Innovative connections

I went to two events in Minneapolis today that highlight the innovative ways that we’re making progress in two areas that I care deeply about: connecting our residents to the clean-energy economy and connecting our youth to trusted adults.

First thing this morning, at the home of Mike and Breanne Rothstein in the Windom neighborhood, I got to participate in the 2,000th home energy audit of the Community Energy Services program. Community Energy Services is full-service, one-stop shop that connects Minneapolis residents to easy ways to save money, reduce energy waste and improve our environment. It has three easy steps: first, you attend a workshop on energy savings sponsored by your neighborhood organization; then, you get a home energy audit conducted by trained workers from the Center for Energy and the Environment, who look for easy ways that you can save money and energy at the same time; and finally, workers install for you a variety of energy-saving equipment and materials — worth up to $400.

That’s a great deal for a small initial fee that averages around $30 per household. Even better, once the process is over and your materials are installed, you start saving money on your utility bills: anywhere from $125 to $300 a year, depending on the extent of the fixes.

As great as it was to participate in the 2,000th home energy audit since the program began last year in 28 pilot neighborhoods, we also announced today that the program will be soon available citywide and will serve 4,000 more households. So if you’ve taken advantage of Community Energy Services already, congratulations; if you’re in a neighborhood that’s currently eligible, don’t wait any longer; and if you live in another neighborhood, contact your neighborhood organization today and encourage them to sign up for Community Energy Services today so that you can start taking advantage of it.

As we congratulate the homeowners who have already participated and encourage those who haven’t yet to get started, we also have to extend thanks — in this case, to President Obama and the members of Congress who supported the Recovery Act for the funding that allows Minneapolis residents to benefit from these home energy audits. (The $700,000 from the Recovery Act that has allowed us to connect Minneapolis households to this innovative program — and has also connected workers to 34 new jobs in the clean-energy economy — is just a small part of the $64 million that Minneapolis has been awarded from the Recovery Act. Those funds will be benefitting our city for many years to come.)

Right after that, I headed up to Northeast to meet with the team of Minneapolis police officers, called school resource officers, who are working directly with our children in Minneapolis public schools. We first partnered with the public schools to put officers into school buildings several years ago, at the height of the spike in youth violence. The idea was that the officers would connect and build relationships of trust with youth before they started to move in harmful directions and help guide them back onto a safe, healthy and productive path. (Connecting youth with a trusted adult and intervening at the first sign that a child is at risk for violence are the first two principles of our comprehensive youth violence prevention efforts.)

Well, it’s working, and these officers have been a quiet but effective part of our success in reversing youth violence. One by one, every day, these officers are connecting with our kids in real, honest ways and are building bridges to them that last beyond the school day and the school year. And the numbers back it up: since we started our youth violence prevention work several years ago, of which our school resource officers are an important if largely unsung piece, we have seen double-digit declines every year, including another 18% drop so far this year over last year.

The stories that the officers told me today about the connections they have built with our kids really touched my heart and filled me with hope and admiration. This hard but rewarding day-to-day work, which takes place behind the scenes and with no media fanfare, is getting youth and police officers on the same team to build a safe city. And that’s how we make sure that Minneapolis is a safe place to call home well into the future.

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