Prayer of Good Courage:

2020 saw the inception of a new Westwood initiated Outreach ministry, initially called 'The Prayer of Good Courage Project'.  After much prayer and groundwork, a new 501 C3 non-profit called Rise Early Learning Center was incorporated with the vision of opening a 62 spot childcare with 31 of the spots designated as affordable (paying on average 50% of full price).  The center is projected to open in 2022 in a CommonBond Communities development of 100-120 units of affordable housing.

Here were the major developments in 2020:

  • Rise Early Learning Center was incorporated in May of 2020.

  • On Sept. 15th the Westwood council, after a process of congregational feedback, approved a 3-year $1 million dollar appeal launching in 2022 with all proceeds going to Rise Early.  This is the catalyst for Rise Early to move ahead.

  • Six other faith communities, including Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, committed $125,000-$175,000 of support over the first 12 years of the program.

  • Rise Early received over $200,000 in donations in 2020.

  • Rise Early board established its vision, core values, and 3-year goals as part of a business planning process.

Download a copy of our fact sheet

Tentative architectural plans

Quarterly Report - April 1, 2021

Rise Early Board Members


Jenelle Bullen

Westwood Board Member

I serve as the Early Learning Coordinator for the Richfield public schools.  I have worked my entire adult life as an educator both in the US and in the Caribbean as a teacher, administrator or school leader.


I am drawn to serve on the Rise Early board because the mission closely aligns with my personal passions of creating quality early childhood education and working toward equity and inclusion in education.

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Rabbi Barry Cytron

Community Board Member

I am recently retired from Macalester College, having served on the faculty and been one of its chaplains for many years. Earlier, I was a congregation rabbi, first in Des Moines and then at Westwood’s neighbor, Adath Jeshurun Congregation. Quality early childhood education was a treasured orientation of each synagogue, reflected movingly now in Adath’s decision to be a faith partner in this critical new venture.


Ever since hearing Art Rolnick speak about his cutting-edge studies affirming the countless dividends of initiatives like Rise Early, I have wondered how best to salute his research. Joining the Board provides an opportunity to work with committed others to advance affordable high-quality child care and redress historic inequities in our community.

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Paula Landis

Community Board Member

I have been in my role as the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Curriculum Director for the YWCA Minneapolis since 2017.  I have developed and lead the ECE Workforce Development Program including the publication of the YWCA Minneapolis Anti-Bias Preschool Curriculum. 


As a Rise Early Board Member, I am pleased to share a commitment to social justice by supporting ECE teacher quality.  


Astein Osei

Community Board Member

Currently, I’m in my fourth year as superintendent of St. Louis Park Public Schools. I'm a firm believer in the power of public education and understand that in order to create an anti-racist democracy that we must have effective public schools that produce citizens who are academically proficient and on a journey of racial and socio-political consciousness development.


I also serve on several boards and committees in the St. Louis Park community.  As a leader, I strive to create environments where learners are seen, inspired and empowered to show up as their authentic self and embrace their brilliance.


Jane Severson

Westwood Board Member

I have spent my career building growth strategies for leading enterprises.  I work in Health IT doing product development, strategy, and business transformation.  I have been active with the Westwood Early Childcare Center as a past board chair and am a long-time resident of St. Louis Park. 


I am thrilled to be serving on the board of Rise Early and an organization whose mission is to build partnerships to support families in our diverse community by providing outstanding early childcare learning programs that are accessible to everyone. 

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Carolyn Smallwood

Community Board Member

I am the CEO of Way to Grow and joined the organization in 2004. Under my direction, Way to Grow has become an evidence-based leader in home visiting service as well as early and K-3rd education in Minnesota. Way to Grow has grown its capacity and increased its service area to now serve more than 2,000 clients annually.

I have decided to join the Rise Early board of directors because I believe in the vision of the Rise Early collaborative to ensure equal access to early education and housing to all community members in the St. Louis Park area.

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Alicia Sojourner

Community Board Member

I am the former Racial Equity Manager for the City of St. Louis Park, and currently the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the City of Vancouver, WA. My career journey started within Early Childhood Development and Teaching field working as an Early Childhood Teacher and Cultural Specialist with 1st generation US American children with special needs. After a number of years teaching and directing I became the Director of Organizing and Civic Engagement. I worked on legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing around child care issues with Child Care WORKS.     


I have personally seen and experienced how quality, affordable, and accessible child care can change a family’s life. I am honored to amplify my background and skills on the board of Rise Early ensuring more families have access to quality child care.

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Jeff Stutzman

Westwood Board Member

My family has been members of Westwood for 40 years and I am a past treasurer.  I am a retired CPA and business owner.  I have started and run or helped run several businesses in my career and served on several non-profit boards. 


I hope that my business and non-profit perspective will be a benefit to Rise Early.  I was drawn to Rise Early by the overwhelming evidence of the importance of affordable high-quality child care and the need to be more than a passive observer

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Jason Van Hunnik

Westwood Board Member

I have served as a pastor at Westwood since 2004.  It has been moving to see this dream of Westwood working side by side with members of the community to create better access to high-quality childcare for those who don’t always have that opportunity.  I’m excited by the leadership and expertise on the board to go along with the commitment to creating a community of possibility. 

Jim Vos.heic

Jim Vos

Westwood Board Member

I'm a 30+ year member of Westwood and have served in various leadership capacities both within the church and across the non-profit community. As a commercial real estate consultant, I have the privilege of working with a wide range of organizations and developing an extensive network of advisors.


The mission of Rise Early builds on my passions as a grandfather and a catalyst for change in our community.

Please watch our conversation with

Common Bond Communities

Common Bond Communities is our housing partner in this proposed project.


They will be building and running 120 units of affordable housing and have invited Westwood to initiate a 62 spot affordable childcare within the apartment building.