A New Chapter for Neighborhood Youth Services

Neighborhood Youth Services, a longtime program serving youth in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood, faced an uncertain future following the bankruptcy of a parent organization in 2021. The community rallied to preserve the center, and a successful transition process guided by Northspan has resulted in the Family Freedom Center taking leadership of the NYS program.  

Located at the Washington Center, NYS has served kids in the Central Hillside neighborhood with meals, recreational opportunities, and other services since it was established in 1992. When the program’s parent organization, The Hills Youth and Family Services, abruptly closed last summer after 112 years of operation, it meant jeopardy for the approximate 400 kids who use the center annually. 

At first, Life House stepped in to temporarily stabilize and manage the program as a whole. However, NYS’s funders, which include a variety of local foundations, government entities, and other programs, saw a need to find a permanent home for the program that would allow it to continue operating. In response, Northspan facilitated a process to help transition NYS to new leadership.  

Here’s an overview of how the process went:  

  • We generated input from over 50 individuals, including funders, community partners, staff, and participating families, on the future of NYS.
  • Based on this guidance, we crafted a request for proposals (RFP) that solicited a new operator for NYS. 
  • We collected responses to the RFP, guided funders through a decision-making process, and convened discussions on the details of the transition with the selected respondent, the interim operator, and funders. As a final step, we crafted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between these parties that stated the terms of the transition.  

“Northspan is integral in finding solutions to community challenges that don’t have a playbook,” said Don Ness, executive director of the Ordean Foundation, one of NYS’s funding partners. “Their thoughtful, inclusive management of an RFP process ensured that Neighborhood Youth Services was able to continue and enhance the vital services it offers to families in Duluth’s Central Hillside.”

In August, Family Freedom Center assumed full control of NYS. The local nonprofit has deep roots in the Hillside neighborhood and is one of the few Black-led nonprofits in the Northland. In addition to continuing NYS’s drop-off services, Family Freedom Center will also bring a focus on educational programming, recreational programs, and career path development, such as access to technology, training for skilled trades, and entrepreneur services. 

“We’re figuring out who we are, and we can be whatever we want to be,” Executive Director of the Family Freedom Center Jacob Bell told the Duluth News Tribune in a September 2022 feature. “The history here, the roots that we have, and the background going all the way back to The Hills is something we’re all very proud of. But we want to have conversations with members of our organization and the kids we serve and the families and the staff and ask, ‘Who do we want to be? What do we want to be?'” 

You can read more about the transition in this Duluth News Tribune article. You can also learn more about Northspan’s facilitation services here.