Union of Youth’s 15th anniversary open house at The Key

Ruth Amerman I got an email from Ruth Amerman, president of the Youth Board of the Northfield Union of Youth, alerting me to their Open House this week.  I plan to attend and take photos… and chime in on their long-range planning. (continued)


img_29632 Everyone in the community is invited to come and down and check out the space, listen to some music, learn about the organization, eat some snacks, and help us think about our future. 2009 is a year in which we have many goals and ambitions on the horizon, including moving to another location. We would love to have your opinion on the current space and what a potential new Key should look like.


  1. Joshua Hinnenkamp said:

    As the Executive Director of the Northfield Union of Youth I must say that the youth have put in a lot of work to make this thing happen. As have many adult friends in our community. 15 years is a long time and a testament to how well this organization does things. Everyone from the community is invited to come down and learn about what we do and to celebrate the 15 years. Many wonderful people over the years have made this 15 years a reality and I see no reason why 15 more won’t happen. So come on down on the 29th 5-8pm at the Key and learn about our past, present, and future. This is a casual celebration so a t-shirt and jeans is perfectly acceptable. This is also a chance for us to hear what you have to say and we will be asking your opinion on our current and our potential space ideas for the NUY. See you at The Key!

    January 27, 2009
  2. Tim Hollinger said:

    Yes, everyone should come down to the Key, Thursday, and see what we’re all about, especially those new to town, or who have only formed opinions of the Key through local media and word of mouth, whether it be positive or negative. Local youth artists, musicians and more will all be there, including myself. We’ll be doing some talking, and uh, well, you should probably do some talking too. Tell us what you think and ask questions. So bring the family, bring your neighbors, bring your boss, the milk man, and the paper boy and don’t forget to bring the dog.

    January 27, 2009
  3. Grayce Forsythe said:

    I am really excited for the open house. I am a board member of the Northfield Union of Youth and the art teacher, and I think that anyone who comes down to the Open House will enjoy the festivities and be impressed by everything that we do. We really are not scary and everyone is welcome. Hope to see you there.

    January 27, 2009
  4. Maisie Ebert said:

    I am a board member at the key and that is pretty much my second home. I try my hardest to give the key what it needs from me. I haven’t been a board member for a long time, but I already have been observing changes in caring. While some members fade away, others step up twice as much. The Key is a place where kids can feel safe. We try our best to treat each other equally and there is rarely any problems. We have art programs, movie nights, a skateboard coalition, a cooking class, etc. to keep kids involved. We really do need support from our community! As Josh said, come down to the key for our open house on Thursday, the 29th of January. Opinions are appreciated and you will see samples of the key 🙂 Hope to see ya’ll there

    January 27, 2009
  5. Marie Fischer said:

    I am SO proud to have been a part of this organization and I KNOW that it has had a profound effect on my life. The Key is so unique and shows just how self-sufficient and independent youth can be when given good opportunities.
    I won’t be able to get to the open house, but I am so glad that it’s finally happening! We had tried to plan one for earlier last year, but our focus was redirected to important election and event issues. I strongly suggest that you should go if you have ANY questions or even if you’ve just never really seen the place. I can speak from experience and say that the youth planning this would LOVE to have you visit and talk about the NUY’s future and probably have some awesome information and, knowing the Key, lots of food to share.
    To another 15!!

    January 28, 2009
  6. Thomas Launer said:

    The Key has bee the most important organization that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. If it weren’t for The Key, I really don’t know what path my life would’ve taken. Thanks so much to everyone who’s been involved and to all community members who’ve shown their support. I really can’t say enough.
    Keep up the good work everybody.
    Thomas Launer

    January 28, 2009
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for chiming in here, Marie and Josh. We’re having someone from the NUY as a guest on our Locally Grown radio show today, talking about the open house and the next 15 years.

    January 28, 2009
  8. Peach Soltis said:

    Congratulations on 15 successful years!! My involvement with The Key dates back to 1995 when I attended my first meeting as an 8th grader. Even today, I find myself talking with others about how much The Key shaped my high school years and helped develop my leadership skills, and how it gave small town kids the inspiration to do big things. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the Open House, but wish the Key and its members all the best!

    January 28, 2009
  9. Kristin Ginger said:

    The Key is an amazing organization! I really wish there had been a similar youth union in my hometown. Working with the Writing Workshop was easily one of the highlights of my time at Carleton. It’s so inspiring to see such active, productive, positive community-building from youth. I was constantly being impressed by the range, depth, availability, and creativity of the programming. In many ways it’s difficult to believe that the union has only been around for fifteen years; the level of functioning and cooperation seems like the result of fifty years of practice. I hope the celebration goes well–I wish I could be there! Thank you to everyone who has made the Key and all of its programs so wonderful.

