Young and restless update…

Photo: Bonnie Obremski/RepJNorthfield

From left, Andy Kuivinen, 13, Chris Peine, 12, Bobby Hores, Trevor Smith, 16, James Hores, 16, Dana Freeman, Aaron Frederick, 19, Matt Kuivinen 15, Ruth Amerman, 17, Josh Wood, 15 and Taylor McCloskey 17 pose in front of the entrance of City Hall on Monday night. They are members of the Northfield Skateboard Coalition.

In order to camouflage with the counter-culture teenagers I expected to descend upon in Bridge Square at midnight on a Friday, I pulled on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt printed with electric guitars. I arrived at the city center with a notebook in one hand and a camera in the other and found the place abandoned.

A Northfield police cruiser slowed as it passed me on Division Street. I sneaked home with wilted hopes that I could root out a story about a subculture of malcontent youth bent on defiling public and private property. I at least expected to flesh out a story of young skateboarders testing the limits of the city’s laws and patience.

On Monday, I eventually did find the skateboarders — they were at the city council meeting. The Northfield Skateboard Coalition, they said, had won this month’s Waste Management Green Team award and would be monitoring a few of the city’s recycling bins. In addition, the coalition had partnered with America in Bloom to water the city’s plants three times a week.

Too cute to be true? Well, the teens did have an ulterior motive: Raising money to build a public skateboard park within Ames Park off Route 3. For every ton of paper the coalition helps recycle, Waste Management promised to pay the coalition $15, the skaters said. By watering the plants, America in Bloom agreed to bestow a donation at the end of the summer, the teens explained.

The coalition has helped raised $30,000 so far across the past two years and will need at least another $150,000 or so, give or take, according to Joshua Hinnenkamp, executive director of the Northfield Union of Youth based at the Key. However, one of the largest of the project’s remaining hurdles is final approval by city officials, according to Ruth Amerman the union’s youth board president.

I wondered how anyone could deny anything from the baggy pants and mohawk-sporting teens who were so willing to nurture public geraniums and flatten boxes for a buck. But, I’m still new here.

So, I began my first two weeks as a Representative Journalist in Northfield chasing a news tip that lead me in a different direction than the one I had anticipated. According to the tip, a Division Street merchant who had been plagued by a posse of pre-teen boys had questioned whether Northfield was providing its youth with adequate resources.

I am still not completely convinced that community leaders are meeting every need of Northfield’s young population. After all, the city is still reeling from allegations of disproportionately high heroin use among that population. However, the majority of adults and young people I spoke with during my first interviews seemed content with life in the city, and those that were dissatisfied were dedicated to making positive changes.

Late last week, I summarized those findings for Christopher Richardson, superintendent of schools, during an introductory meeting I scheduled in his office. Richardson carries decades of experience as a super, much of it in urban areas closer to the Cities. Richardson said there is an overall niceness among Northfield kids you don’t find everywhere but, he said their quirks still span the typical spectrum of teenagedom.

The Union of Youth, he said, represented only a small slice of the high school’s student body. Of those lingering on the fringes of high school society, Hinnenkamp said even if community members offered a program for every kind of teenager, not all would want to take what was handed to him or her. So, to conclude, can we really leave it at “different strokes for different folks?” Well, I say, I look forward to keeping apprised of the good work of the kids at the Key. Meanwhile, I hope to become a journalist for Northfield that can also find matters of import among the voices of citizens that aren’t so easily heard.

08/02 4 pm update: A 45 second video clip:

Northfield Minnesota Skateboarders from Locally Grown on Vimeo.


  1. victor summa said:

    Ms Obremski.

    Re: your post “Young and restless update … in your brief sojourn into the machinations that make Northfield what it is, this is your finest so far. I loved, “dressing to fit in” … and then finding yourself alone with no more than a prowling police car. Unfortunately you may have been too early and the perps you sought might have turned out to be much older – at bar closing

    Had you more history here you’d have been exposed to the Key through a variety of other efforts they’ve mounted through the years in support of their own development and that of their peers who might occasionally be in need of support and peer guidance. I’ve seen the Key nurture there own and truly change lives.

