Minneapolis nonprofits unite to support troubled youth in Linked Circle program

As the need to steer teens away from the criminal justice system grows, two Minneapolis nonprofits came together to ask how they could do more to help young people.

"There are a lot of youth that the rest of our community has given up on, that people label as ‘juvenile delinquents,’ and are these ‘bad kids’ and all they do is steal cars. And we know that that's not true. We know that they're struggling with things that are much deeper than anybody realizes," said Beth Holger, the CEO of The Link.

Last year, two nonprofits, The Link and Circle of Discipline, combined to start the Linked Circle program. Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are referred there through the Hennepin County Department of Corrections as alternatives to out-of-home placements like jail or other facilities. The program is funded through a nearly $390,000 annual grant, which began in May 2022.

"What we do is we work with youth and young adults and help support them in basic needs and housing," said Elba Frazier, the program manager of Circle of Discipline.

On Wednesday, they offered judges, elected officials, reporters and other community members the opportunity to view the program’s innovative space in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood. These two organizations have more than 30 years of working with youth and were founded by Black leaders and professional athletes.

Over the last year, the new program has found real success. It starts with making sure young people have a safe place to sleep. Then, they can get homework help, take art or music classes, let go of negative energy through fitness classes, and learn how to achieve their dreams.

"Ever since COVID, there's been an uptick in just a lot of crime and negative activity outside, and so a safe place where youth can come in and just be themselves and be accepted for who they are and have their voices heard and feel comfortable -- I think it's important," Frazier said.

Staff members help support youth and families who have experienced things like poverty, homelessness and sex trafficking.

"They are just struggling basically to survive and make it, and a lot of times that may result in them having to make decisions that aren't always good or seen as good by the rest of society," Holger said.

The program’s leaders said they primarily serve youth of color, who are more likely to be criminalized than their white counterparts. The key is creating positive relationships with peers and connecting them with adults who care.

"They laugh, they joke, they build friendships, which is really nice to see," Frazier said.

"They're actually very, very amazing young people, and we want to give them a chance," Holger added.