1. Overview
  2. Mission
  3. Objectives
  4. Testimonials
  5. Leadership



City Stay is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that sparks unlikely connections across the dividing lines of our community through experiential education. City Stay applies an innovative approach to education and community building. It brings the concept of study abroad to the local level by allowing Minnesotans of all colors and creeds to live with a new Minnesotan family from a different culture. Participants can continue building on their cross-cultural relationships and their language skills after the program ends. More broadly, the relationships City Stay facilitates reduce community mistrust and social inequality in the Twin Cities. These connections serve as an ongoing tool to build a more informed and connected community that fosters intercultural understanding in an increasingly diverse world.

Our primary program lasts one week and is available to high school students, college students, and adult professionals. During the day, participants engage in dynamic dialogues with a wide range of presenters from the immigrant communities of Minnesota. Topics include urban studies, immigration and the cultures of the Twin Cities. In the evening, participants live with a local family from another culture. The heart of this program is the homestay component. Participants of all backgrounds build meaningful and informative relationships with carefully-matched local families in the Latino, Somali, or Hmong communities.

In addition to the primary program, City Stay also offers workshops that help enhance cultural competency around the largest immigrant populations in Minnesota. In this capacity, we primarily serve educators, social service and healthcare professionals, religious leaders, and students.


City Stay provides experiential education that breaks down barriers and sparks unlikely connections between the diverse cultural communities of the Twin Cities.


  • Foster meaningful and lasting relationships between people of diverse backgrounds
  • Prepare the next generation to live and lead in a multi-cultural world
  • Share the cultural richness of the newest Minnesotans with a wide audience
  • Reduce community mistrust and social inequality by facilitating dialogue, study, and action


“Definitely much more than I expected! So well planned, so many connections with new community leaders and other resources. This has refocused both my personal and professional life.”

“[City Stay] opened me up to new cultures like never before. I was outside my comfort zone for nearly the whole time, and it introduced me to new ways of life, culture, and religion. My most valuable experience was staying with a Somali family. It showed me how similar and different we all are. I’m so glad I participated in City Stay, it opened my eyes, gave me great experiences, and introduced me to wonderful people.”

“[City Stay] is very refreshing and unique. I like how it pushes you out of your comfort zone by placing you directly with groups of people you would not normally talk to… My Hmong family is extremely caring and generous. They are really willing to share their experience and knowledge with me. I would love to have a long-term relationship with them… [City Stay] is one of my most memorable experiences. For an international student like me, it is a cultural experience within a cultural experience. I gained more knowledge of the people of Minnesota in this one week than in the year and a half I had already spent in Minnesota. It raised my attention to the uniqueness of every single one of the cultures, including my own.”

“I previously had little to no interaction with people of these cultures we learned from. I was previously completely ignorant of the cultural makeup of the Twin Cities and I now have a greater understanding of who lives here and a desire to connect with my neighbors of a different culture. Thank you for deepening my cultural understanding of the Twin Cities. I see this experience as a launching pad for me.”

“I appreciated the variety of experiences. It whet my appetite to learn more. [The program] taught me to ask questions. It’s something I do in other parts of my life all the time, but not of other cultures. I always thought me questioning would show ignorance or be offensive. It was such a valuable experience!”

“The experimental nature of the program was so rich and kept us so engaged. The structure of the program was broad, deep, and made sense. [The program connected us with] resources out there for immigrants, and created the possibility for real connections this week and ongoing with the Twin Cities’ diverse cultures. The visits to the Somali and Hmong malls were like stepping into their worlds. Unforgettable. I’m leaving this class much more aware of the histories of my Mexican, Somali and Hmong students, parents and neighbors.”

“[The program presented] an opportunity to connect with people of different cultures that I would not have on a daily basis. It was really well done. Thanks for helping me out of my comfort zone and inspiring me to learn and experience more.”


Julie Knopp (Director)

brings diverse professional experiences in education and community outreach to City Stay. For five years, she served as a coordinator and developer for Peace House, a Minneapolis house of hospitality that encourages constructive public dialogues. She has also worked as a bilingual (Spanish-English) programs coordinator at Minneapolis Public Schools and Autism Comprehensive Educational Services in El Paso, Texas. Julie currently teaches in an elementary Spanish immersion school. She earned her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College and completed master’s coursework on religious dialogue at Yale University.


James Zacchini (Board Treasurer)

was born in Boston and raised in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He currently serves as the Senior Implementation Associate for World Savvy, a 501(c)(3) which educates and engages youth to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens in the 21st century. Most recently Jim served as the Project Manager for the Global Competence Certificate Program (GCC), a first-of-its-kind, graduate-level certificate program in global competence education designed for in-service teachers and administrators which was developed by World Savvy in partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Asia Society. Prior to working with World Savvy, Jim was the Assistant Program Director at the Minnesota Humanities Center, and focused on cultural programming throughout the state’s diverse communities. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and American Studies from Providence College, a Masters in History and American Foreign Policy in Asia from Marquette University, and is in the final stages of completing an Ed.D. in Organizational Development and Leadership at the University of St. Thomas.


Veelie Alba (Board Member)

is a Minnesota native with extensive experience studying, working, and living abroad. She earned her undergraduate degree in International Management from Gustavus Adolphus College and a M.A. in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute. Veelie’s professional work is in international higher education and consulting. Prior to this she worked in corporate human resources and leadership development. She has a heart for intercultural experiences and social change, and is passionate about intentional engagement with diverse communities of the Twin Cities.

Erin Horst (Board Secretary)

is an educator who was born and raised in southern Minnesota and recently returned to Minneapolis raise her baby daughter. Erin is passionate about using education to empower students to become change agents and leaders in their own communities. Erin completed Bachelor’s Degrees in Global Studies and Spanish Language at the University of Minnesota and spent a year studying development issues in Ecuador with the Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID) program. After college, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the I Have A Dream Foundation of San Francisco. While working there, she discovered a passion for supporting students in underserved communities and working towards educational equity. In order to deepen her commitment to these goals, she joined the Aspire Teacher Residency program in Los Angeles, California and completed her Masters of Education degree at the University of the Pacific. After completing her teaching residency, she became a high school English teacher at Aspire Public Schools, serving predominately low-income students, in East Palo Alto, California for five years.

Kelly Halpin (Board Member)

is from the suburbs of Chicago and holds majors in Environmental Studies and Music from St. Olaf College. She currently serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the West Metro, focusing her time on community impact models and youth/mentoring volunteerism to lessen the achievement and opportunity gaps for children in schools. Her interests in intercultural dialogue and global citizenship began in college, as she served with her college’s chapter of Team Tibet, spent a semester studying food welfare in India, and grew increasingly involved in the international community at St. Olaf. Kelly has a passion for multicultural education, for diversity inclusion, and for racial equity in our schools and communities. She is excited to be a part of City Stay and supporting local models that bring Minnesotan communities together.