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All Around the Neighborhood: Keeping it Local. Keeping it Real.

One afternoon back in May, I ducked into Jerabek's New Bohemian coffee house to grab a quick sandwich. Jerabek's is a 102-year-old West Side (a neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn.) institution; a “third place" where the business of the neighborhood gets conducted over kolaches and decent, reasonably priced coffee. Along with my sandwich, I also managed to walk away with two new hires for our upcoming nine-week summer program. It was so ridiculously easy. Waiting in line. Chatting with the regulars. It’s exactly what our planning group had in mind five years ago when we decided to call our new adventure “All Around the Neighborhood".

This summer more than 140 five to eleven-year-olds are getting up close and personal with their West Side community- its places and its inhabitants. AATN camps are free. Free of charge, and, freewheeling, much like the childhood activities of older generations.

The star of Critter Camp is the teacher’s dog, Stone. He comes every day and stoically tolerates the “love" of 25 kids. Other cast members include the pet ferrets of a teenage Youth Guide, and some backyard chickens provided by the Peace Camp leader. There are no fancy bells and whistles- just the wonder of the ordinary shared with friends.

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One day last week, a group of River Camp kids spent the afternoon down on Harriet Island doing pretty much whatever Huck Finn and his buddies were doing down stream in 1884, except with signed permission slips. They swam in the river. They climbed trees and made things with sticks. They sank up to their ankles in the Mississippi mud. Their teacher had lived for years on a houseboat and had enough river stories to last the afternoon. Once back on the great lawn, there were snacks, jump ropes, kick ball and a never-ending round of croquet. The teacher told the kids that the great lawn was once called the croquet fields.

For the kids of AATN everything old is new again.

All Around the Neighborhood is an initiative of the Neighborhood Learning Community, an example of a whole neighborhood - schools, local government, neighborhood organizations, and residents - working together and taking responsibility for the education of young people. The NLC's goal is for all young people in the neighborhood to grow up as successful, engaged citizens. Read more here.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs