Nonprofit collaboration makes East Side employment easier

Marjorie Otto

news editor


To make it easier to connect employees with East Side employers, nearly a dozen nonprofits are working together in a network to share resources, rather than compete. 

The collaboration is called the East Side Employment xChange and includes 11 East Side nonprofits — American Indian Family Center, East Side Financial Center, CLUES, Goodwill Easter Seals, Hmong American Partnership, Latino Economic Development Center, Merrick Community Services, Metropolitan State University, Urban Roots, Dayton’s Bluff Community Council and Neighborhood Development Alliance — which provide of variety of employment services. 

The 11 nonprofits work together to connect East Siders with the services they need — job training, financial literacy and cultural-specific resources. Each organization provides its own set of services, but anyone can walk into any of them and be referred to the organization most suited to fit their needs. In turn, this network also works with local businesses to help find employees. 

As a part of the programming provided by the xChange, a career fair will take place on Wednesday, June 20, at Merrick Community Services — see the box for more details about the event.


Collaboration vs. competition

The xChange has been at work on the East Side for about two years. 

It evolved out of a strategy called the East Side Economic Growth Initiative, which developed a vision that “the East Side will be a place with full access to community wealth building opportunities for all residents as a means to ensure equity, lift up cultural assets, promote local ownership and democratize wealth” over the next 10 years.  

The 11 nonprofits were brought together to create the strategy by Nexus Community Partners, an organization that was originally “created to connect communities of color and immigrant communities to the economic and political systems of power.” 

It was originally called Payne-Lake Community Partners with the goal of working with communities along Payne Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis. 

Dan Rodriguez, executive director for Merrick Community Services, said there are three main areas on which the xChange is focused: connecting job seekers to jobs and training services; connecting with employers; and that as community-based nonprofits, the various organizations try to do their work differently by collaborating together to make their services stronger. 

He added that having this network of nonprofits, rather than each nonprofit reaching out to businesses, makes it easier for potential employers to reach out and find the employees they are looking for. 

“What that means is less competition and more collaboration,” Rodriguez said. 

The proof is in the pudding: during a series of May meetings at both the Dayton’s Bluff and Payne-Phalen community councils about new businesses building on the St. Paul Port Authority’s Beacon Bluff site, Port Authority Vice President of Real Estate Development Monte Hilleman said the xChange has been a tool those companies are already using. 

“All of the companies here at Beacon Bluff have really started to plug into that wonderful framework,” Hilleman said. “I come from working in district councils and community-owned corporations and in workforce and I know how, to HR directors, it can seem like a bowl of spaghetti, so that East Side Employment xChange is really starting to, I think, provide some clarity.”

Rodriguez said the xChange can lift up the neighborhood.

“The East Side has some of the greatest potential of any place in the metro, especially the people, but it needs additional investment and support,” he said.


Space to talk

Eva Song Margolis, economic empowerment and employment services director at the East Side Financial Center, said another important aspect of the xChange is creating intentional space for those seeking employment to share what their values are and what they are seeking from employers. 

This comes through what is described as “talking circles.” Potential employees are able to share what they value and the xChange is then able to share those values with potential employers. It helps employers adjust how they attract employees and it helps potential employees find more satisfying jobs. 

She added the talking circles also help to discuss structural inequalities that may be in place that make it harder for historically marginalized communities to find employment and make businesses aware of those inequalities.

Margolis, who has worked with other nonprofits over the years, said she believes this type of collaboration is unique. 

“We’re changing the narrative around the East Side,” she said, adding that the xChange helps to highlight that the East Side has a talented, multilingual, multicultural workforce. 

For those interested in connecting with the East Side Employment xChange, reach out to any one of the 11 nonprofits or attend the June 20 career fair. 


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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