Joining forces

Southwest nonprofit merges with Project for Pride in Living

STEVENS SQUARE — After nearly four decades of social service work, Brad Englund’s final act was to put himself out of a job.

The former executive director of Loring Nicollet-Bethlehem Community Centers (LNB) retired in January at age 59 after guiding the Southwest nonprofit through a merger with Project for Pride in Living (PPL), based in South Minneapolis. Finalized Jan. 1, the merger brings together two nonprofits with one goal: helping people achieve self-sufficiency.

Englund said the merger should sustain and, hopefully, improve services at the LNB centers in Stevens Square and Whittier, where the organization provides education and employment assistance to both youth and adults. Each center operates an alternative high school, and the Whittier location also has a preschool.

PPL manages more than 700 affordable rental units and works to promote homeownership. It also provides job training and employment assistance in a three-pronged approach to aiding low-income individuals and families.

The new organization will operate under the PPL banner, led by PPL Executive Director Steve Cramer, a former City Council member for the 11th Ward.

"The first conversation that Steve Cramer and I had [about the merger], I said that I would be the one to step down," Englund said. "… Steve is 10 years younger than me, and I was predisposed to think about retirement."

That initial conversation occurred in late 2006. After a year of planning, both boards approved the merger in November.

PPL was the larger of the two nonprofits, with more than 100 employees and an annual budget of about $12–$14 million. LNB, with fewer than 30 employees, operated on about a $2 million annual budget.

That budget was closer to $2.5 million in 2000. But like many nonprofits, LNB struggled as both public and private contributions slipped around that time, said Dan Gerhan, former president of the LNB board of directors.

Greater Twin Cities United Way, a major contributor to both organizations, encouraged a number of its nonprofit partners to consider partnerships or mergers during the economic downturn that followed Sept. 11, 2001, said Frank Forsberg, senior vice president of community impact.

Forsberg said LNB, being a mid-sized nonprofit, was ripe for merger: It was neither small enough to operate simply on grass-roots energy or large enough to fill all its administrative positions with full-time staff.

Englund said LNB was "getting by" without full-time staff working in fundraising, human resources or volunteer coordination. By comparison, PPL was large enough to fill all those positions.

Cramer said 2008 would be a "transition year" for the combined organization. The two organizations collaborated before the merger, and would further integrate their programs in the coming years, he said.

Bethlehem Director Delroy Calhoun said the two organizations often served the same people and communities before the merger. Calhoun pointed out that PPL operates about 100 units of affordable housing "just across the street" from the Bethlehem’s location in Whittier.

"It works out well that we’re now all the same family," he said.

Meanwhile, less than a week after the Jan. 1 merger, Englund was preparing to depart with his wife on a three-month road trip to visit their two daughters on the West Coast. Sitting in his empty office, he said leaving LNB after 12 years would be "bittersweet."

A Washburn High School graduate, Englund grew up in Southwest and spent much of his career in the area. He was executive director of the YMCA’s Blaisdell branch in the Lyndale neighborhood before joining LNB.

Over the course of a nearly 40-year career in social service, his work only grew more complex, especially his work with young people, he said.

"Kids these days are confronted with so many negative influences," Englund said, listing violence in the media, gang activity, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence as particularly damaging to young people. "To try and counter that is very difficult."

On the other hand, he added, he saw over and over again how just a little bit of help can turn a life around.

"It’s rewarding because you see kids whose lives are changed," Englund said. "… So many young people we deal with just need a small break, a little bit of encouragement, somebody to understand them."