Pausing to be grateful at the end of a year

Published 9:36 am Thursday, December 24, 2015

Guest Column by Tim Penny

It seems impossible we’ve reached the list-making time of year again — wish lists, gift shopping lists, holiday card lists, lists of resolutions for becoming better people in 2016. Certainly, there are several things I’m looking forward to in 2016: Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, along with the five other Minnesota Initiative Foundations are all celebrating our 30th anniversary, SMIF will be wrapping up our strategic plan and we’ll continue to foster recently launched programs.

TIm Penny

TIm Penny

Amidst all these forward-looking lists, I feel it’s also prudent to pause to list things we have to be grateful for from this past year. Here is my 2015 gratitude list:

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1. SMIF’s work toward a more equitable, inclusive southern Minnesota. We partnered with Blandin Foundation and Bush Foundation this summer to offer a Leadership in Ethnically Diverse Communities workshop series to deepen relationships across ethnic differences. Additionally, we received funding from Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development to launch The Prosperity Initiative, intended to increase the capacity of minority-owned businesses.

2. The expansion of SMIF’s Quality Child Care Program. With additional funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota, Otto Bremer Foundation, Mardag Foundation and Medica Foundation, SMIF will now be able to offer trainings for child care providers in 14 of our 20 counties.

3. The Foundation’s First Annual Early Childhood Care Conference. We welcomed over 300 child care providers to Owatonna this fall to ensure they received training to maintain their continuing education credits. Our future generation depends on educated, equipped caregivers.

4. The Entrepreneurial Bridge Conference and Banquet. This event brought together 125 individuals from 50 high-growth, high-potential southern Minnesota businesses for networking and workshops at the Hormel Historic Home in Austin this fall. Already, one new Peer Network has emerged from this conference, focused on the food sector.

5. The strengthening of SMIF’s local foods work. Supporting local foods is a key component to diversifying our region’s economy. SMIF once again was a lead sponsor for the second annual Feast! Local Foods Marketplace at the Rochester Mayo Civic Center. This year it drew more than 1,500 people, 100 exhibitors and 70 buyers.

6. The collaborative spirit of southern Minnesota leaders and residents. Our first Regional Community Growth Initiative spurred some great collaborative projects among the smaller communities surrounding Rochester, notably SE MN Together’s work to address the workforce shortage already affecting our region.

7. The ideal weather throughout the spring, summer and fall led to a boom year for our region’s farmers and our rural economies.

8. An informative regional bus tour to our four westernmost counties: Brown, Faribault, Martin and Watonwan. Our board members from those counties did a great job of lining up residents, businesses and educators to give the foundation’s staff and board a chance to listen in on areas of concern and opportunity.

9. The fact that SMIF’s donor base continues to be a source of strength for the foundation; the entrepreneur fund hit $1 million with the support of many long-standing financial partners. We also strive to be good stewards of the dollars entrusted to us holding our administrative costs to 10 percent.

10. The good health of good company. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I feel fortunate to spend my days surrounded by a loving family, a dedicated staff and board and many regional partners working for a brighter future.

While things are relatively happy and healthy in our neck of the woods, it’s also been a noteworthy year marked with pain and tension in our larger world community. It makes me all the more appreciative for this chance to reflect on how far we’ve come as we embark on another year working together toward progress.

On behalf of the foundation, holiday blessings to you and your family. I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.


Tim Penny is the president of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.