We're Here for You, Central Minnesota: COVID-19 Updates


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COVID-19 Early Childhood Grants

Minnesota Department of Education Early Childhood Grant Opportunity

Initial Grants Focus on Programs, Distance Learning, Safety

The Initiative Foundation has recently been awarded $416,000 in funding from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund to create a series of three grant cycles. The overarching goal is to support early childhood programming that benefits children birth to 8 who are adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including illness, economic displacement and the interruption of educational and/or development supports.

The Initiative Foundation will issue three sequential grant-making rounds. Emphasis will be placed on equity in support of underserved communities, including areas of concentrated poverty, ethnic minorities and/or English as a second language, disabled individuals and/or those in rural areas who lack access to basic early childhood educational services.

This first round of grant-making concluded on Aug. 28 and will provide immediate support for educational programming:
  • Two grants of $15,000 to support summer programming
  • Four grants of $15,000 to support distance learning
The first round also aims to support mental health services or support for educators or providers; social, emotional and physical health supports for early childhood professionals and children; and training and development to more effectively operate and address student needs during the pandemic.
  • Four grants of $5,000 will be awarded to support regional training that supports multiple sites or cohorts
  • Five grants of $2,500 to support community-level training for childcare providers and educators
Safety enhancements also are eligible:
  • Eighteen grants of $1,000 each will be awarded for supplies and equipment or training for providers/educators to aid in their efforts to adapt to COVID-19.
The application period for the first grant round closed on Aug. 28. Select the tabs on this page to learn more about upcoming grant opportunities.
Note: No applicant will receive funding in more than one area during any of the three planned grant cycles. The Initiative Foundation will make every effort to award grants in each of the 14 counties it serves to support a geographically diverse approach.

Timing for Future Grant Rounds

The Initiative Foundation anticipates releasing a second round of grants in late autumn, likely in November 2020, to accommodate the change in season and new and evolving adaptations in how to best manage hygiene in early childhood settings.

A third grant round will occur during spring 2021 with the goal of completing all projects by August 2022. The Initiative Foundation will make every effort to focus on geographic diversity and to award grants to support grant proposals in each of the 14 counties it serves.

Grants Must Support Central Minnesota Children

Applicants must demonstrate that all funds will be used to support or otherwise benefit children (ages birth to 8) within the Initiative Foundation’s 14-county service area: Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the sovereign tribal nations of the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe. Funding requests for use outside of this geography will not be considered. Individuals are not eligible to apply for grant funds.

School districts are eligible to apply but may wish to explore MDE funding exclusively available to schools.

Likewise, regional Leech Lake and the Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe tribal nations are eligible but should also explore the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council’s Covid-19 web page or the MDE website for additional opportunities.

Gather Your Grant Application Information

Information required in each application:

  • Applicant should determine which of the five categories they seek to support
  • Number of children served (projected)
  • A list of vulnerable populations served (e.g. rural, low-income, foster care, racial/ethnic minority, etc.)
  • Number of providers/educators trained (where applicable)
  • Impact of funding on target population (qualitative statement)
  • Any additional funds leveraged (in instances when these funds help secure additional support or from the grant/financial report provided by the applicant organization)
  • Lessons learned (key learnings from the project or what the recipient would do differently or advise others if they were to attempt a similar effort)

Target population should be expressed as goals, and must be documented in final (closeout) reports, including numbers serving in the following categories:

  • Low-income students
  • Students with disabilities
  • English learners
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Migrant students
  • Students experiencing homelessness
  • Children in foster care
  • Rural students disproportionately impacted by pandemic

Early Childhood in Crucial Need of Support

Over the past decade, rural Minnesota communities have lost many early childhood providers and educators. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of these professionals face challenges to stay in the field. Resources for training, social-emotional and physical health supports and new distance learning programs are greatly needed. However, little or no funding is available.

Since March 2020, the Initiative Foundation has been working during the pandemic to support the child care field throughout Central Minnesota. Requests from providers and educators continue to rise, increasing the demand for additional funds.

The service region of the Initiative Foundation has a population of more than 750,000, and the focus of these grant cycles will be on the underserved populations most impacted by the pandemic. Because of the large, varied region we serve, we know the importance of the right-sized solutions in each community due to their diversity, poverty, health equity and other barriers.

Data from Minnesota Compass indicates that Central Minnesota has an average poverty rate for children (ages birth to 5) of 9.4 percent. However, 10 of the region’s 14 counties—those beyond the Twin Cities metropolitan ring counties—have rates in the 10 to 15 percent range.

The pandemic has exposed dramatic disparities across our communities, with some families impacted only by the “change of habit” of now working remotely while others face job losses, housing and/or food insecurity, and even more limited access to health care. One example is households where a family member works in a meat-packing facility (a workforce nearly entirely Latinx or East African). As one elder noted, “We live in large families in small quarters; when one family member becomes sick it spreads to everyone.”

Many child care professionals were severely impacted by the governor’s stay-at-home orders as parents pulled their children from child care and/or struggled to make payments. Low-income households also are affected by loss of access to school- and child care-based nutritional programs, and many lack access to internet, which has been the primary tool for supporting distance learning.

“These three grant rounds are designed to fund a wide range of activities, from distance learning and summer programs to programs that support the mental health of childcare providers to training on how to talk to kids about the pandemic and basic supplies to clean and sterilize child care facilities,” said Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation vice president for workforce and community development. “The bottom line is that we need to support our underserved communities and deliver real, meaningful resources to bridge the gaps, especially for those who lack access to basic early childhood educational services.”



 Don Hickman
Vice President for Community
 Workforce Development
(320) 631-2043


Jessy Beto
Program Specialist

(320) 631-2057