Our View: Dorothy Day House continues to open its doors
The Dorothy Day Hospitality House has been known for its open doors for three decades.
Recently, the doors of Rochester homeless shelter at 703 First St. S.W. have been more active than ever. As it marks its 30th anniversary this month, the 23-bed shelter has averaged 20 guests a night in recent weeks, according to board president Ray Ostfeld, who noted the numbers are likely to rise as the weather becomes colder.
Anyone who has found a welcoming bed in the shelter knows the Dorothy Day Hospitality House has been an asset for the community. In addition to providing its homeless guests a place to stay between 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. for up to 14 days at a time, the facility offers meals provided by area groups and churches, as will as a variety of other donated items.
The all-volunteer operation provides a unique opportunity for Rochester-area residents to connect with those in need and offer a helping hand. "It's a wonderful place to be associated with," Ostfeld said.
In addition to opening its doors to the homeless, the Dorothy Day Hospitality House is welcoming visitors. It will hold its second of two open houses from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. The first open house was last weekend.
Ostfeld said the event is being used to raise awareness of need for volunteers, as well as donations. Information on both is available at www.dorothydayrochestermn.org .
In addition to raising awareness, the open houses are a celebration. They celebrate the volunteers and the city's spirit that has helped keep the Dorothy Day Hospitality House doors open for so many years.
With 956 guests served through August, Ostfeld said the volunteers expect to top 1,400 this year. Knowing that many people are being provided needed comforts is truly something to celebrate.
School numbers a sign of positive growth
Rochester Public Schools enrollment outpaced projections this year. The district's 17,144 students are 255 more than last year's school population and 160 more than projections.
The added students mean the district expects to see more than $900,000 in additional state revenue for the school year, said Larry Smith, executive director of business and operations. The additional revenue isn't without added costs. As class sizes grow, the district will have added teaching expenses.
Brenda Lewis, the district's assistant superintendent, recently told the school board that exceeding set class sizes in the elementary schools will spur added staffing needs. In the middle schools and high schools, it can lead to salary increases for teachers who have more than 160 students a day in their classrooms.
As Smith noted, it's a good added expense to have. "I'd rather have the problem with growing enrollment than shrinking enrollment," he told the school board last month.
Another number is also a good sign for the district. According to a 25-year enrollment report, the percentage of potential students in the district enrolled in public school is the highest it has been since 1998. With 82.7 percent of students opting to attend public school, Rochester Public Schools staff should take the shift as a vote of confidence. Fewer families are seeking other options.
With added programs aimed at student improvement and an ongoing effort to improve communication between staff and the community, we expect the percentage will continue to climb.
As the city grows in response to the Destination Medical Center project, the addition of students is guaranteed. The challenge for the district — from the school board to each staff member — will be to ensure those students and their families continue to see value in our public schools.
Parks and rec seeking new connections
The Rochester Parks and Recreation Department recently decided to venture off its regular trails and onto social media. With the creation of its first Facebook page, the department is aiming to connect people with parks, programs and facilities.
"It's where everybody's at now. So we're kind of going into their lives a little bit, so they can find us easily," recreation supervisor Ben Boldt told the city's park board this week.
With 566 followers on the social media site already, Boldt said the numbers are building. In the last month, 25,000 people were reached through Facebook. During about the same time, the department's established website saw 36,000 visits. It indicates the social media effort could eventually connect even more people with the day-to-day happenings in local parks and facilities.
Boldt said in its first months the addition of social media has help parks staff connect with international visitors as well as local residents. He said he expects the interaction to grow.
Hopefully, the combination of fun and informative posts will help inspire more people to set aside the keyboard and venture out to a park and find new ways to connect with their neighbors.