With the Minnesota Wild’s new practice facility, TRIA Rink, set to open in the coming months, it’s an exciting time for downtown St. Paul.
Families with kids living in the west side of St. Paul should be particularly excited. Even if they don’t know it yet, they’re about to benefit from the expansion of the DinoMights youth hockey program to their community, which has served the Phillips, Powderhorn and Central neighborhoods of Minneapolis since 1995.
And to be fair, calling DinoMights a youth hockey program is a bit of an understatement.
“The mission of DinoMights is developing physical, academic, social and spiritual excellence,” said Scott Harman, who has been involved with the program since 2000 and has been its Executive Director for the past ten years. “It’s whole life youth development. We do that with urban youth who are mainly low-income and very diverse.”
The DinoMights has been incredibly successful in Minneapolis and now fields nearly ten teams made of players with an extremely diverse set of cultures, languages and backgrounds.
Whole Life Development
One of the key elements that separates DinoMights from a typical hockey program is they provide tutoring for all participants by age group. The focus is on reading at the elementary level, character building during the middle school years, and in high school, they focus on building a culture of achievement.
By connecting hockey with school work, DinoMights is able to instill a level of motivation that can be challenging for urban youth.
“Hockey is the thing that all the kids are interested in,” said Harman. “There’s other tutoring programs out there, but there’s not many hockey programs that tutor their kids.”
“One of the best metrics for us to share is we have an 85% graduation rate since 1995 when we were founded. That’s a really significant number because in the same period of time Minneapolis Public Schools has been at only 48%. Now, Minneapolis Public Schools is doing better graduation rate wise, and that’s really good news. We’re glad for that, but there’s still deficits in terms of how prepared those kids are to go to college and to work.”
Much of that academic success Harman attributes to how DinoMights weaves mentorship through every facet of their program. The staff, coaches, tutors and volunteers all take advantage of opportunities to mentor the kids in organic ways so that whether kids are in the traveling to the rink, in the locker room or working on homework, they always have a positive role model.
Even the DinoMights participants themselves are encouraged to be mentors for younger players by serving as coaches in DinoMights’ Greg Carroll Learn to Skate program.
“There’s also the element that DinoMights is faith based so when kids are old enough if they choose, they can go to camp in the summer,” said Harman. “Our 4th-7th graders can choose if they want to go to kind of a church camp experience. The 8th-12th graders can go on a service trip.”
This multi-faceted approach helps DinoMights develop well rounded individuals who are capable of adapting to new situations and challenges.
A Unique Approach
Not only does DinoMights take a multi-prong approach with its current members, it applies a similar philosophy towards garnering new players, and most of their efforts are targeted towards ensuring the new families are comfortable with them.
“The organization is led by people who have grown up in this neighborhood and also who have lived in neighborhood,” said Harman. “We have that cultural competency with the families we’re working with so they do feel comfortable with us.”
A key piece of that cultural competency is breaking down any potential language barriers so DinoMights strives to speak the languages of their families as much as possible.
“We have one native Spanish speaker on the staff, and we have another fluent Spanish speaker on the staff,” said Harman. “Among our interns, which are all college-age alumni of the program, we have a boy who is Liberian. We have a girl that is Lao, a Latino and an African American. Spanish is probably the language we’re best at.”
DinoMights also plays close attention to cultural norms of the families they’re trying to get involved.
A great example of that is communication. In places such as Mexico City or Africa, business is primarily done face to face. In contrast, a lot of business in the United States occurs via writing.
“A lot of times associations talk about where they’re going to put their flyers or putting up billboards in front yards,” said Harman. “With our population, the most trusted form of communication is in-person communication.”
For DinoMights, the solution is their learn to skate program. By working with local elementary schools to teach all the kids in the community how to skate, DinoMights has an opportunity to see which kids show an interest in hockey. Then, they see which families gave permission for DinoMights to contact them and follow up with an in-person visit to explain more about their program.
“What’s great about DinoMights is because we’re doing so much more than just hockey we’re like any other youth works organization,” said Harman. “We’re like Big Brothers, Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Club. People get the value of that.”
A New Endeavor
Finding the right place and time to expand is never easy. Yet, when the Minnesota Wild and St. Paul Port Authority contacted DinoMights, which had been thinking about expanding to a new city for several years, about developing a program at the new TRIA Rink, the stars seemed to align perfectly.
“It’s so cool,” said Harman. “This is not a normal expansion plan to have our home rink be the Minnesota Wild’s practice rink.”
“We’ll be able to have storage in the building. We’ll be able to have a tutoring area in the building, and then of course we’ll make the rink our home ice.”
The plan is for DinoMights to serve the west side of St. Paul, where there’s a large neighborhood of Spanish speakers.
“Year one, we hope we have a Mites team,” said Harman. “We’ll just run a simple Mite season here in 2017-18. In the spring, we hope we can do a St. Paul version of our Learn to Skate.”
Once they get a learn to skate program in place, Harman figures they should be able to register 20-25 kids out of that. If everything goes according to plan, they could be offering 10U and Squirt teams by their third year in St. Paul.
“We’ll just be building it from the ground up like we did in Minneapolis,” said Harman. “It’s going to be a really amazing new endeavor.”
And one that would seem to benefit the communities of St. Paul as well as the State of Hockey as a whole.