Community Commitment
December 22, 2019

Closing the education gap

Xcel Energy Foundation grant recipient creates education plans, career paths for Native American you

Last year, the Xcel Energy Foundation contributed more than $3.4 million in grants to support the company’s primary focus areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; economic sustainability; environmental stewardship; and access to arts and culture. This is one in a series of stories to highlight our grant partners, and the impact they have in our communities.

In Minneapolis, American Indian youth face one of the highest poverty rates and largest racial gaps in employment than any other ethnic group and have the lowest school attendance rate in the school system, according to Minneapolis Public Schools.

In 2017, the four-year high school graduation rate for Native American students was 30%, the lowest of any other racial or ethnic group in the city and 55% lower than white students. And while Minnesota saw its highest high school graduation rate on record last year (83.2%), it was just 51% for Native American students, according to media reports.

To end this disparity, MIGIZI (which means “bald eagle” in the Ojibwe language) equips Native American youth in the Twin Cities with the skills and resources they need to sustain their communities. Its Green Jobs Pathways program, which Xcel Energy has supported for the past five years, helps youth prepare for and secure a career in the renewable energy sector – the fastest-growing labor market in Minnesota.

The program targets three distinct groups: high school students with poor school attendance, low academic achievement and credit loss; youth who have dropped out of school before earning a diploma; and youth and young adults who graduated high school but are not attending postsecondary education and not working at a living wage job. 

“Our Green Jobs program is really unique across the state due to the training we provide and that we reach 14 to 24-year-olds,” says Kelly Drummer, MIGIZI’s executive director. “We introduce Native American youth to green job pathways. It’s a launchpad for a career.”

Tribal communities in Minnesota are looking to build green energy support systems for their communities. However, they are having to hire from outside their communities, says Drummer.

“With Green Jobs, they can hire people from their own community and meet the gap,” Drummer explains. “The investment with Xcel Energy for years has helped us develop the Green Jobs Pathways program and prepare us for the next phase. It launched a training program that did not exist.”

MIGIZI works with trained professionals and partner organizations to provide youth with internships and externships, career-readiness training and job placement. Since 2014, it has trained more than 100 students through its Green Jobs program, from helping them obtain their high school diploma or GED to offering certifications, such as OSHA, solar installation and energy audits, which are fully paid for by the Green Pathways program.

Giovanni Perez LaRoque is just one of those 100 students that has completed the Green Jobs Pathways program. After graduating high school this past spring and receiving a perfect attendance award, he obtained an internship with AchieveMPLS, a nonprofit partner of Minneapolis Public Schools, and is now studying computer networking at Dunwoody Institute.

“Gio has been a model student for MIGIZI,” Drummer lauds. “He is the perfect example. This is the kind of outcome we hope for.”

Xcel Energy Foundation Focus Grants

The future of the communities we serve depends on the educational programs and systems that produce the next generation of STEM leaders and a skilled workforce for tomorrow. In 2018, the Xcel Energy Foundation invested $1.34 million into organizations that support STEM education, including MIGIZI.

The Xcel Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that awards charitable grants to nonprofit organizations and sponsors the volunteer programs of Xcel Energy and its subsidiaries. The majority of Xcel Energy Foundation funding comes from Xcel Energy shareholder dollars. To learn more about the Xcel Energy Foundation, visit our website. If your organization is interested in applying for a grant, visit this page.  

Learn more about MIGIZI’s mission and programs.