More than protests: Anti-gun violence group helps beautify Minneapolis youth shelter

As part of an advocacy group dedicated to stopping gun violence, local volunteers with Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense have experience with protests, petitions and calling elected officials. But on Sunday, more than two dozen of the group's members took action in a different way — by gardening and cleaning outside a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness.

"Our goal is to help bring awareness to gun violence in our community and to help make Minneapolis a safer place to live. We are very passionate about it. And instead of just calling our senators or just doing marches, we feel like literally getting our hands dirty by doing this type of work makes a difference in beautifying the community space for everyone," said Michelle Hanson, the social media lead for Mom’s Demand Action. 

About 30 volunteers were picking up trash and mowing, trimming, and weeding outside of Avenues for Youth in Minneapolis's Oak Park neighborhood from about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The shelter, which has been around for 27 years, is a transitional living program for youth between the ages of 16 and 21 who are experiencing homelessness. They also run three community-based programs and work with about 250-300 youth a year, according to the nonprofit’s development director, Kevin Kjonaas. 

Kjonaas, who was also helping with the "cleaning and greening" effort, said the work is important, as studies have shown that beautifying an area can help keep violent crime down. It also helps the youth who visit the shelter in a more direct way.  

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"The shelter and the house here, the youth consider this as part of their home. They come out here to shoot hoops, do homework, socialize, and listen to music. We have barbecues back here. So during the summer months, this is an extension of their home and we want to make sure it feels like a home," Kjonaas said. 

Hanson said the group is looking for new members to get involved in their work -- and not just mom’s either, as the group is made up of "mothers and others," or anyone who believes in their mission and is willing to participate and even occasionally get their hands dirty 

"I think that it's such an important time to really take action and participate," she said.