    January 28, 2009
  10. Kevin Krein said:

    As the Americorps Youth Promisefellow at The Key, I’ve watched (and participated in) all of the hard work the youth board and other area youth have put in to getting the buildings ready for the open house. This is a pretty big opportunity for the Union of Youth to let members of the community come in and learn more about the programming and our desire to move to a new location.

    I’m really looking forward to this event tomorrow night.

    January 28, 2009
  11. Evan Hatch said:

    I got first involved in The Key in 1997 through my brother Russell then in 1999 to 2000 I was on the board. I’ve met some very interesting people from 1997 to 2001 it is also where I first start writing poetry. I will be working on that day so I won’t be able to come to the open house so congratulations on 15 years of providing a voice for the youth and for many more years to come

    January 28, 2009
  12. Jena Fredrick said:

    Oh the Key and the many wonderful things it does. The Key really was highschool for me, I never did anything group associated with the school because none of it ever interested me, the Key was actually doing things though. Community involvment, volunteering etc. I really feel like during the time I spent at the Key I grew as a person more than I could have anywhere else. I am very sorry that I won’t be able to make it, it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane again, but I am currently busy being pregnant.

    January 28, 2009
  13. Russell Hatch said:

    It’s remarkable to see the Key still running strong after all of the years. My time at the Union of Youth forged many connections that I still hold dear. The support the Key offers everyone inspired me to strive well beyond what I believed myself capable of when I first walk in it’s door.

    It was a pleasure to play the role I did back in the day.

    January 28, 2009
  14. Zane Anway said:

    It has been more than 5 years since I first seped foot in the key and since then I have learned so many things from the people there and from the organization itself. It gave me fun way to have responsibilities. From starting and or leading groups and clubs such as Unicycle club, knitting night, and breakdance club. Not to mention all the teaching I did within these clubs.I learned to be a part of a team to organize the key functions, meetings, and everything else that the key does. There is unlimited knowladge and hands on experience that applies directly to the current day. This is stuff you don’t learn and can not learn in the class room. It only needs to be recognized by the community and most importantly by today’s youth who have this amazing, generally unrecognized, opportunity to be a part of something real, and great. So go celebrate with the key, and recognize it’s greatness and give thanks to be blessed by such an amazing place. I wish I could be there, and I know I’m not the only person who will be sad to miss it… But I will be remenising here in Colorado about my favorite thing about northfield!!!!!!!

    Zane Anway
    Board member 06′
    Former staffer
    And firm supporter!

    January 28, 2009
  15. Dan Zenner said:

    The Key is awesome and I’m excited to go to the key’s 15th anniversary open house, especially to see the hosts of the keymn radio show MC the event.

    January 28, 2009
  16. Sarah Lee said:

    I owe the key so much. I am so grateful to have been part of the Northfield Union of Youth…having a place like that in my life contributed so much to the person I am. To echo what Tom said, i’m not really sure of the direction my life would have taken if not for the experiences the key provided me with. Having a place like that in Northfield is such an amazing thing…happy anniversary to the place and the people that have, and continue to, make it happen!

    January 28, 2009
  17. Dan Zenner said:

    Also I am member of the board at The Key, and this organization has done a lot for youth, providing concerts and fun events to participate in, and I am excited to see the union of youth progress and do great things for youth in the future to come.

    January 28, 2009
  18. Madelyn Hartke said:

    I’m definitely making the trek back to town for this! And I encourage anyone who would like to become more involved with the Northfield community to stop by. There will be many wonderful people, great conversation and I BET THERE WILL BE A CHEESE PLATE.

    January 28, 2009
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Having been a member of the Key’s adult board for some years, and a dedicated supporter for years before that,I can tell you that the names of the youth you see writing here had better be remembered……..because past or present, these young people will be your future.

    The numbers of spectacular kids that have been grown , nurtured, by the supportive atmosphere at the KEY is truly amazing. The number of kids that I alone have seen come in there just not ‘together’, that have then left having become true and confident societal leaders, is testimony to the power of a youth-governed youth center…… and should be a lesson to all adults as to how to interact with youth.

    Let them assume responsibility for the things they are interested in, and dedicated to, and they will shine; when they do make mistakes or mis-judgements, they learn quickly.
    Support them all the way, instead of saying you the adults know a better way, talk about the process, and the results are performance and innovation.

