This spring, the first Change Inc. Founders’ Luncheon was held at The Depot in Minneapolis to honor the founders of Change Inc. and Sister Giovanni Gourhan of GAP School. This was the first in-person event held since the beginning of the pandemic and it was wonderful to celebrate with others again.
The luncheon event began with a welcome from Change Inc.’s Executive Director, Jody Nelson, and Change Inc. Board Chair, Delta Larkey. While lunch was served, music was provided by Mitch Walking Elk, retired Coordinator for the Indigenous Youth Ceremonial Mentoring Society.
Each of the founders were honored by individuals who have known them for many decades. Richard Mammen was honored by Sharon Sayles Belton, former Mayor of Minneapolis. Sister Giovanni Gourhan of GAP School was honored by Karen Thompson. Gary Miller was honored by Jo-Anne Stately. And Jim Nelson was honored by Spike Moss. Read more on each of our founders below.
Richard Mammen was a founder and former co-president of Change Inc. (1993 -2019), retiring to facilitate the merger of Change Inc. with Guadalupe Alternative Programs. During his long career Richard also served as Chair/Director of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Board of Education (2011-15), Citywide Recreation Director of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (2005-10); and he was the founding Executive Director of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board (1986-93). Through Change Inc. Mammen has been involved in creating, developing and sustaining numerous innovative programs for community youth development in juvenile justice, alternative education, youth employment and entrepreneurship, and youth leadership and empowerment.
Gary Miller brought to the founding of Change Inc. experience in research, evaluation, and policy and issues analysis. He has had an abiding interest in urban issues and efforts to ameliorate poverty and racism throughout his career. With degrees in sociology from Harvard and the University of Minnesota, Dr. Miller spent the first decade of his career in teaching and research and the second decade directing grant making at the United Way, The Saint Paul Foundation and The Minneapolis Foundation. In 1988, Miller joined The City Inc. to examine inner-city programs, community development, and cultural healing through the Project on Urban Poverty. Through Change Inc., Gary continued to consult on community development projects until his retirement.
Jim Nelson came from Missouri to the Twin Cities in the 1970s to attend Luther Seminary where he earned a Doctorate of Ministry leading to his ordination as a Baptist Minister. In 1979, he became Executive Director of The City, Inc., a community-based organization that led the field in providing services for gang-involved young people, families, and communities in the 80s. Concurrently, he earned a Ph.D. from Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and State Board Approved Supervisor. Nelson joined Mammen and Miller to found Change Inc. in 1993. In the past thirty years, he has developed master’s and doctoral programs in marriage and family therapy, taught in various graduate programs, presented, and trained therapists and teachers locally and nationally.
Guadalupe Area Project was founded in 1967 by Sister Giovanni Gourhan and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Catholic Order of Sisters to which she belonged. Concerned about the number of high school dropouts hanging out on Concord Avenue, the Sisters purchased a house near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on St. Paul’s West Side in which to provide after-school activities for West Side youth. Sister G, being the force she was, developed the program into an alternative high school and replaced the small house with the 4-story school building that continues her work today. The name of the organization was changed to Guadalupe Alternative Programs, which merged with Change Inc.
A video featuring current employees from Change Inc. was then shared to encapsulate what Change Inc. means to so many. Director of Community Solutions, Corey Byrd, spoke to Change Inc.’s mission and its impact in the community. To finish the event, Minneapolis Mayor, Jacob Frey, was in attendance and provided closing remarks. He shared great stories of his interactions with some of both our founders and speakers and spoke of the great work being done in our community thanks to Change Inc. It was an inspiring way to connect the beginnings of Change Inc. to present day.
The Founders’ Luncheon served as a reunion for many, and a re-introduction into the many facets of the work and programming Change Inc. manages for all. Not only did it serve as a tribute to the visionary individuals who laid the foundation for Change Inc. and GAP School’s success, but it ignited a sense of gratitude and admiration among those in the audience. It is hoped that the event served as a revitalization of the spirit of unity and purpose as Change Inc. carries forward our founders’ legacies for years to come. Look for information on next year’s event as this is planned to become an annual affair to bring awareness and raise the ever-important funding needed to fuel Change Inc.’s mission.