Open Arms of Minnesota

Breaking Ground

Saturday, September 27 was a wonderful and important day for Open Arms. In a joyful and emotional ceremony, we broke ground on our new building in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The day started early for the staff of Open Arms. Taya, our food services director, was in the kitchen at in the morning preparing breakfast for our special guests. Over the course of the next few hours every staff member at Open Arms joined in the effort to cook breakfast and prepare the site at

25th Street

and

Bloomington Avenue

in Minneapolis. It wasn’t long before the staff was joined by every board member of Open Arms who greeted our guests and thanked our volunteers and supporters for all they do for us every day. We were very grateful to also have the help of riders and crew members from the Breast Cancer Bike Ride.

The morning was cool and the skies gray. Although the weather report did not predict rain, we weren’t so sure. Just in case our breakfast and groundbreaking ceremony got rained on, we had prepared small cards to hand our guests with an African blessing that explained that when it rains on guests, it’s actually a sign of good luck. The rain held off and the entire morning was filled with blessings and good fortune.

The footprint for the first floor of our new building was staked out in the property to give guests a visual impression of what the building will look like. Many volunteers were overheard – standing on the grass – trying to find the area in the kitchen where they will be chopping vegetables or packaging meals in a little more than a year when our building is actually finished.

Under a tent, our guests enjoyed a delicious (and of course nutritious) breakfast of buffalo bison, organic eggs, potatoes, fresh fruit and breads. Our good friends at Sisters Sludge (a coffee shop just down

Bloomington Avenue

) provided the coffee.

Throughout the morning, more and more friends arrived and by , when we began the morning’s ceremony, nearly 400 people had joined us.

Barbara Hoese, president of Open Arms’ board of directors, welcomed guests and reminded all in attendance how Open Arms began as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Twin Cities. She thanked John Frey and Jane Letourneau, who joined Barb on stage, for being co-chairs of our capital campaign and for purchasing and donating the property on which our new building will be constructed.

Executive director, Kevin Winge, told the assembled crowd that although the building was only staked out on the ground, that he could actually see what Open Arms’ new home will look like. He described to the guests what the basement, kitchen, and second floor would look like. He announced that Open Arms has secured $5.6 million towards its $8.1 million goal, and although Open Arms isn’t entirely sure where the final $2.5 million will come from, he assured the gathering that the community will continue to support this vital service.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a longtime friend and supporter of Open Arms, spoke eloquently about growing up very near Open Arms’ new home. He echoed the thought that Open Arms belongs to the community and that the decision to construct our new building in the Phillips neighborhood will strengthen communities in the Twin Cities.

Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council Member, HIV/AIDS activist and advocate for the Phillips neighborhood, joined in the celebration. He spoke of how Open Arms opened its arms to serve even more people living with other diseases and how the entire community can depend on Open Arms to be there for them in the future.

Open Arms’ final speaker, Bill Kimker, had many in attendance in tears. Bill, who has lived with HIV/AIDS for decades, spoke about being the first person to ever leave Hope House, an AIDS hospice in Stillwater, alive. Fighting back tears himself, Bill said that Open Arms “Gave me friendship, support and took good care of me, provided me food and I gained weight. They welcomed me with open arms.” And he credited the chocolate desserts that Open Arms bakes for much of his good health! Although mobility continues to be an issue for Bill, following his comments, Bill rose from his wheelchair, firmly grabbed a shovel, and turned the very first shovel of dirt to break ground on Open Arms’ new home.

It was a beautiful day that honored Open Arms’ past and took a major step into our future.

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