    Come on down Thursday afternoon/evening, and have some fun!

    January 28, 2009
  20. Tim Hollinger said:

    Where to start…? Well, for one if it weren’t for the Key, I may not be alive. Some of you may scoff at this, but I assure you that this is the truth. I’ve struggled with drug abuse for a good chunk of my life, and if it weren’t for Josh Hinnenkamp, members of the Key (past and present, youth and adult) and the support they gave me, I may not be here today. The Key has consistently offered a chemical free environment for youth to come to during peak high risk hours of the day. Had it not been for our little youth center and the programming provided, I would have been back out on the streets, doing what I do best… Drugs. When I come to the Key, I don’t feel like I’m just going to a youth center where there are some kids who hang out together. I feel like I’m coming home to a family that honestly cares about me and my well-being. Even just a simple, “How are you doing Tim, I haven’t seen you for a couple days, is everything okay?” is sometimes all I need. These people day after day prove to me that good people still exist and that life is worth living.

    I hear some people saying that the Key isn’t really serving its purpose… At times, doing the opposite. I hear people complain saying that it is an eyesore and tarnishes the west bank of our river walk and that the town would be better without it. But can you really say that’s the truth when they have influenced even ONE person enough to keep them from going back to their old way of life (which would have undoubtedly led me to jail or death)? No matter what ethnic, religious or spiritual background you may come from, I believe we can all agree that Human life is a pretty special thing. I know I’m not the only person who the Key has helped in this way either, maybe not under the same circumstances… But the Key HAS and CONTINUES to touch the lives of Northfield’s youth every single day that the doors stay open. If in the next 15 years, even one person has found a home in the Key, then it’s worth every last second.

    So I encourage you to attend the open house and meet the wonderful people who put forth the hard work to keep this place alive.

    January 28, 2009
  21. Luc said:

    Woot. seriously, woot. the key was a wonderful place. where else do kids actively want to go to a weekly meeting with an outlined agenda?

    January 28, 2009
  22. Jake Mulford said:

    I am a member of the youth board at the key, as well as the head of the booking team. I’m excited for the open house because this will give the community that would normally oppose the key, as well as all of our fantastic supporters a chance to come in and check out what the key is all about. There will be information about each of our programs, as well as a chance to see what the youth can create when the right resources are provided.

    The Key provides a certain opportunity for the youth to realize their importance in the community of the Union of Youth, which is one of the main reasons I enjoy being a part of the Key. It allows youth to take control of a responsibility which they deserve, and participate in many service projects that the youth would otherwise have little clue of how to get involved with (ie. Humane Society/Winterwalk/community garden volunteering). The other reason is simple: The Union of Youth. The Key brings together all sorts of youth that would otherwise never notice one another, and this builds up one of the strongest communities of seen.

    I hope to see a good number of curious people, and some who have supported the Key for years tomorrow evening at the open house!

    Jake Mulford
    -Board Member
    -Booking Team

    January 28, 2009
  23. Hattie Ryan said:

    I might not be the most dedicated or prevalent person on the board but i think the Key is one of the brightest shining stars in Northfield’s downtown. We might not have the best window displays or the prettiest building but we definitely compete for spirit and dedication. We do so many things to bring teens, adults, and the community together and inspire teens to do things beyond what they ever thought they could achieve. And as Timmy said, I think that if the Key positively influences one kid it is doing its job.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE come to the Open House. We have worked really hard to make the Key presentable and we all would appreciate it so much!!!!

    January 28, 2009
  24. Andi Sison said:

    As a youth board member, the Key is like a second home. It’s done so much to help me become the person I am today, and I hope that you can help us affect more kids this way. I just hope they don’t turn out like me! But really, bring everyone who you think would be interested, it’s going to be a swingin’ soiree.

    January 28, 2009
  25. Ruth Amerman said:

    Wow. Reading through all these comments there doesn’t seem like there is a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said. I joined the Key shortly after my father died, and as you can imagine I was having a pretty hard time. He had been a huge part of my life and my family was doing everything it could to just keep it together. Stepping into the Key for the first time and joining the board gave me not only the confidence I needed to get involved but it also gave me back the sense of belonging and security that I had lost. Three years later I’ve had the honor of becoming the President of the Key, and in only four short months I’ll be graduating High School and moving onto a new stage in my life. Even though I’ll be gone, what the Key has done and given to me will shape my life forever.
    For Everyone out there who doesn’t recognize or appreciate all the hard work and influence that the Key has, I challenge you to come to the open house and ask a Key Kid how the Key has effected them, I’m sure you’ll come away with a different point of view.

