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Growing Upside


Foundation Programs Strengthen Nonprofits from the Inside Out

By Liz Potasek
Illustration by Chris McAllister
Photography by John Linn

When a foundation aims to strengthen an entire region, there are at least two strategies to consider. 

You can pass around a few shiny apples, or you can fertilize the ground so the trees distribute more fruit. Sure, it’s easier to share apples, but it’s always more effective to grow deeply rooted trees.




Ashley Grahek, a St. Cloud State University graduate with a degree in social work, had some experience working with nonprofit organizations. But she couldn’t find a full-time job in her field. So she made the difficult decision to quit her waitressing job and join AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America). 

Joining VISTA meant living on reduced means, but it also provided Grahek with the opportunity to obtain real-world experience. Through VISTA, Grahek landed a year-long position working with the after-care program at Anna Marie’s Alliance in St. Cloud. 

Founded in 1965, VISTA pairs volunteers with organizations involved in anti-poverty work. Central Minnesota VISTAs have done everything from launching programs to provide cars and repairs for people in need to creating a curriculum for financial literacy. 

After her year with VISTA, Anna Marie’s Alliance hired Grahek as after-care services coordinator and women’s advocate. “Everything about this job is what I was looking for,” Grahek said of the position she began in August 2010. 

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