Playground popularizes St. Paul school

Linden Dungy and his wife Donna Dungy paid a visit to the new playground at Joy Academy and visited with schoolchildren. (submitted photo)

Jill Yanish
Review staff

Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Dungy Family Foundation, the St. Paul Bethlehem Lutheran Church’s school, Joy Academy, is able to finish its playground project.

“We’re the first school in the state of Minnesota to receive this grant,” Joy Academy Principal Timothy Raddatz said.

“From our perspective, this is a great opportunity and recognition on behalf of this foundation for us to continue their mission of working with urban schools.”

The grant, plus an additional $2,000 personal donation from Dr. Linden and Donna Dungy, helped Joy Academy cross the finish line in its fundraising efforts for the $34,500 playground renovation. The foundation awarded the grant to the school on July 10.

A green oasis

The Dungy Family Foundation primarily works with Christian organizations, pregnancy care centers and organizations focused on youth development.

Linden Dungy, a Twin Cities dentist and a member of the Dungy Family Foundation, said the mission of the foundation is “to find those agencies or organizations or individuals that are community-based. ... If we support them to support the community then we’ve helped on a larger scale.”

Besides being known for its philanthropic causes, the Dungy Family Foundation is also recognized for its founder Tony Dungy, a former University of Minnesota quarterback, NFL player and head coach (with a 2007 Super Bowl win) and current analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America.

The foundation is based in Tampa, Fla. It works with organizations in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Linden Dungy is the foundation’s connection to Minnesota. He said Joy Academy fits the foundation’s mission to help those in need.

The kindergarten through sixth-grade school, which also offers early childhood programs, has a culturally and economically diverse student body. Located at Forest and Margaret streets in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, the school had 20 students last academic year.

Typically, the Dungy Family Foundation supports youth through literacy funding. However, the foundation views the playground as an improvement to the overall quality of the school and for the students’ well being.

“From an educational piece - sound mind, sound body,” Linden Dungy said. “Those things go hand and hand. It’s now a safe place.”

The playground also will provide children with “green space,” something that is often limited in urban schools, Raddatz said.

Moving up in ranks

The playground is more than a green oasis for Joy Academy - it’s the school’s key for improving its quality ratings.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has previously criticized Joy Academy for its former playground structure, said the Rev. Nathan Raddatz, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

The DHS and the Minnesota Office of Early Learning has a rating system for childcare and early-education programs and gave Joy Academy a rating of three out of four stars. The report, called Parent Aware, stated that the playground hindered the school from receiving the highest rating, he said.

“The playground will hopefully lead us to four stars,” Nathan Raddatz said.

The playground renovation features two areas — one for grades three and younger, and another for grades four through eight.

The school raised $16,000 to the first phase of the process, which is the area designed for younger children. The school was in process of fundraising for the $18,500 second stage when it received the Dungy Family Foundation grant.

Timothy Raddatz said that the playground might help attract more students to Joy Academy. Nathan Raddatz added that the school hopes to add grades seven and eight in a couple of years.

In addition to building enrollment, Timothy and Nathan, who are brothers, foresee the playground engaging the community, a goal of the church and school.

“We were really excited to be able to help Joy Academy,” Linden Dungy said. “We hope it’s a stepping stone for continual growth for them.”

Jill Yanish can be reached at or at 651-748-7825.

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