As I’m writing this, I’ve been the editor of this magazine for just over six months. During this time, I’ve loved getting to know the Edina community better. It’s a unique city—from its concentration of shopping opportunities and its multitude of public green spaces to the kind, bright and involved individuals who live here.
As I’ve met more and more Edina residents, one thing that has really struck me is the civic involvement of individuals in this city. And I’m not just talking about the adults. The creativity, innovation and involvement of this city’s young residents is truly remarkable. I really don’t think it’s common for middle and high school students to come up with viable business ideas, volunteer for the love of a cause and not just for a line item on a college application, write and perform music or poetry at public events, and take so much of their lives offline. The teens in this community are really something special.
With this in mind, I want to use the rest of my Editor’s Picks article exploring just a few of the people, places and programs that make Edina such a special community. These are, of course, just a few examples of the wonderful things happening here. I hope it helps remind you of what a truly exceptional community you live in.
People: Ava Mehta
Twelve-year-old Edina resident Ava Mehta loves animals and spending time at the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society. But since she’s too young to volunteer (you have to be 16), she decided to find a different way to support this organization that cares for and connects animals with loving homes.
In late 2021, after seeing newspapers on a list of physical needs for the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society, Ava started Paper for Pets. “Since I’m too young to volunteer … I decided to help it another way,” Ava says, noting that she wanted to help the humane society but also get others involved. “I was like, ‘What can people do that’s not really a big deal, doesn’t really cost them any money and is easy?’ So, I decided to make Paper for Pets, where we just need a paper bag and your [clean] newspapers,” she says.
Every Saturday, she and her mother, Feroza Mehta, drive all over Edina on their “reverse paper route,” picking up newspapers from residents who have signed up to participate. Ava then brings them to the shelter, where they use the newspapers for bedding and in areas where animals are being potty-trained. The whole route takes about four hours every week. To date, Ava has collected 168 bags full of newspapers.
And how did they get the word out about Paper for Pets? Her mom put it out on Facebook. “[Ava] doesn’t have her own Facebook account,” Mehta says. “And I told her, ‘If you want to make this your own thing, it has to be coming from you.’” She opened her Notes app and had Ava write up a message, which Mehta then posted in the Buy Nothing Edina, Edina Moms Group and Edina Cares Facebook groups. From there, people started reaching out to Mehta who were interested in donating their old newspapers. So, every couple of days Mehta would give Ava her phone so that she could personally respond to each message herself.
Ava Mehta at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, delivering bags of donated newspapers.
Ava, who’s involved in Scouts BSA, is currently working on expanding Paper for Pets into a project her whole troop can participate in. She also uses her passion for animals, and this project in particular, as a talking point in the pageants she participates in. (Last year, she was awarded the title of Miss Minnesota Pre-Teen, which allowed her to compete in the 2021 International Junior Miss pageant.)
While all of this was Ava’s idea, it grew from a value of volunteerism that Mehta instilled in Ava and her brother from a young age. “Growing up, my parents, always ingrained in us that it’s really important to give back to your community,” Mehta says. “And with both my kids, I really tried to get them to find a cause that they like and to try and take that passion and put it back into the community any way that they can by using their talents and/or their time.”
If you’re interested in donating your old newspapers to Paper for Pets, reach out to Ava and Mehta by emailing email@example.com.
Ava also has an Etsy shop, The Crabby Tabby, where she draws custom portraits of pets and donates all proceeds to the ASPCA and Animal Humane Society.
Places: Arneson Acres Park
I first discovered Arneson Acres Park when working in Edina in my mid-20s. A co-worker had mentioned it was a nice, nearby spot to eat lunch away from the office. So, in my first couple of weeks on the job, I made my way over to the park.
I was not expecting what I discovered: a charming English garden-like park, complete with a stone fountain and hedgerows to boot. And then there were the flowers—so many flowers! Flowers of all kinds, from lilacs and peonies (my personal favorites) to stalky purple salvia, cheerful coneflowers, regal lilies and flowering trees galore. And that’s only a fraction of them.
This 13.2-acre park with its 28 gardens was donated to the city of Edina in the late 1970s by Morton and Katherine Arneson. The couple’s stipulation in donating the property was that the city build a greenhouse on the property. Today, the Edina Garden Council uses the greenhouse to grow the annuals and perennials that are planted in Edina’s parks and more than 100 public spaces (and sold at its annual spring plant sale). Arneson Acres is also home to the Edina Historical Society and the Edina Museum.
Over the years, this beautiful park has remained a favorite place to go on a summer weekend for a picnic, or to simply read a book and walk through the grounds. This is only one of the many green spaces around Edina, a community so lucky to have so many public parks. But this is my personal favorite.
Arneson Acres Park
4711 W. 70th St.
Programs: Edina Shark Tank
In 2021, the Edina Chamber of Commerce launched a new program: Edina Shark Tank. Inspired by ABC’s show Shark Tank, the idea was to give high school students the opportunity to develop a business plan, pitch their idea to local business owners and investors, and vie for the opportunity to win a cash prize to put toward their business idea.
What was a small event in 2021 with three student submissions grew substantially in 2022 through working more closely with Edina High School business teacher Will Aguero on promoting the opportunity to students. This year, over 30 students participated, with individuals and groups submitting a total of 17 presentations full of creativity an innovation. It was more than was expected—
so much so that the chamber had to put together a special review committee made up of members from the chamber’s board of directors to narrow down to the top five projects.
“The process, the buy-in from the students [and] the product of their effort was all super elevated this year, and we were really pleased with how much engagement that we had,” says Shelly Loberg, vice president of the Edina Chamber of Commerce.
Edina students Ziyan Ishani, Arya Mirza and Ananth Veluvali pitched a consulting firm to serve college applicants. The group won the Shark Tank competition and were awarded $1,000.
Participating students had to develop business pitch presentations, which they submitted to the review committee that decided on the top five proposals. The finalists then had two weeks to refine their pitches and get ready for the live Shark Tank event. This year, each student or group was given a business mentor—someone in the community whose own professional expertise aligned with the topic of the business proposal. During those two weeks, the mentors gave students critical feedback to help refine their presentations.
“I think that was really meaningful not only for the kids, but I think our membership, our Chamber members, and any other business community members that participate in that found it really rewarding,” Loberg says.
And then the pitch day came, which took place on April 20 this year. Three local investors with venture capital experience served as the “sharks,” who listened to the live presentations, asked the students questions and deliberated together before announcing the winners.
The winning presentation was a group of three students who pitched a college consulting firm called Polus Consulting. Their idea is to help high school students across the country in their college application process. “Using our website that centralizes all services into one platform, applicants can access current students and alumni of any national university they’re applying to,” the group wrote in their pitch. “Creating a platform that streamlines their access to current students and alumni of the universities allows applicants to receive mock-interview practice, essay editing help, information about the university and more resources.” By winning the Edina Shark Tank competition, the group was awarded $1,000 to help make their business concept a reality.
Loberg says her favorite part of the day was seeing the students who participated making meaningful connections and seeing attendance from a lot of students who didn’t get into the top five but who had participated and showed up to support their peers.
“I saw real meaningful connections being made,” Loberg says. “And that’s really what the chamber is all about is supporting business and entrepreneurship. So, that was very rewarding for us to see.”
The Edina Chamber of Commerce
3300 Edinborough Way #650