Prep,” said Christine. Mary expressed a wish to be 30 years younger so she could join the Harvest staff.

In fact, Mary’s excitement was so great that Christine was inspired to recruit her extended family to join Friends of the Future “in honor of Bob and Mary Ruff”. They joined as a group and presented the membership as a gift to Mary on Christmas. Mary was “delighted” and asked them to continue that tradition yearly.

Christine and the Ruffs bring a special energy to the Friends and to NAZ and their support is deeply appreciated. As a student in the Masters of Fine Arts Degree (MFA) in Creative Writing program at Hamline University and with a demanding career and an active civic life, Christine already juggles an overflowing schedule. Her commitment to NAZ, however, is aligned with and reflective of her belief system. “I believe in NAZ,” says Christine, “because I believe in families.”

Laysha Ward

Laysha L. Ward is President of Community Relations for Target Corporation. Both she and her husband, Bill, are active supporters of NAZ and their partner organizations.

Q: Why did you become a Friend of the Future?

A: Through my work at Target and as a resident of the Twin Cities for 15 years, I’m familiar with the North Minneapolis neighborhood and the work of the Northside Achievement Zone. I believe an investment in our children and their future is an investment in our collective future.

Q: What’s the value for you in being a Friend of the Future?

A: It’s brought me a real sense of pride, duty and obligation. My husband Bill and I recently volunteered at the Plymouth Christian Youth Center by reading to kids. The students, parents and community members truly humbled and inspired us. We also saw young people rehearsing a production at the Capri Theatre about the true story of the Little Rock Nine. They worked alongside professional actors in the Twin Cities to hone their craft and build leadership skills. It was an amazing experience and, in the end, they gave us far more in return than we gave them.

Q: What does it mean to be a Friend of the Future?

A: My great, great grandmother, Hattie Mae, always said there are few things in life worth fighting for: family, friends, faith, freedom and an education. To me, being a Friend of the Future ensures that I’m carrying on her legacy while making a difference in the lives of children.

Q: What impact do you hope to make from being a Friend of the Future?

A: We’ve all seen the statistics on the achievement gap and dropout rates. Too many children, especially African American and Latino children, are being left behind. Yet behind every number is a child with a story, with hopes and dreams of his or her own. I hope that by supporting NAZ both through financial support and volunteering, that I can impact the life of a child; helping to create a pathway out of poverty and into economic opportunity.

Q: What would you say to others who are considering becoming Friends of the Future?

A: I benefited from participating in the early childhood education program Head Start in rural Indiana and was the first in my family to graduate from college. I was able to achieve that by leaning on the strong shoulders of my parents, teachers, members of the faith community and other role models. Everyone had high expectations for me, and as a result, I worked hard to meet and exceed those expectations. Great schools and supportive services provided a network that wouldn’t let me fail. Thanks to my parents, I was confident yet humble, resilient, and believed that regardless of our meager circumstances, I was worthy. Now, it’s my turn to extend a hand and help the next generation reach their goals. Providing a quality education to all children regardless of race or socioeconomic status is one of the most important issues of our generation. It’s my hope that we will answer the call.

Elizabeth Foy Larson and Walter Schleisman

Elizabeth Larsen and Walter Schleisman live in south Minneapolis and have three children in third, sixth and ninth grade. Walter is the principal at Lake Harriett Upper School. Elizabeth is a journalist specialized in family issues and education. She is also the author of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun.

Q: What brought you to becoming a Friend of the Future?

A: Elizabeth—We were familiar with the Harlem Children’s Zone, which inspired NAZ. We believe that having a strong Northside makes the whole city strong—but the thing we care about the most is that all children deserve to have the same opportunities. We were really drawn to NAZ’s message of providing support from cradle to college. We were both energized and excited by the opportunity to support that work.

Q: What’s the value for you in being a Friend of the Future?

A: Elizabeth—It provides an expression of our commitment to our city and to the city’s children. Being a Friend of the Future is a gift for us. NAZ has been really flexible in letting us pay in installments. We felt strongly that it was important to do.

Q: What does it mean to be a Friend of the Future?

A: Elizabeth—I look forward to seeing some of the children I saw in the [Family Academy] baby class graduate from high school and be ready to go to college. As a Friend of the Future, we feel connected to NAZ’s progress and the things that are going on. We remain aware of the challenges. Our hope is that NAZ moves the needle.

Q: What impact do you hope to make from being a Friend of the Future?

A: Elizabeth—In the short term, we hope that with more financial support, NAZ can reach out and support more children and families. And hopefully through our support, more people will get invested in helping more children and families succeed through NAZ’s approach.

A: Walter—I’m hoping families who have not had access to career and educational opportunities that lead to a middle-class life will have those opportunities. That’s the big overall goal. We need to deliver systematically and sustainably what’s needed. The wrap-around services that NAZ offers – not only the educational opportunities but the medical services, psychological services, transportation, and stable housing – all those pieces that middle-class students take for granted that offer the best hope for moving out of poverty.

Q: What would you say to others who are considering becoming Friends of the Future?

A: Walter—It is a tangible good that you can offer. You can get involved in solving this problem directly instead of talking about it and wishing that someone else would do something about it. It’s a problem in your own city, your own backyard—and you can make a difference. You can move from feeling helpless to grabbing one piece that you control.