You can almost see Landfall, Minn., as you whiz past its lone businesses, dealerships trading in Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles. Incorporated and yet consisting mostly of a mobile home park, the town occupies 0.1 square mile located between Interstate 94 and Tanner’s Lake just east of St. Paul.
For the third time in four years, Landfall has been named one of the top 100 communities in the United States for kids by the Washington, D.C.–based America’s Promise Alliance, founded by Gen. Colin Powell.
Edina, St. Louis Park and Northfield made the list, too, in recognition of their efforts to reduce dropout rates and provide outstanding support to their kids. Those cities do so with developed infrastructures and nice tax bases, however.
By contrast, Landfall’s 700 inhabitants are decidedly working class. As for infrastructure, the community is still trying to buy its 55 acres from Washington County.
Highly civic-minded community
Despite all of this, the residents of Landfall are highly civic-minded and in agreement, as Mayor Greg “Flash” Feldbrugge explained, that theirs should be a “safe and nurturing environment in which youth learn lifelong values and morality.”
“Just because we’re a low-income community doesn’t meant we shouldn’t have some of the finer things,” he added.
Landfall’s journey to the top 100 began 19 years ago when it received an unusual “enhanced housing initiative” grant from the McKnight Foundation. The details are many, but basically the money was earmarked for helping apartment complexes and other developments with dual administrative and governance structures.
Landfall used its grant money to survey residents, 73 percent of whom identified the community’s biggest need as activities for kids. McKnight followed up with another grant running for three years, during which a community organizer stitched together a network of partnerships and resources to fulfill the functions of the parks systems, community groups and other infrastructure enjoyed by places like Edina, St. Louis Park and Northfield.
Now formally an initiative of the Stillwater-based nonprofit FamilyMeans, the effort is still helmed by the same organizer, Tom Yuska, who now relies on a patchwork of 20-30 small grants at any one time to fund everything from homework helpers to summer programming.
A local — quasi-local, technically — provides tutoring. The Maplewood Police Department holds regular events such as “Cops and Kids” fishing clinics.
And FamilyMeans operates the Landfall Teen Center in a converted city garage and an Investigation Station for smaller kids in City Hall. A youth biking program allows kids to trade repair services and cycling points for bikes and parts.
Programs draw neighboring youth
The programs are so popular they draw kids from neighboring communities; Landfall residents attend schools in District 622, which serves North St. Paul, Maplewood and Oakdale. Last year, 160 youths ages 5-18 participated.
“I’ve seen the change in how they view themselves and their community,” said Yuska. “And that’s pretty cool.”
Some 32 percent of the community’s kids live in poverty, but 88 percent graduate from high school. Juvenile delinquency rates have fallen 96 percent — although Mayor Feldbrugge allows as how in a community Landfall’s size one or two incidents could wipe this statistic out.
More important, in his eyes, is the erosion of the stigma associated with the city’s trailer park alter-ego. “We’re a stepping stone for people on their way to somewhere else,” he said. “I just wish more communities were more proactive than reactive with their kids.”