    Indeed the Skate-board coalition, literally sprang from the street … and was I believe at the outset,, not necessarily a part of the Key. But being there, the Key became and active influence in the groups organizing effort to put their idea, into works. Key leaders (The organization) became involved… and subsequently became part of the momentum … but the initiators were always there, in their baggy pants and hauling their “boards” in and out of City Hall … speaking at the open Mic!

    Me thinks TV has spawned an articulate generation.

    At various public meetings one other aspect came quietly forward … the support these kids were getting from their parents. Too cool!

    Their physical design for the arena has evolved into what I think can be a stunning aesthetic in Ames Park, at the city’s front door … and will take that principle goose droppings depository to a higher and better use … the only barriers being dollars and perhaps an overwrought group of older elected persons with a too a strong sense of the value of their control and self anointed expertise.

    Back to the restless updates. There will be more, I hope

    In your travels you might choose to shed some light on other groups of restlessness, There’s the “older less hopeful restless”, the “I don’t know how to get it but I know what I want restless”, There’s the “This is America and I’m American, restless! … and there’s the Bottom line restless. (just a few)

    And of course there’s the Local Groan restless

    Speaking of goose droppings, I’d love to read your objective new-be analysis of these and other gaggles.

    Closing Credits: I found your piece on the youth you encountered at city hall and on the street in front of the Key exciting and uplifting. I hope it wasn’t mere saccharine journalistic “happy speak” and wonder then … if you gain a less than uplifting perspective on other groups you encounter to write about … will you write those observations as you see them? What indeed might you say about this blog? About city council, the wannabes that prowl the halls of the City’s Hall, this coffee shop group or that coffee shop group.

    Seems to me we could all do with a some open analysis by a truly objective journalist.

    Full disclosure: I’m not opposed to subjectivity … especially in the open .. and indeed am always confounded by those who attack stereotyping. Without it , there’d be none … and then everyone would be nondescript.

    After all, thats what made “central casting” what it is … vital to the drama!

    Incidentally, known in these parts as a supporter of the Mayor ( A vast oversimplified categorizing) … of your interview with him, I’d have to say, not hard ball enough, no way … much too easy! When your one-on-one, like that, we need you to push the probe to its max. The good have nothing to loose, and there maybe exhilaration in the pain.

    On another thread, you asked for questions. I’ll send you some background, NOT QUESTIONS (limited self righteous as it will be…) on the candidates and use my view as you see fit to formulate your own questions, I hope, to get better answers. One of the horrors of the internet is this stuff has a life that outlasts radioactive dust.

    In the case of political interviews … that can really be worthwhile.

    a belated, welcome to Amityville.

    July 31, 2008
  2. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    Great article Bonnie. Your story was earnest and curious. My kind of article. I do take concern with Chris Richardson and his belief that the Northfield Union of Youth “represented only a small slice of the high school’s student body.” (Full disclosure: I am the Executive Director of the Northfield Union of Youth) I guess that depends on your definition of small. I would be happy to show how much the organization has grown and continues to grow. I think the numbers would probably amount to much much more that he suspects. I also believe that the cross-section of youth that participate in youth programming at The Key is also larger than many suspect. Kids from all walks of life are part of the Key (and also make up the Youth Board) and will soon invite the town to The Key for an open house in early September.

    Secondly: the Northfield Union of Youth is starting a VOTE YOUTH campaign, as seen in last Saturday’s Northfield News. Our hope is too raise youth issues in the upcoming mayoral election. To take a look at the ever-expanding platform please link here and feel free to give suggestions:

    July 31, 2008
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Bonnie also recorded a 45 second video interview of some skateboarders in front of City Hall. It’s now added to the bottom of the blog post.

    August 2, 2008
  4. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Thanks for the input Victor and Josh! Just returned from a trip out of town. Would love to follow up on some of those story ideas/background info sessions you offered. Shoot me an e-mail or I’ll see you around town!

    August 4, 2008

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