Generally speaking, people who don’t live there don’t have a lot of fabulous things to say about Landfall once they get past “affordable.” That’s the way it is with mobile home communities. Landfall is tucked away on the Maplewood-Oakdale border along I-94, passed every day by thousands of people who don’t much give a sniff about the “town” of 52 acres and 735 people with a per capita income of a little over $15,000 on the shores of Tanner’s Lake. In the ’90s a developer wanted to turn the town into a shopping mall.
It would be easy to diminish the award’s merit by pointing out that it’s really not one of the 100 best of all the communities in the country. It’s actually one of the 100 best of the 750 who applied to be honored, and one of five winners in Minnesota out of 18 communities that applied . If you tell the average East Metro person Landfall earned the distinction, the chances are good they’ll look at you funny and say, “the trailer park?”
Here’s what they don’t know: Landfall is doing more than a lot of communities when it comes to helping its kids.
Back in the ’90s, a Stillwater agency — FamilyMeans — found that lack of youth activities was a primary concern in the town. With initial funding from the McKnight Foundation, organizer Tom Yuska and others created Investigation Station, which provides programs for kids 5 to 12, such as arts, music, computers and cooking. School buses drop the kids off after school, and they can stay until evening at no cost. At night, a teen center operates for kids, 13 to 18, according to an article last month in the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Review.
Landfall’s award, given today at a ceremony in Washington, is based not only on the programs, but also on efforts to improve graduation rates and lower substance abuse rates. “It isn’t so much a comparison of one year to the next,” according to Danielle Butler, who administers the award program for America’s Promise Alliance. “We’re mostly interested in making sure they have the data and are taking steps to improve.”
“Teens in Landfall were reluctant to tell their friends they lived in Landfall,” Yuska said this afternoon, “and now they’re inviting their friends.”
Things aren’t all rosy. “I do know the graduation rate for last year’s teens was not very good,” he said. “On the other hand, 96 percent of our K-5 group is making ‘adequate yearly progress’ and we are doing things for older kids. One of the programs we started last year is aimed at middle school kids, especially children of color, to get them thinking about careers and what they want to do in the future. Our program coordinator just took a small group of them on their first college tour and one of the girls who just started high school is asking for help picking out classes that will help her down the road. She wants to be a scientist.”
Four other Minnesota communities were similarly honored. St. Louis Park, Mankato-North Mankato, Northfield, and Saint Paul.