BJ Skoog ’12 is a “Relational Router” in His Home Community of Richfield

BJ Skoog is one year into creating events and connections at the helm of the Richfield Leadership Network, and he’s just getting started.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

June 30, 2023 | Noon

BJ Skoog

BJ Skoog ’12

At first, BJ Skoog ’12 was reluctant to consider Bethel.

He has many alumni in his family, and there are countless connections between his home congregation—Hope Presbyterian Church in Richfield, Minnesota—and the Christian university just up 35-W. It wasn’t an official campus visit or Bethel’s list of majors or even the campus that did it for him, but a visit to a friend.

“I got to know his roommates,” he says simply. “That experience convinced me that it was a really cool, tight-knit community. Bethel’s made up of a lot of people who know how to have fun, but there’s also a depth there. I wanted a faith community, and that’s truly what drew me in.”

Once on campus in the fall of 2008, he realized he had a knack for making connections and creating meaningful experiences. He was part of the team behind “The Show” for incoming first-year students during Welcome Week three years running. He planned events and concerts for Student Activities through Bethel Student Government. He also studied abroad on the “Band of Brothers” trip with Football Coach Steve Johnson, played and refereed sports, became a teaching assistant, rapped with the band The Sota Boys, and excelled in his organizational communication major. For Skoog, it wasn’t so much about building a resume but making the most of the experiences available to him. If there was something going on, he wanted to be a part of it. And if he saw an opportunity to bring talent together to improve an event, policy, or student experience—he would grab it.

During senior year, in search of an internship, Skoog got reconnected to Hope and ended up in contact with Cesar Castillejos S'10, who had launched a partnership with Young Life.

“It was a free-for-all, if I’m honest. It was not very developed yet. There were leaders holding 3-year-olds, and 18-year-olds taking smoke breaks. It was this mix of church kids and not,” Skoog recalls. “But it triggered something in me. I thought, ‘maybe I want to do youth work.’ To give back to my community—the folks who helped raise me—that was really important.”

Skoog realized that for all the learning he’d done in the classroom at Bethel, he’d also learned a lot navigating campus offices and budgets to bring ideas to life for students. He knew that sometimes scrappy, bring-what-you-got teams can make the most impact—and that was exactly what was playing out in the newly-formed Young Life ministry. That fall, he skipped Homecoming to join Castillejos at a youth conference in San Diego. It confirmed his inkling that youth ministry was at least something he wanted to explore, but he applied at a few corporate jobs just to keep his options open.

To make a long story short, Skoog didn’t go the corporate route. He moved home to Richfield and became the director of the high school Young Life program at Hope. He’s built a meandering but purposeful career using the skill set he developed at Bethel: when a door opens, or when a need arises, he steps up. He’s a guy who makes connections and gets it done.

“I want to serve the city. How do I use this platform to best serve my community of Richfield? Running youth programs; connecting with city leadership and local government, civic and faith leaders, school administrators. I want to use my longevity and history in this community to get to know people, and then use those connections to serve people.”

— BJ Skoog ’12

Skoog spent seven years managing the Young Life ministry, and got to know the local Chamber of Commerce. He joined it, and even did a stint as president. He got connected to a start-up that did character and professional development, and got to know lots of young people and the organizations supporting and developing them locally. He also became more aware of the challenges facing his community.

BJ Skoog

BJ Skoog ’12 receives the 2022 Richfield Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award.

As a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis, he explains, Richfield is unique. It’s diverse, both racially and socioeconomically. There’s a sense of pride and a “weird small-town feel,” he says, referring to it as an “urban hometown.” He mentions his neighbor, who’s lived in the same place for 30-plus years. There are young families mixed in with residents of just about every background and income level.

“There’s something really cool about how anyone can invest here and feel comfortable here,” Skoog says, adding that because he’s a white male, he acknowledges his experience is not necessarily the same as all others. “There’s still work to be done here. It can be really transient. We’re the ‘starter homes,’ and we’re trying to develop housing policies and find ways that Richfield can continue to attract and keep young people.”

In 2019, Skoog launched the nonprofit Richfield Leadership Network (RLN). He started simply, interviewing local leaders and highlighting them on Instagram, part-time. He was trying to connect people, without an agenda.

Fast forward a bit, and Skoog and his wife, Lexi GS’24—a manager on Bethel’s marketing team—were living with family across town during the pandemic. Working other jobs and feeling disconnected from the community they had gotten to know in Richfield, Skoog reached out to his friend and mayor of Richfield, Maria Regan Gonzalez. “I know the pandemic makes this tough, but how can I help?” he asked.

Gonzalez introduced Skoog to Dirk Ficca, the founder of Twin Cities Social Cohesion Initiative (TCSCI), which had funding from the GHR Foundation and invested in RLN to build social equity within the community. Ficca died of an aggressive form of cancer in 2021, but Skoog and Maria remained in contact with the TCSCI board and in 2022, officially gained GHR funding to expand the work of RLN. In March 2023, Skoog moved into a full-time capacity

“It’s all about building relationships one-to-one, and seeing how connections can bubble up and lead to something,” Skoog explains. He mentions the “4 Cs” that are core to what he’s about—connectivity, collaboration, creativity, and community—and the idea of being a ‘relational router,’ an idea developed by Art Erickson at Urban Ventures. “People to people, and people to resources. That’s what I get to do for RLN, within the seven square miles of Richfield. How do you build avenues and lanes of connectivity between people so that we can do more together—not just being all talk, but having an impact?”

With the “4 Cs” in mind, his unique skill set, and funding from GHR, he began to flesh out the real ways RLN could play a role in the community. He sees the organization as akin to legacy, local civic organizations like the Rotary, League of Women Voters, and Optimist International, with local volunteers and residents coming together to better their community.
Bj Skoog

Former Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez (left), BJ Skoog ’12 (right), and the team behind the Mixto Mural at Galaxy Foods in fall 2022.

Skoog convened a diverse advisory committee for RLN, seeking out voices that could expand his thinking. They started Hometown Leadership Gatherings, bringing in keynote speakers to inspire and unite local leaders and residents. They launched Hoop Local, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament fundraiser that purchased new hoops for Donaldson Park, where the inaugural tournament was held. In fall 2022, Skoog was part of a team that coordinated the installation of a mural at Galaxy Foods on 71st and Chicago. With input from local residents, artists Ricardo Perez—a Richfield resident—and Sebastian Rivera Cintron created the mural, with an augmented reality component created by Amir Berenjian from REM5 Studios. It’s Minnesota’s first augmented reality (AR) mural, and it’s become a catalyst for ongoing conversations about how to engage the community in place-making projects. For Skoog, these are a few early wins in an organization—and a movement—he hopes will only grow from here. And he credits Bethel with helping develop him into the leader he is today.

BJ Skoog

BJ Skoog ’12 and his team at the Hoop Local basketball tournament.

“Bethel was very instrumental in bringing out pieces of me that I didn’t understand—and helping me express them fully, in new ways. My experiences there really informed me: what I was looking for in my community, the friendships I wanted, and how my faith was part of my day-to-day life.”

— BJ Skoog ’12

Looking back, Skoog acknowledges that he’s always brought people together. Whether for one-time events or other projects, he’s valued the type of community he found at Bethel—and it’s something he’s carrying forward as a local leader.

“For some reason, I’ve always been drawn back to wanting to invest in the community of Richfield. I’m in my lane right now; I’m in my sweet spot. This is the lane I've been prepared to run in…and my experiences have prepared me for it,” he says. “Like anyone, I can sometimes ride the wave of personal insecurity, but when I take a step back and hear the voices of the people around me, I know God is affirming I’m in the right place.”

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