The Cornwells: Finding and Filling Needs

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Ron and Joan Cornwell paint themselves as a regular, mostly-retired couple, enjoying their family, their home in Minnesota and, when it’s bone-chilling cold here, their retreat in Arizona. Their modesty and generosity go hand-in-hand.

The Cornwells have a long tradition of philanthropy and advocacy, but their focus is on helping young people. They are passionate about providing opportunity to young people who are struggling with poverty and homelessness. They understand that a key to success is to become a stable, contributing community member. Fortunately, they’ve chosen YouthLink as a beneficiary of their largesse and advocacy, in the form of the Springboard Fund.

The Springboard Fund awards small grants to young people who have identified obstacles that stand in the way of reaching their goals. Motivated and energized by YouthLink’s advocacy on their behalf, these young people, working with one of our case managers, apply for Springboard grants. The grants may be for as little as the cost of a tank of gas, or as large as a past-due tuition bill, but they have one thing in common—the grants lift young hopefuls over a financial obstacle, allowing them to stay on track for stability and success.

“I worked in commercial real estate, and own a firm, where I’m still somewhat involved,” says Ron. Joan stayed at home while they raised their four children, then returned to the workforce as a licensed social worker. “We’ve had a good life, and good fortune, and now, we just like to share it,” she says.

Joan’s employment with Catholic Charities placed her at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in South Minneapolis, where she coordinated services for children up to age 16, many of whom had lived in crisis of one kind or another in their young lives.

“It was hard to see young people having so much trouble and fear, such hopelessness,” she says, “especially when we had such a strong, stable experience raising our kids.”

Joan often wondered how the kids at St. Joe’s managed, once they were no longer in foster care or with their families—when they went “under the radar” of established programs. Where did they go? Who helped them? They were too old for children’s services and too young for adult safety nets. How did they learn about available support and help when they had to spend time and energy just to survive?

Ron had noticed, too, as a suburban dad who coached his kids’ teams, that there appeared to be no end of support for young people who already had stable homes. “In our school district, parents were lining up to help and volunteer. The support for kids was everywhere.” He recalls, “Once, our suburban team played a city team from Hospitality House. Those coaches and organizers had made a permanent difference in their players’ lives, just by showing up, teaching skills, and stressing respect. I was so impressed at how little they ‘had’ and how well they performed as a team. It made me want to help.”

The Cornwells decided, together, to focus their efforts and generosity on young people who found themselves without resources and who were struggling to change their futures. That commitment led them to YouthLink. “We had lunch with Dr. Heather, and learned about YouthLink’s structure—the way they create opportunities to help young people, especially those who have experienced homelessness. Having the Youth Opportunity Center right at YouthLink was inspiring. Young people were really getting practical help.”

The Cornwells say, “YouthLink provides a whole array of services and assistance, along with access to medical and mental health care. The emergency services—food when you’re hungry, warmth when you’re cold, access to phones and computers—are great. But the long view is even better.” The Cornwells appreciate YouthLink’s experienced case managers, support-agency services, and connections to a wide network of creative solutions.

In addition to creating the Springboard Fund at YouthLInk, the Cornwells have contributed generously to the building project on our campus, Downtown View. Downtown View, in partnership with Project for Pride in Living (PPL), will have 46 housing units for young people experiencing homelessness, ages 18-24. The five-story structure will be connected to YouthLink’s headquarters—and the YOC—in downtown Minneapolis.

This development fills a critical need of housing for youth experiencing homelessness, and connects them to the essential skills and pathways needed to succeed in the 21st century economy. However, YouthLink’s Ignite Change Campaign is about more than just bricks and mortar. It’s about creating a holistic, positive, vibrant community that makes it possible for youth to engage with new opportunities, broaden their horizons, and build self-esteem. It’s about inclusiveness, innovation, and connectivity—to the YOC partner services, transformative programming in education and employment, and connection to the broader community through mentorship and job placement.

We are beyond grateful to Joan and Ron for the great work they do for young people each and every day!

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