Guest column: Open grants support children and welcoming communities – Albert Lea Tribune

Guest column: Open grants support children and welcoming communities

Published Friday 23 September 2022 at 20:45

Guest column by Tim Penny

The start of the school year coupled with Welcome Week, a national series of inclusive events, makes me think about two things: how to ensure that the needs of children and families are addressed this school year and how to improve welcome initiatives in our communities ? At the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we are fortunate to be able to play a funding role for organizations working in both fields. We currently have two open grants that we encourage groups in our 20-county region to apply for.

Tim Penny

The Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grant is a program being piloted in 2021. The 10 organizations that received funding in this first round have developed projects focused on creating more welcoming environments for traditionally excluded people.

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A key focus of the scholarship is to create economic opportunity and prosperity for diverse communities. The Rice County Neighbors United group began creating a business association to provide minority-owned business owners with an opportunity to empower, while the Minnesota Council of Churches in Mankato provided opportunities for refugees and immigrants to develop and start businesses. Other projects have focused on creating welcoming environments. The Winona Schools worked to improve the cultural skills of their staff to better serve refugee and immigrant students, while an arts group called StoryArk engaged students in the Mankato area in storytelling methods to empower them to share their life experiences.

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An exciting outcome of this experience was that the 10 grantees met as a cohort over a period of 18 months. They shared ideas and deepened their understanding of what it means to be inclusive and just in our communities and in our local economies. Organizations interested in applying for this grant should visit for details. Applications are due October 24th.

In the area of ​​early childhood, we offer the Early Care and Education Grant. SMIF has provided financial support to dozens of organizations to support essential services for children from birth to age 5 in our region. During the latest round of funding, Kasson-Mantorville Schools addressed the growing need for additional mental health support for children and their families. The Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in Lanesboro expanded its education and development to support preschoolers. St. Charles Schools developed a literacy program for students, teachers, and families. All of these grantees do an incredible job to ensure the needs of our area’s youngest children are met.

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Organizations interested in applying for this grant may propose projects related to mental health services, training and development, and social, emotional, and physical health needs. Projects are encouraged to support underserved and diverse populations. Visit for details and application. Applications are due on November 7th.

Tim Penny is President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Penny represented Minnesota’s 1st congressional district in the US House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.

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