Get to know your STEP Board of Directors


Sometimes when I mention I’m a STEP board member people are a little confused by exactly what that means. A nonprofit Board of Directors is often not as visible as they could be and maybe even a little bit mysterious.

I’d say being a member of the STEP Board of Directors actually means I’m part of one of the most generous, hard working volunteer groups you’re ever likely to meet.

Currently there are 18 board members at STEP and we all volunteer for either a three or a four year term. Our board members do this because they genuinely care about the community they live in and want to give back.

From talking with people who serve on other boards over the years I’ve come to learn the STEP board functions in a way that is not commonly seen elsewhere. We are a “working board”. Everyone on this board enjoys getting involved and making things happen. We volunteer far more time than many people might suspect, in fact, some of us treat this like it’s a second job. The hours spent on various projects and events really add up! This is what makes being a member of the STEP board such a rewarding experience. The camaraderie. The shared goals and vision. The teamwork.

We have members from many different backgrounds who bring all kinds of skills to the table. We are school teachers, sales people, small business owners, doctors, lawyers and stay at home parents. Just recently the former Mayor of St. Louis Park, Jeff Jacobs, has rejoined us for a second term of service. It takes all kinds of experience to do this successfully and everyone joins in wherever they feel they can best help.

The official STEP mission is as follows; “STEP strengthens our community by responding to the basic emergency needs of individuals and families in St. Louis Park.

As an individual board member our job is to, “Provide governance to the organization, represent it to the community, and accept the ultimate legal authority for it.”

This means we are all held accountable for the financial well being of STEP and making sure all our efforts to grow the organization and help our community are done within the law. It also means we are out and about in St. Louis Park attending events both hosted by STEP and otherwise. We are out there meeting people and telling them about STEP in a constant effort to bring awareness to our mission.

I asked the chair of the board, Dick Parsons, to tell me about something that he has accomplished during his time with us that he was particularly proud of. He said, “Probably the event I find most rewarding was leading the team of board members and friends of STEP that helped find, fully vet, and then purchase our current home at 6812 Lake Street. In 2009 and 2010 we looked a several buildings before we finalized the acquisition, signing the mortgage in March 2010.  Moving into the building in May 2010 fulfilled STEP’s long held dream of a permanent home.  Then, thanks to generous donors and strong community support, we were able to pay off the mortgage in 2013”.

You can see from this example board members are involved in every aspect of running the organization from planning of fundraising events and hosting them all the way up to finding a new building to house the organization! It truly does take a strong team of people with very different fields of expertise.

Of course, as Dick mentions, the success STEP has experienced in its mission is a reflection of the community we have here in ST. Louis Park. People here really do care and want to help their friends and neighbors in need. This makes our job a lot easier!

STEP Board of DirectorsHere’s a photo of the current STEP Board of Directors. We are your friends and neighbors. We are volunteers. We love what we do and guide this organization with integrity, pride and hard work.

However, we couldn’t any of it without the support of people like you.

Absent: Cindy Motzko, Dave Homans, Erin Gonzalez-Bardzinski, Joe Tatalovich, John Steffenhagen.

Thank you!

Jason Alvey

This article was written by Jason Alvey in 2016 for use by STEP with its community engagement efforts. 

Hidden Struggle


Houses in St. Louis Park

Poverty and economic struggle in St. Louis Park is hard to see.

At STEP we see it every day.

One of the challenges we face at STEP is promoting awareness of this problem in our community. Many are simply unaware of the struggle some people in St Louis Park face. It’s hidden from view.

Dozens of people come to STEP every day for assistance. They are your neighbors. They live in your apartment building. They live three doors down on your street. People who need assistance may work with you but you’ll never hear about what they’re going through because the stigma associated with needing help; they’re not going to just come out and tell you how difficult their lives are. Problems may stem from very personal issues and remain secret. In fact, many of our clients have no one else they can talk with; the social workers at STEP are their only friendly but unbiased person they can go to. Can you imagine how difficult that must be?

There are many ways lives can be economically disrupted. A Harvard study showed that medical crisis causes a massive 62% of personal bankruptcy filings. It’s worth noting 70% of that group did have health insurance. It just wasn’t enough. Even with insurance, either a single health incident or chronic situations can create substantial debt and loss of income. It can happen to anyone.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose circumstances have changed. Imagine all your savings gone. Imagine all your credit cards maxed out and the credit collectors calling every day. Accompanying this can be lack of social outlets, unrelenting stress, and feelings of inadequacy due to coming up short on what you expect to be able to provide for your family and yourself. It can have a significant impact on your mental health, making stabilizing your situation even more challenging.

dsc_0088STEP is here to nonjudgmentally provide basic needs for our friends and neighbors who are suffering. We help them with food, clothing and rides. Perhaps by meeting people’s needs we are able to help people keep their dignity.

Thank you for helping us with our mission.

Jason Alvey

This article was written by Jason Alvey as original content for use by STEP in its outreach efforts.

