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Old Arizona: “Bridging” Community, Café, and Classroom

by Brittany Gilbertson, Lake Street Council Intern

“When we bought our building in the 1980’s, this was the fourth leading corner for drug traffic and prostitution,” says Elizabeth Trumble, co-founder of 29th and Nicollet’s Old Arizona, and Executive Director of the Arizona Bridge Project. “Each year, we saw the prostitutes getting younger and younger and our concerns for the girls in this neighborhood and others like it grew stronger.”

For the past 16 years, Old Arizona has been doing something about it. They have served over 1,800 inner city girls by providing free, after-school and summer arts programming, with an ever-evolving selection of classes and employment opportunities in a positive, supportive setting.

“Our concern for girls also arose from the lack of understanding in the juvenile system, a system that can be of concern in general but especially troublesome for girls. Girls have social needs not met by the justice system and their strong desire to belong to a group leads some girls to gangs and other unhealthy decisions,” says Trumble.

Throughout the years, youth programs at Old Arizona have offered a safe place for girls to belong and have provided a social setting where they are encouraged to follow their dreams and their voices are heard. “Some of the girls we worked with are now in their thirties. Many have come back and thanked us for believing in them, and said “Growing up, people laughed at my dreams. You didn’t. You supported them,’” Trumble says.

The Arizona Bridge Project began in the spring of 1995 when 100 girls showed up for the mini classes offered during an open house that year. The program expanded and a Youth Advisory Council now works with Old Arizona staff to plan the classes most appealing to today’s teen. This summer, four classes meeting Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings provide an outlet for young women to learn dance from professionals in a prime rehearsal space, fashion design (a perpetual favorite) and kickboxing.

Trumble says of kickboxing, “When you’re building muscle at that age it crosses into other areas and gives you muscle for life.” In this way, kickboxing and the other classes teach girls not only a skill but inspire them to build self-esteem.

Old Arizona Collaborative, Inc. is funded by the other half of the operation – Old Arizona Studios, Inc. The space at the intersection of 29th Street and Nicollet Avenue welcomes locals and visitors alike with a cafe, tea shop & chocolate lounge, dance studio, rehearsal loft (where The Jungle Theater rehearses the majority of their plays), off sale wine and spirit bottle shop and a theater/event center that hosts theatrical and dance productions, weddings and receptions, special occasion parties and corporate events. The profit from the retail spaces and rental fees go directly to the youth programs so a great meal or a delightful glass of wine for you can become a life-changing experience for an inner city girl.

When I visited the cafe, serving lunch Wednesday through Saturday 11:00am to 7:00pm, I enjoyed the Red Goat sandwich and the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp afterward. The Red Goat’s crunchy baguette is stuffed full of what the menu description calls “sufficient goat cheese,” a surprisingly sweet roasted red pepper and a peppery bite of arugula. The creamy abundance of the goat cheese paired well with the texture and flavor of the red pepper whose heat and sweetness were brought out in the soft flesh. Dessert also oscillated between tastes as the sweetness of the strawberries melded with the tart rhubarb, though my favorite part was the oat and pecan topping.

In addition to its daily offerings, the 120 seat theater at Old Arizona features a variety of entertainment options this summer, including themed movie nights every other Thursday, Friday night jazz and blues jam sessions, the monthly family-friendly Kenny Kiser variety show as well as fully staged productions this fall. The next time I return to Old Arizona I plan to drop in the Arizona Dance Studio on a weekday evening. At the studio I’ll choose from professionally taught African Dance, Ballet, Latin Dance, or other movement classes for a daily drop-in fee of only $5.

For those truly inspired to contribute to Old Arizona’s youth programs, don’t miss the annual Wine and Roses – A Blooming Benefit. Proceeds from this wine tasting, silent and live auction, with keynote speaker Robyne Robinson and all around good time fund the operations of Old Arizona’s teen run flower shop, the 29th Street Petal Pushers. Doors open at 5:30pm on Thursday, September 22, 2011 for this unique fundraiser with plenty of entertainment.

For more information on upcoming events check out the calendar or contact Darcy Knight, Managing Director.

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