    Ruth Amerman
    -Forever a Key Kid

    January 28, 2009
  26. Eli Morin said:

    Wow, 15 years! I was a member of The Key a long time ago. This organization was a great thing to be a part of as it helped to shape who I am now, as I’m sure it has and will for many of it’s past and current members. It’s a place you can always go and feel free to be whomever you are or want to be. It inspires creativity as well as involvement in the community.
    Congratulations!!! May many more successful years and generations pass by and through.
    Peace (^_^)v

    January 28, 2009
  27. Drew Voegele said:

    Congratulations on 15 years! Four or five of those years I’m lucky enough to call my own, and had it not been for the experiences I gained through serving my community as a youth, and allowing my community to serve me, my life would not be what it is today. The Key gives so many brilliant, driven, and creative thinking youth the opportunity to be themselves, which is, I believe, and opportunity often missed in youth today. I reflect on the years I spent as a part of the most amazing organization for youth the country has ever seen (truly) and I wish that every young person could have had the same benefits as I did. At such a young age, we all learned so much about civic responsibility, leadership, and caring for one another, that as a get older now, I realize these are still lessons being learned even by the adults in my life. This is not fluff, I truly learned how to be a leader and a friend from the Northfield Union of Youth, and every one around me at that time learned the same lessons. The friends I knew then are the same people I hold dear to my heart today; we grew up together, albeit prett quickly, but at the same time very well, and we owe it all to the truly incredible work that was being done then and apparently is still being done now. I envy all those amazing youth who are keeping The Key going now, for they really are experiencing the time of their lives. The best to you guys, keep us all posted as to how much serious butt you’re kicking!
    Drew Voegele

    January 29, 2009
  28. […] James:  Maisie, Hattie, and Ruth.  They’ll be at tonight’s open house at The Key. See my blog post from earlier this week on the event. There are over two dozen comments attached to it, many by young people talking about […]

    January 29, 2009
  29. Brian Dever said:

    I feel like it was not so long ago we were celebrating 10 years at The Key, and reading the comments of some of today’s board members/booking team members/just plain members – it seems like the next 15 years are in good hands.

    Being a part of The Key meant so much to me. I am so grateful for everything I learned from the AMAZING young people who were both the reason for the Union of Youth and what made it possible.

    Congratulations, and Happy 15th Birthday!

    January 29, 2009
  30. Michael Blaha said:

    Happy B-day Union of Youth!
    What a joy to see all the familiar, and not so familiar faces here.

    The Key has always been a non-judgmental safe zone.
    Accepting, diverse, and uber creative. Being one of the elderly members of the Union of Youth ( from back in the 90’s… No, i don’t use a cain yet ). I look back and think. This is amazing! What a dynamic group, constantly reinventing the organization to respond to the changing needs of the youth and of the community. The list of accomplishments are impressive, but it’s always been about community and connections at The Key.

    The value of one kid getting off the ‘streets’ away from a hostile environment, or learning a new skill, developing leadership, a safe place to explore art, or feeling as though they are part of the community… It’s priceless. Absolutely priceless.

    There has always been issues in regards to youth in Northfield.
    Remember the ‘More 4 kids’, the ‘bridge square kids’, and the ‘Hooligans’?
    It’s unfortunate the amount of energy that has had to go into the ‘image’ over the years.

    Energy best used on focusing on the positive things that they already do at The Key. Things that really make a difference. Keeping the doors open, inventing new innovative projects, music, volunteering, hosting discussions, and keeping an available ear to listen to the woes of a hard day at school. This is the stuff that really matters!

    If you’ve been part of The Key, you know what I mean. The life long relationships made, the cool projects you’ve been a part of, the inspiration, the help with personal challenges along the way.

    I am grateful. Thank you Union of Youth ( all generations ), and to the adults who have offered their guidance and support over the years.
    Thank you for keeping the dream alive!

    To the next 15 years

    January 29, 2009
  31. Emma Closser said:

    Those that haven’t been to the key…well your life is just not complete. I didn’t start getting into the key until my sr. year of high school and i wish i started years earlier but it did wonders for me as a person. Being a board member, a staffer and a member of book club and the booking team, taught me what i’ll be doing as a career. Social worker. The key gives kids a leg up in knowing their own voice and directing them into their passions and interests. The people that are involved in the key are amazing and truly care about what they do. Everyone in Northfield needs to support The Key and everything it’s about. So please keep supporting The Key and everything it does. And thank you for what u have done. HI JOSH!!!

