Hundreds of people pass through the Coyle Center’s doors every day. Neighborhood residents go there for work, to get connected to job opportunities, attend ESL classes, get help with their homework, meet with community organizations, volunteer, vote, play basketball, access a food shelf and attend cultural celebrations. Students from local universities and colleges go there to be tutors, attend public events and to get to know their neighbors. Politicians, civic and community leaders stop by for meetings and to address issues facing the neighborhood. It has been described by many as the “heart” of the neighborhood.
The Coyle Center is the modern outgrowth of the Pillsbury Settlement House, which served Scandinavian and European immigrants and other residents in the area from the 1890s to the 1960s. The “Pill House,” as it was affectionately called, was part of an international movement of settlement houses established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide civic, social, educational, and recreational services to newcomers in dense urban neighborhoods (Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago is among the most well-known). In the 1960s, Pillsbury House merged with other settlement houses to form Pillsbury Waite Neighborhood Services.
In 1968, when the building was torn down to make way for a highway, Pillsbury continued to provide youth programs and opened the Currie Center to serve youth and adult residents in Riverside Plaza. But the space was small and inadequate to address the needs of the community. Together with neighborhood and civic leaders, Pillsbury led a multi-million dollar campaign to build a new center.
The Coyle Center opened in 1993, named after Minneapolis City Council member Brian Coyle who was a dedicated advocate for affordable housing and civil rights. When the new building opened its doors, most of the people it served were African Americans, whites and Vietnamese refugees. Coyle Center director, Bob Frawley, hired staff who could speak Vietnamese to make the space more welcoming and better serve these new residents.
The following year, Somali refugees began arriving in large numbers. They started the Confederation of the Somali Community, which became a community affiliate of Pillsbury United Communities and was housed in the Coyle Center for two decades. This is the oldest and longest-running Somali organization in Minnesota. Mohamed Ali was the first director of the organization. As Frawley recalled, “We stepped out of our first meeting and there were ninety chairs lined up in the hallway. All were filled with Somalis waiting to talk with him. I knew then it was a good decision to support this organization.”
The Coyle Center’s mission is to empower residents and adapt to the needs of the communities it serves. It offers programs for recent immigrants and refugees including resettlement services, ESL classes and employment training. It also hosts community organizations, adult and youth programs, a food shelf, a gym, recreational activities and community meeting spaces. Innovative programs for East African youth include a youth council that advocates for youth concerns in the neighborhood, a basketball team for Muslim girls, and a program that encourages youth entrepreneurialism.
Coyle staff believe passionately about making this center “a place for everyone,” and though the demographics change over the years, it strives to be a place where people of diverse backgrounds can build community.