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Regional Highlights

“ By making books more accessible to emerging readers, we are increasing early literacy and school readiness. This program helps to prepare our community’s children for future success in life.”
– Imagination Library grant recipient Devon Charlier, Crow Wing County United Way


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MORRISON: Bridge-building kits provide lessons in physics, creative thinking and cooperation.

MORRISON COUNTY | Little Falls Students Build Bridges for Education
More than 200 Little Falls high school students learned engineering concepts—and so much more—during a scale-model bridge-building exercise. With support from the Little Falls Education Foundation, a Partner Fund of the Initiative Foundation, the school was able to purchase bridge-building kits and structural-testing tools to teach students about force, energy and laboratory safety while brainstorming, creating and working as a team.

TODD COUNTY | Free Books Light Up Faces, Illuminate Minds in Todd County 
Through its “Reading for the Future” program, the Freshwater Education District, with support from an Initiative Foundation grant, provided 1,500 books to eligible children in Todd County. “The multitude of smiles we see each time we distribute books is phenomenal,” said early childhood education coordinator Lisa Wick, whose district serves Bertha-Hewitt, Browerville, Henning, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Menahga, Sebeka, Staples-Motley, Verndale and Wadena-Deer Creek.    

WADENA COUNTY | Community Movie Nights Keeps Things Local, United in Staples
Staples is building unity through Community Movie Nights, an offshoot of its participation in the Foundation’s Thriving Communities Initiative (TCI). The city purchased equipment to show popular movies in parks and other public locations. At the end of a recent showing, a girl approached organizer Jarel Nelson and said, “Thank you. I’ve never seen a move that big.” Nelson told the family to come back the following week to watch another big movie. “I still see them every week,” she said. 

Alyssa-Lennander.jpgCROW WING: VISTA service member Alyssa Lennander pictured with a Brainerd Public Library  3D printer.

CASS COUNTY | Primed and Ready for Commercial, Residential Growth
Research has found that Pine River is primed and ready for commercial and residential growth. With support from an Initiative Foundation grant, Cass County Economic Development Corporation and the Pine River State Bank, Pine River is conducting a housing study to evaluate its market-rate housing. Housing availability is essential for communities as they work to attract and retain workers, and researchers find that the need for market-rate housing is high in Pine River.

CROW WING COUNTY | VISTA-driven Innovator Lab Helps Mold Young Brainerd Minds
Alyssa Lennander can boast some impressive numbers as an Initiative Foundation-supported AmeriCorps VISTA service member with the Brainerd Public Library. Lennander served 1,333 students during her year of service with the library and its BRAINerd Innovator Lab. She assisted with 3D printers and a variety of other fun technology projects as she worked to elevate access and inspire income-eligible youth to learn about science, technology, engineering and math.

MILLE LACS COUNTY | Rum River Community Foundation Celebrates With ‘Ardy Party’
Ardis “Ardy” Becklin, a go-to supporter of the Initiative Foundation-hosted Rum River Community Foundation, recently was honored at a surprise “Ardy Party.” During a celebration in Milaca where the foundation distributed $3,750 in grants, Ardy was recognized for her work since the inception of the organization in 2013. The Rum River Community Foundation works to improve area parks, outdoor assets and recreation while focusing on engaging activities for residents and visitors.

Green-Card-Voices_1.jpgSTEARNS: Green Card Voices highlights the stories of Central Minnesota immigrants and refugees.

BENTON COUNTY | Helping Local Students Excel Through Junior Achievement
Students in the Sauk Rapids-Rice school district are learning about finance, entrepreneurship and career readiness with support from an Initiative Foundation grant to Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest. With more available jobs than workers, and projections for the trend to continue, the Junior Achievement program prepares youth for the future while teaching valuable life skills. Thanks to backers, the program reached nearly 1,000 Sauk Rapids-Rice students during the 2017-2018 school year.

SHERBURNE COUNTY | Becker Bulldogs Unite Behind New Education Fund
The Becker Education Foundation has joined the family of Partner Funds hosted by the Initiative Foundation. Becker alumni Nathan Ernst and Nick Crowley established the fund to support student educational experiences, connect alumni and garner community support. While still in its early stages, the education fund committee hopes to grow the endowment and offer students opportunities for career exploration, mentorships, networking and more.

STEARNS COUNTY | Immigrants Share Their Stories Through Traveling Exhibit
Green Card Voices, a traveling exhibit showcasing the stories of 18 first-generation immigrants and refugees from Central Minnesota, is reaching hearts and minds throughout the region. With support from the Initiative Foundation and other local organizations, the display features life-sized photos, biographies, quotes and video links that explore their journeys. If you’d like to see the exhibit in your community, contact Natalie Ringsmuth at natalie(at)unitecloud.org.

WRIGHT COUNTY | Area Counties Hire Economic Development Coordinator
Economic development coordinator Mark Hanson has been hired to support Benton, Sherburne, Stearns and Wright counties in their work to ease the transition as Xcel Energy retires two coal-fired generators. The coal-to-natural-gas conversion could eliminate up to 300 jobs and is anticipated to have a significant effect on the local tax base. The economic development effort is supported by the Initiative Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and other regional entities.

Nancy_Tracy_GPS45-93.jpgCHISAGO: Nancy Hoffman (left) of GPS 45:93 and Foundation Trustee Traci Tapani are ready to champion career readiness conversations.

CHISAGO COUNTY | Five-County Career Readiness Effort Gets $10,000 Boost
A career readiness effort driven by GPS 45:93, a five-county economic development consortium, received a boost earlier this year when it was awarded a $10,000 Initiative Foundation grant. The project, serving Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs and Pine counties, brings together school staff, city and county representatives and business owners to explore “Innovative Approaches to Career Readiness” as a way to shore up regional workforce shortages.

ISANTI COUNTY | Tusen Tack Bolsters Mission With Governance, Fundraising Plans
A new board, a fine-tuned strategic plan and a fundraising committee are helping Tusen Tack, a Braham-area thrift store, ramp up its efforts to serve the community. Backed by a strong mission, Tusen Tack’s deep volunteer base provides thousands of hours of service annually to support area nonprofits, including the Braham Event Center and the local food shelf. The Tusen Tack planning effort was supported by an Initiative Foundation grant.

KANABEC COUNTY | New Leader, Refrigeration Unit Keep Mora Food Shelf Humming
The Mora Food Shelf is marching toward greater financial stability with a new director and the installation of a new refrigeration unit. The additional refrigeration unit is expected to save the food shelf $700 per month in operational costs. It was part of a package of capital improvement support provided by the Foundation for Essential Needs in partnership with the Initiative Foundation.

PINE COUNTY | Pine City Schools Have Vision for Early Childhood Screening
Childhood vision disorders can often be overlooked and misunderstood. As part of its continuing effort to ensure students are ready for school, the Pine City school district, with support from an Initiative Foundation grant, recently purchased a Spot™ Vision Screener. The mobile device creates the opportunity for vision screenings at early childhood events. Screeners can then make ophthalmology referrals for children as young as 6 months, increasing the likelihood for school and future success.


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