You can learn more about STEP by visiting their website:

The most pervasive beer myth ever.

The myth – “Beer will be ruined if you take it out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature.

Variations on the myth:

  • If you let beer warm up to room temp and then chill it again it will be ruined.
  • If you let cold beer warm to room temp it’ll get skunked.

We heard this myth or some variation of it at The Four Firkins many times a day. It is easily the most common beer myth and it seems to be getting more popular and widespread no matter how many people we tried to convince that it’s not true.

The fact is, taking your beer out of the fridge and letting it warm to room temperature has no noticeable effect at all.

You could take a beer in and out of a fridge ten times, letting it warm each time, and there’s no way you’d be able to tell in a blind taste test if it had been treated as such. Most beer at the retail level has already been through two or three temperature fluctuations before it even got to the store.

Two things happen to beer as it gets old. Firstly: Proteins from the malt fall out of solution, the same proteins that give the beer a beautiful head of foam will eventually clump and become nasty looking floaties if left long enough. Secondly: Oxidization will occur. The interaction of oxygen with the beer over time causes it to have a grainy, wet cardboard flavor. In some beers it comes across as a sherry of crayon like flavor. Heating the beer will speed up both of these processes but the small temperature change from the cooler to the room is not enough to make either of those things happen immediately. You would have to do it dozens, if not hundreds of times.

We’re not talking about “Skunking” here. “Skunked” or “light struck” beer is beer that has been penetrated by ultraviolet light. The U.V. light breaks down the hop molecules and produces a chemical off aroma and flavor that actually smells like a skunk. Only U.V. light can cause this reaction. It’s nothing to do with temperature.

Extreme temperatures will ruin beer, although misunderstandings about this are also abundant. Leaving your beer in the car on a hot summers day while the car is stationary and the windows are up will destroy your beer very quickly. The inside of a car can get up to 130 degrees in about an hour on a hot day. It’ll kill a dog; ruin yogurt and most certainly destroy your beer. It’ll be undrinkable and you’ll have wasted your money.

Ironically many of the people who tell us they won’t buy beer from our cooler because they are afraid it’ll warm up and get ruined see nothing wrong with leaving it in the trunk of their hot car all day!

The lack of understanding regarding beer and how to treat it is a cultural problem that has existed since your grandfather was paying $3 a case.

What is going on? How did we get so confused?

Big breweries and their advertising campaigns seem to be the culprit. Early claims that pasteurization made beer almost indestructible are the biggest offenders. Constant talk of “Ice cold beer” and images of snowy peaks or bottles of beer in ice have been another common theme.

More unusual campaigns focus on things like, “Tripel hopped”, “Dark brewed”, “Cold filtered” or “Brewed with alpine spring water”. All of these concepts and others are either outright fabrications or meaningless statements. They attempt to make a beer seem different somehow, when in fact, it’s not.

It appears the decades of beer commercials have worked. Not only have they convinced most Americans that a beer should be freezing cold and flavorless, they’ve left us all so misinformed about the product that we’ll believe anything!

It’s time to take back the beer knowledge. The next time you hear someone complain that the beer will be ruined if they take it out of the fridge you’ll be able to quietly explain to them, “Hey, that’s not actually true, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

My wife and I both ride bikes.

My wife and I both ride bikes, as do most of our friends. We ride them to work and we ride them for exercise and fun. When we are riding on the street we always obey the rules of the road. We are courteous, friendly and very aware of the traffic around us. When I’m riding to work on my bike I’m saving gas, staying fit and reducing traffic. Traffic is made of cars. Cars are traffic. Not bikes.

On a bicycle I am easily passed by anyone driving a car. That driver may have to wait one or two seconds to pass me safely but ultimately I am not going to cause that driver any delay at all. The cars ahead of them might, but my bicycle and I won’t. That driver is not going to be late for work because I’m on my bike. Nobody has ever said to his or her boss, “Sorry I’m late, this cyclist was just awful this morning, he delayed me for half an hour.”

The Greenway alone sees 5000 cyclists per day. That’s a lot of cars off the road and I think it could be a powerful message if delivered the right way.

The rage, the name-calling and the threat of violence that is sometimes directed at me from a driver is completely disproportionate, inappropriate and in some cases, very scary.

More and more people are taking to bikes in large cities around this country to get to work and other places. How long before we can do so without fearing misdirected anger from drivers? Share thisdsc_0468 and let’s politely remind them that cyclists are not traffic. Cars are. Sure there’s some bad apples out there on bikes but overwhelmingly cyclists are good people from all walks of life. Your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers all ride bikes and we take cars off the streets when we do.

I want to live in a city where I know my wife will be safe when she rides to work. We’re not quite there yet.

Good beer, bad labels

Let’s talk about sexist beer labels.

This article was originally posted to Facebook in 2014 and received over 10,000 views. 

