At the corner of Virginia Street and Lafond Avenue in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood sits a former middle school now turned into the Irreducible Grace Foundation.
The organization was founded by Darlene Fry in 2012. For Fry, changing the lives of youth of color and empowering them to choose their own path is her passion and her purpose.
Prior to that, she worked with young adults on campuses in Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Missouri and Minnesota before moving to St. Paul to pursue her doctorate in educational leadership at the University of St. Thomas. Her passion was and is, providing youth with resources to become successful.
“Well, you know, it was about that time I was working in a school district and we found some on time for graduation data that was pretty glaring about disparities of youth of color graduating on time versus their white counterparts,” Fry said.
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Fry’s mission is rooted in figuring out why some students struggle and what kind of help they need to get them back on track. She discovered data showing that most of the young people not on track to graduate had been in foster care.
Having adopted a daughter herself, Fry says she felt called to start the foundation. That’s also where the name “Irreducible Grace” comes from — Fry describes her daughter’s love, Grace, as one that can’t be reduced by the world around her. Fry says that’s when she began listening to youth and young adults who had been in foster care — creating a safe space for youth to succeed and express themselves.
The foundation first formed in a small St. Paul church — but quickly outgrew the space as more and more young people started attending and expressing their needs.
“What we were trying to create here was that kind of environment where young people who had been in care and who had been sorely disappointed and abused in some cases, neglected harm by adults could learn to love adults, again, in a positive way. And so that's what we've been trying to do for the last 10 years,” Fry said.
In September of 2022, Fry purchased the former St. Paul City middle school, giving life to multiple programs. The organization provides mentoring, life skills, employment, self-care practices and more, helping young people learn new skills for dealing with stress and trauma, like yoga classes every Tuesday and Sunday.
“Yoga is one way to just bring us back to ourselves,” said Anika Sangster, a yoga instructor at the foundation.
“I love that there's young men, young Black men in this space. I have a young son who I'm trying to get to come here. He won't. One day he will. But it's just great,” Sangster said.
Joseph Cole has been attending classes for about a few months now. The 21-year-old is a member and employee of the organization. Cole says he found out about the foundation through word-of-mouth and says it was a step into his healing journey.
“I probably got about five friends that come here with me and we all do things that none of us have ever done. And that in itself is just a healing thing to do with your friends,” Cole said.
Cole says in this yoga space, he feels represented and understood. The classes help him release daily life stressors. He says it's a way to be liberated from trauma.
“Things that normal yoga classes might not have, whether it be engagement with the participants and asking them what they want,” he said.
Whether it’s feeling grounded indoors, or digging in the ground outdoors, Tony Akinyemi, who’s 18, says he feels like he’s part of a community that deeply cares about him.
“IGF is just a very safe space for you to like, share your trauma, share your story with other people. And I promise that you won't be judged,” he said. So if you have something that you want to share with other people and you don't feel comfortable sharing it with your friends or family, you can always come to IGF to share that experience.”
Vegetables will soon grow outside the building. They’re being planted by youth who get to choose their seeds, reaping something greater in the long run.
To learn more about the Irreducible Grace Foundation, visit irgrace.org.