Tomorrow’s Heroes


During his first month in the US, Abdi saw a homeless man in St. Paul being mugged and rushed to help, stopping the robbery and earning the praise of police responders. Growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp he’d seen many homeless beaten and robbed. He hated feeling helpless to intervene and never understood the indifference of passersby. “Nobody would ever help them.” Abdi says.

Now a student at Guadalupe Alternative Programs (GAP), an alternative school on St. Paul’s West Side, Abdi and his classmates are putting their passion for social justice into practice through a unique partnership between GAP and Neighborhood House.

Four days each week, students from GAP’s Customer Service Program make the 10-minute walk to The Wellstone Center where they spend several hours volunteering in the Neighborhood House Food Market.

Serving 50-75 families each day, the Food Market is an essential community resource providing food support for 16,000 people each year. Volunteers from GAP fill many important roles in the market, replenishing shelves and helping participants shop for groceries. However, the real gift these students share is their ability to communicate with the many immigrants and refugees who rely on the Food Market for support.

From Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Somalia, and Thailand – Abdi and his classmates create a welcoming atmosphere by greeting visitors in their native language and helping them select nutritious, culturally-appropriate foods for their families.

Kate Panning, a Basic Needs Specialist and Lutheran Volunteer Corps member, has worked alongside the students from the beginning and has experienced firsthand the energy they bring to their service. “The students really connect with our participants on a personal level. They’re always eager to meet new people, and their passion for customer service brings out the best in everyone.”

Enthusiastic and ambitious, the student volunteers have big dreams for their futures. Some want to be small business owners, while others aspire to the medical sector – Abdi hopes to one day become a social worker serving the homeless.

His classmate Joshua, who recently became a Certified Nursing Assistant, enjoys volunteering because it teaches him to stay organized and helps him to “connect with people and learn about their needs.” As he works toward a career in Nursing, his future patients may someday appreciate the bedside manner he cultivated while helping in the Food Market.

Do you have a Neighborhood House story? We would love to hear from you! Send an email to Anders Ringdahl-Mayland at or call (651) 789-2524.