Groundbreaking Signals Health and Hope in St. Paul

Conway Community Center expansion revitalizes well-being for communities of color

ST. PAUL, Minn., July 24, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- At a time when many communities are looking for ways to come together, one St. Paul-based non-profit is leading the way for much-needed change. This week, The Sanneh Foundation (Sanneh) hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking for the latest revitalization of the Conway Community Center: a seasonal dome promoting year-round physical activity for all ages, all new athletic fields with added safety measures to protect against head injuries in youth sports, as well as infrastructure investments that help ensure diverse young people and families in the community have access to a safe place to learn and connect.

The center nearly closed eight years ago, before Sanneh took over operations from the City of St. Paul. Since that time, Conway has become a vital resource, delivering more than 35,000 free meals each year, 30,000 hours of academic tutoring and a nationally recognized model of inspiring healthier communities that is transforming the health and well-being of this East Side community. For Sanneh, the groundbreaking represents something bigger — an important step in pursuit of the organization’s mission to address the range of social factors that impact health outcomes for underserved populations by empowering kids, improving lives and uniting communities around positive change.

“This groundbreaking is about building the foundation for a healthier community, knowing that research shows health is determined in large part by our social circumstances,” said Tony Sanneh, the organization’s founder and CEO who grew up on St. Paul’s East Side. “By providing low-income families a safe place to learn, work and play, we can change the trajectory of their lives. We can help these young people realize their full potential. And we can help lead the way forward to advance diversity, equity and opportunity for all, regardless of where they are born or where they live.”

To support the major upgrades of the community center, Sanneh has so far raised $11 million from state bonding dollars and Minnesota’s leading businesses and philanthropic organizations. Most recently, the Delta Dental Foundation of Minnesota announced a $2 million transformational grant, and the Otto Bremer Trust committed $2.5 million in program-related investments to fund a range of improvements identified in neighborhood listening sessions.

“We have been strong supporters of The Sanneh Foundation for five years and have admired the work and results that this organization drives. When Tony and his team shared their vision for the Conway Community Center, it was a unanimous decision from the board of our foundation to grant the $2 million in support,” said Rod Young, Chief Executive Officer and President, Delta Dental of Minnesota. “There’s a direct correlation between oral health and overall health, which the Sanneh Foundation has wholly embraced. We’ve expanded our mission of improving access to quality oral care, to include improving the overall health of our community. Our partnership with the Sanneh Foundation represents our commitment as an organization to help address the inequities.”

Knowing that more improvements are needed, Sanneh continues to partner with organizations that share their passion for building cultures of health and investing in underresourced communities, with a goal of raising an additional $3.8 million to increase organizational capacity and provide more services to the community.

“The Otto Bremer Trust has been an ardent supporter of Sanneh’s work to make St. Paul a better place for youth and families since making our first grant in 2013,” said Brian Lipschultz, co-CEO and Trustee of Otto Bremer Trust. “The Sanneh Foundation’s framework of cultural responsiveness has never been more important, and we hope others in the Twin Cities community join us in support of Sanneh’s innovative work, positive vision and potential to do more.”  

“To me, the name Tony Sanneh is synonymous with community, and as a community foundation, when we were approached early on with this project to invest in the East Side and the families and children of this neighborhood, it was a very easy answer for us,” said Pahoua Yang Hoffman, Senior Vice President of Community Impact at Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, which provided Sanneh with is first major gift to kick-start the campaign in 2017. “Tony is someone who does what he says and has always been a winner in our eyes because he does take the necessary risks to make an impact. We are glad to support Tony’s leadership and his team on this transformational project.”

With this multi-sector combination of partnerships and support, Sanneh has transformed the Conway Community Center into a safe and thriving public space. With more than 20 languages spoken and activities ranging from sports to dance to girls’ and boys’ empowerment groups, the center instills Sanneh’s innovative and holistic approach to improving community health, for which it received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award in 2018.

“We’re excited to begin this long-standing and impactful partnership with The Sanneh Foundation,” said Kourosh Motalebi, Head, Global Strategic Partnerships at 3M. “Not only will our collaborative efforts strengthen the foundation’s mission of empowering youth and supporting families and communities, but it deepens 3M’s connection to our hometown community of St. Paul and provides volunteer opportunities for 3Mers to engage in STEM, tutoring and mentorship.”

“The Sanneh Foundation is a vital partner in supporting children and families,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. “Reinvesting in their home at the Conway Community Center means expanding their ability to provide programming and an even greater impact on our community.”

View Photos From The Groundbreaking Event

About Sanneh (SAW-nay): The Sanneh Foundation (Sanneh) is a Minnesota non-profit that serves the needs of diverse, urban and immigrant populations by offering nationally recognized programs that strengthen the educational, physical, social and emotional development of Twin Cities youth — primarily low-income students of color. In support of its mission to empower kids, improve lives and unite communities, Sanneh is partnering with local businesses and community organizations to improve the safety and well-being of our neighborhoods and advance diversity, equity and opportunity for all. For more information, visit

Contact: Tod Herskovitz, Communications Director
(612) 214-6319 

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at

Founder and CEO of the Sanneh Foundation, Tony Sanneh