It was good schools that enticed Jack and June Stanley to build a new home for their family in West Bloomington in the 1960s. For their son John who made the move in middle school, Bloomington became much more than teachers, books and grades; Bloomington became an idyllic place to grow up and learn about community. Years later John’s memories of those teenage years in Bloomington renewed his interest in community involvement, particularly looking into how to find a way to help solve the problem of homelessness in Bloomington.

John was an involved teen and he served as a council member and chairperson on the City of Bloomington Youth Council, an organized group of 18-20 high school students representing the area schools. He also served on the Bloomington Youth Commission. John’s involvement gave him the opportunity to meet leaders of the community, like Gil Williams, who was chairperson for the Bloomington Youth Commission and a former Jaycees president (1966-67), and Larry Granger, the Personnel Director for the City of Bloomington and Assistant to the City Manager. The teen-led council met regularly, had a budget and developed an agenda. For the most part they were self-governing. Their top priorities were hosting summer dances at the Knights of Columbus Hall and creating a teen center. Times were good.

John-Stanley-crop

It was only after John graduated from Lincoln High School in 1970 and moved away from Bloomington that he witnessed social and racial problems and encountered people living very differently than his friends back home.

“The 60s came late to Bloomington,” said John. “If we had [problems] I didn’t know about it.”

John eventually returned to Bloomington many years later. He bought and moved into his parent’s home, moved his office to East Bloomington and reengaged with the community. He joined the Chamber of Commerce on the advice of Larry Granger, who he ran into at the Old Town Hall (the Youth Council’s former meeting place) and reconnected with the former Jaycee President and current Bloomington Community Foundation President, Gil Williams, who invited him to check out the Foundation.

Every now and then while John was commuting to his office or breaking for lunch he would see people in the same troubling circumstances that he saw in Minneapolis. This was not the Bloomington he left. During one lunch break he observed a boy who appeared to be alone. The boy should have been in school but instead was passing time near a local fast food restaurant.

“I immediately thought, not here,” said John. “Things like that don’t happen in Bloomington.” The experience made him want to do something about it.

John sought out organizations trying to help, met with community leaders, looked for data, asked questions, and tried to acquire as much information about homeless issues as possible. He learned about Meals on Wheels, VEAP, Bridging, Oasis, Cedar Crest and the numerous churches offering support.

When it was announced that a new homeless shelter would open in Edina, John asked, “Why couldn’t that have been Bloomington?”

“It isn’t that the problem isn’t being addressed here and there,” said John. “I may be the only guy in town that thinks there is a problem but I haven’t heard that so far.  When I have raised the question to a variety of people no one has said ‘What do you mean.’  Anybody who should know agrees that we have some homelessness issues in Bloomington.”

Although John accepts that Bloomington has changed, he still believes that the unity and spirit of the Bloomington community, the same unity and spirit that shaped the City of Bloomington Youth Council, lives on.

“In an ideal and perfect world you’d say we have some homeless and hungry people in Bloomington let’s make that go away,” said John. “Can we figure it out?  All of you who are interested show up at Kennedy High School’s lunch room at seven o’clock and lets talk about this informally, at least to get started, and say yes we have a problem and it is worth addressing.”

John Stanley is a financial advisor and branch manager at Raymond James Financial Services. Besides serving on the Bloomington Community Foundation, John is a board member of WorkAbilities, Inc. and is a member of the Public Affairs Committee for the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.