Recently someone at a retail liquor store out east emailed me to ask if I’d ever refused to stock a beer because the label was sexist or offensive. My answer, sadly, was “Yes we have”. In all my time in the beer industry I’d never yet seen a label as blatantly misogynistic as this one that she was referring to. We chose not to include the image here or even a link. If you want to see it, just Google “Mt. U Cream Ale” and click on image search. It’ll come right up.

A Google search will quickly find many more offensive and sexist beer labels from all over the U.S. The mind boggles at what is going through the heads of the people designing and approving these labels. These are examples of the very worst however, many breweries are labeling their beers with images or names that are maybe not quite as blatant but still using innuendo and sexism to try and sell their product.

Many craft breweries seem to forget their customer base is not exclusively 23-year-old guys. Having said that, I know plenty of 23-year-old guys who are mature enough to realize these labels are terrible. So who are these labels aimed at? Are breweries intentionally looking for a customer base of sleazy uneducated men? I doubt it. It seems to be a case of little education and in these specific cases at least, total ignorance. The label designers do not realize that labeling their beers with images of women in lurid positions is not only an insight into an obviously dirt-bag culture at the brewery but also limits their potential customer base.

Ask most people what a Craft Brewery is and I’m sure you’ll hear all kinds of romantic notions about artisan, old school brewing techniques, passion, and creativity. Those are certainly the kinds of things I think about when dreaming of my favorite craft beers. These sexual labels and juvenile dirty names are nothing but lowbrow, immature and nasty.

When I entered the craft beer industry in 2008 I never would have dreamed that some craft brewers themselves would be contributing to a culture of disrespecting women.

I reached out to our branding and web specialists, Bicycle Theory for a professional opinion. Here’s what owner Ben McCoy had to say about the issue:

The challenge with sexual innuendo in marketing is it’s potential to repel as many customers as it attracts.

What male-dominated industries (like beer) often forget, is that sexual innuendo is basically a one-trick-pony. It may spur a few individuals to pick one up for fun, but it also objectifies half the population. And over the long term, this approach will almost certainly create more problems than it’s worth. Some may say “relax, it’s just a joke.” And that’s great. If your brand is a joke, then put it on blast and enjoy the ride (while it lasts). But the type of investment required to produce and distribute beer makes this a very expensive joke. Others may say that “all press is good press,” but most craft brewers we know can’t afford the time or money that PR challenges of this nature may require. And still others may say, “but it’s a niche brand and haters gonna hate?” Fantastic. Hate is just a niche that requires you to absorb on ongoing stream of negativity, because haters also love to hate.

 So can sexual innuendo work? Yes. Will it increase your brand’s reach? Doubtful. Is it worth the hassle? Probably not.”

Here at The Four Firkins we see every day how craft beer is enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Craft beer is no longer a niche. There are plenty of people who would never buy beer with such a label no matter how good the beer inside was.

Imagine a busy professional woman buying beers for the office get-together. Do these brewers think for a minute that this woman would buy a beer with a label like this and present it to her coworkers?

How about the father of a 13-year-old daughter. Is that man likely to sit on his couch and drink this beer in front of his little girl? No. He’s not. Unless he is also ignorant and doesn’t care about the message he’s sending his daughter.

In my experience as a specialty beer retailer I can say this with some confidence: Other than brewing bad beer the second best way to ruin or devalue your brand is to put bad labels on your beer.

Marketing is powerful stuff. Bad marketing is even more effective at turning someone off your product than good marketing is at getting people to purchase. We see evidence of this every day here in our retail stores. No matter how good a beer is, even with our encouragement, if someone doesn’t like the label they will not buy it. Furthermore, if the retailer themselves is so offended at a label they won’t even stock the beer then chances of a consumer purchasing it drops quickly to zero.

Here are some labeling guidelines for any new breweries out there who might be reading this as they struggle with naming their beer, label design and logos.

  1. If you are thinking of portraying women on your label in a demeaning manner: Don’t do it.
  2. Avoid using juvenile sexual innuendo in your names. It will limit and eventually decrease your sales. If you’re unsure how offensive it might be show it to your wife, your grandmother, your daughters or any woman you know.
  3. Think about imagery and design that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people. People of all ages and both genders drink craft beer.

Craft beer enthusiasts are often very disappointed with the beer selection at high-end restaurants. These abysmal beer lists are often due to a lack of education on the part of the restaurant, especially when found alongside a brilliant wine and cocktail selection. But in some cases, poor packaging is a legitimate justification. Imagine serving a trashy image on a craft beer bottle next to a bottle of imported Pinot Noir. For craft beer to continue to rise to fine dining status, the caliber of packaging must match that of other beverages.

Sexually explicit beer labels make it more difficult for all craft breweries by worsening the overall image of the entire industry.

If you see a beer with a label that offends you let the retailer know you don’t approve. The retailer is not forced to carry the beer, they make a conscious choice to do so. If the brewery and the store never get any feedback this issue may never go away.

Jason Alvey.