    Emma Closser

    January 29, 2009
  32. Riahl O´Malley said:

    15 years…My goodness. What an amazing symbol of what youth – what kids – are capable of if they have the network and the resource to realize their dreams.

    I am writing this post from the small community of Mascarilla, one of 35 Afro-ecuadorian pueblos in the Chota Valey on the north end of Ecuador. I am here working with a youth group who is forming their very own youth center, and I am so greatful to have been a part of The Key as a young person and that I have that story, those skills and that awareness to share with the people I meet here. Echoing the many posts above, the list is interminable: from practical knowledge of how to run a meeting or how to apply for a grant…to nostalgic memories of the games, discussions and other shinanigans… The Key weaves intricately and uniquely into our process growth and education as idividuals. For me the most important has been the awareness that it has granted me. The Key is the first place where I started to think critically about the value of trust and listening.

    The longest run youth run youth center in the nation is a powerful, constructive contradiction to a world run by adults. It demands that we listen to the voices of those who are not legal citizens, thereby recognizing their importance as agents of change within our communities. It was in The Key where I learned the value of lived experience and perspective, and it is on this lesson that I meditate the most as an adult foreigner working with a group of Ecuadorian youth: What can I do to truly listen to what these kids have to say, without filter or pretence, so I can act not as a teacher, not as a leader, telling them how they can achieve a goal that is not truly their own, but as a resource, friend and ally in their struggle to realize their own dreams?

    The Key is truly radical and is an amazing symbol for change within our generational hiearachy. I sit in this small internet cafe unsuccessfully trying to hold back my tears in typing this message. Thank you so much – to the kids who have and continue to make it possible and to the adults who have stood and continue to stand as our allies – for 15 years of revolution.

    With Love,

    January 30, 2009
  33. At the risk of continuing shameless promotion of the RepJ daily process blog I started, there’s a couple more Key photos if anyone’s interested at http://repjbonnie.wordpress.com. It’s a far more sparse display than the beautiful one Griff has but contains a couple different shots. The spirit in there last night was great! Thanks to everyone involved with the Union of Youth for putting together the event!

    January 30, 2009
  34. Adam Tomczik said:

    Congratulations on 15 years! I am thrilled that the Northfield Union of Youth is still going strong. The people I met through the Key and the lessons that I learned there continue to shape me in healthy and positive ways. I am happy to hear that it remains relevant and important to so many young people in Northfield.

    • Adam Tomczik, member 1997-2004, president 2000-2001
    January 30, 2009
  35. Gilly Wigley said:

    Everyone that’s commented here about what the key has done for/meant to them, has pretty much summed it up for me.

    My only regret is that I wish I would have started hanging down there sooner.

    January 31, 2009
  36. Pat Johnson said:

    I’ve been on the adult board since Ann Mikkelson started the KEY…15 years ago… Ann would be VERY PROUD! ….Pat Johnson

    February 5, 2009
  37. Anne Bretts said:

    Here’s some hopeful news about the Key’s future. There’s an idea that’s taking shape among some people to build a new safety center, move the liquor store into the current safety center and make the liquor store the new, larger and better Key. The liquor store would have the advantages of the downtown and highway, has an elevator and reinforced floors — and can’t really be heavily changed because it is in a floodplain.
    The City owns the properties, so the cost would be limited to renovations, and with the lousy market, the buildings aren’t likely to find buyers anyway…
    Having the Key there also would provide restroom facilities for teens using the skate park (although I’d prefer another location than Ames for that).
    Several people have discussed this, so I’m not taking credit, just suggesting maybe it’s time to get some cost estimates. Even if money is tight now, having it in the city’s long-range plans could allow fundraising and grant-writing (although teens might have to prioritize and choose between a building or skate park first and the other later). Might be interesting to get some cost estimates, just to get the discussion moving.
    My understanding is that it wasn’t brought up in the latest liquor store discussion because people wanted to get the safety center done and give time for the liquor store controversy to die down.

    February 7, 2009
  38. Anne Erickson said:

    Ah, The KEY. How wonderful to have something so wonderful spring from such a tragedy. The KEY holds so many memories of good times. It was always somewhere to go when there was nowhere else. It was somewhere to perform–again when there was nowhere else! It makes me think of Kevin Stanke and his hit song “Monkey VS Robot,” and the lovely Meredith Fierke’s intimate concerts. It reminds me of my high school sweetie and my rebellious little sis. Above all, it was and is youth coming together in positive and creative ways! Wish we had something like the KEY out here on the Big Island. Congrats on 15 years! And Thanks for all the good times!

    February 9, 2009

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