Guest column: Open grants support children and welcoming communities

Published 8:45 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

Guest column by Tim Penny

The start of the school year in conjunction with Welcoming Week, a national series of inclusive events, has me thinking about two things: how to ensure children and families’ needs are being addressed this school year and how to enhance welcoming initiatives in our communities. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we are fortunate to be able to play a role in funding organizations that work in both spaces. 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 that was piloted in 2021. The 10 organizations that received funding in that initial round have developed projects that focus on creating more welcoming environments for traditionally marginalized people.

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

An exciting outcome of this experience was that the 10 grant recipients 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 equitable in our communities and in our local economies. Organizations interested in applying for this grant can find details at Applications are due Oct. 24.

In the early childhood space, we are offering the Early Care and Education Grant. SMIF has awarded dozens of organizations funding to support essential services for children birth to age 5 in our region. During the last 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 their training and development to support preschoolers. The St. Charles schools developed a literacy program for students, teachers and families. All of these grant recipients are doing incredible work to ensure the needs of our region’s youngest children are being met.

Organizations interested in applying for this grant can 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. Details and application can be found at Applications are due Nov. 7.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Penny represented Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.