Joanne Attikossie, 18, went from knowing enough English to ask, “Do you speak English?” to receiving a full financial scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, where she plans to study environmental policy. The door to her success was opened wider by Edina Give and Go, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for Edina School District students who are financially challenged.
“The impact is immediate,” supporter K.C. Danzansky says. “Edina Give and Go unlocks opportunities one kid at a time, funding the needs of the individual child. Everything from sports fees to internet access to SAT and ACT fees—they work to level the playing field for all kids in the community.” Other assistance has included financial support for summer camps, senior photos, drivers’ education, prom tuxedo rentals, music lessons, school-sponsored trips, YMCA memberships, sports registrations and much more—all elements that go into building a successful and full educational, athletic and artistic experience.
Founders Idith Almog and Meg Rodriguez launched Edina Give and Go in 2013. “This is a community that cares, especially for its children,” Rodriguez says. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 1,200 students, according to Abigail Lugo, Give and Go’s executive director. For the 2016-17 school year, the program focused on reaching out to students in need of assistance, prioritizing communication with school administrators, social workers and teachers. The result was an 154 percent increase in the number of individual requests.
While the average Give and Go grant is $160, Rodriguez wants to see that grow to $500, noting that roughly 9 percent of Edina’s public school students are living at the federal poverty level. (This doesn’t include those hovering just above the threshold.)
For some, the statistic may be surprising. “Perception lags reality,” Rodriguez says, and she understands poverty in Edina can be difficult to see, but she asserts it’s Give and Go’s mission to bridge that awareness gap. That includes maintaining its strong relationship with the school district, educating coaches to watch for the athlete without cleats or practice gear, and alerting parents to be aware of kids who are unable to pay for team fees, tutors or the like.
Navigating an uneven economic playing field in a community such as Edina can cause lower-income students embarrassment, fear, pressure or stress, but each student handles the situation differently. “It’s difficult to raise your hand and say, ‘I don’t have enough,’ ” Rodriguez says, when most of the students are affluent. “It depends on who you are,” Attikossie says. “I didn’t focus on those things [I didn’t have]. My parents always gave me what I absolutely needed.” The disparity did strike her on occasion, she adds, but her focus remained unwavering. “It was getting a full scholarship and going to college at a good school,” Attikossie explains. “That was my main objective in high school,”—including acquiring as many post-secondary enrollment options credits as possible; she ended up with 22 credits through the University of Minnesota.
The value of education is ingrained in Attikossie. She and her mother joined her father and three siblings in the U.S. in 2008 after emigrating from the West African country of Togo, where she says success after education is not guaranteed due to government corruption. Upon arriving here, Attikossie spoke Mina, her native language, and French, Togo’s official language, so she enrolled in Edina’s Normandale Elementary School, a French immersion program.
Once at Edina High School, Attikossie volunteered with Give and Go’s summer arts and crafts program as a teacher’s aide. “It taught me a lot of leadership skills,” she says. “It taught me a lot about maturity, having helped with the kids.” She also participated in Summer Scholars, which matches four to five students with a mentor, and the group spends the summer homing in on a specific area of interest. For Attikossie’s part, she was in a group that focused on science and the medical field, learning about food science and the University of Minnesota’s research laboratories. Another summer was spent in an entrepreneurial group, which gleaned insight from Famous Dave’s restaurant founder Dave Anderson.
Attikossie also utilized EHS’ Access Program, which assists students in college planning and is supported by Give and Go. “I really think [Access] is one of the best additions to Edina High School,” she says, adding that she participated in College Possible, also supported by Give and Go. “It definitely helped me [access resources for] my ACT to get a better score,” Attikossie says.
Give and Go comes at a cost. Fundraising includes an annual event in the spring. This year’s affair raised $63,000. Danzansky, who hosted another fundraising event, first learned of the group once her two children, who are Edina Public School students, began participating on traveling sport teams. “While we are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, I was struck with the fact that most families cannot afford to participate, and I was frustrated that we were already segregating opportunity for a large section of our community at such a young age,” she says.
Board member Kathleen MacLennan told Danzansky about Edina Give and Go. “My husband [Scott Dillon] and I were immediately galvanized to take action,” she says. In honor of Dillon’s first year owning a small business, they hosted a cocktail party at their home, where a couple thousand dollars was raised to support the cause. “Most importantly, we exposed a broader audience to Edina Give and Go,” Danzansky says. “It’s still a pretty young organization, so there are many people in the community who don’t know it exists.”
While it may be relatively new, Edina Give and Go is resonating with the community and students. “This is a community who cares,” Rodriquez says.
“I have been overwhelmed by the sense of generosity.” Danzansky notes, “I’ve had a chance to meet a few of the students who have benefited from the program, and it’s remarkable what even a small donation can do.”
“It means a lot to me personally,” Attikossie says of Give and Go’s support. As she starts on her career goals in environmental policy or sustainability, she remains resolute in supporting Edina Give and Go, which played such an important role in her life. “I would love to see them continue, and I’ll do anything I can to help,” she says.
Visit the Edina Give and Go website here.