Throughout June, I had the pleasure of visiting people from all over the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) 20-county region at our Sprout events.
These events, held in New Ulm, Dundas and Winona, provided an opportunity to directly share SMIF resources and stories so that more people can take advantage of the funding and support services we offer to help communities in the region to prosper.
Our staff are often on the road to meet customers, organize training and visit partners. However, we don’t have many opportunities to bring together people from our three program areas — early childhood, economic development and community vitality —. Sprout Events did just that. Similar to a Business After Hours, these events were primarily focused on networking, building new relationships and doing what we do best: collaborating for regional vitality.
Not only were people from all walks of life able to come together in one place to make important connections, but we also had a short program at each Sprout event where several of our partners shared their stories of how the work with the SMIF has had an impact on their communities.
Betty Uehling, director of early childhood and family education programs at New Ulm Public Schools, was one of many early childhood professionals who shared how receiving free books helped early literacy of young children in the district. She also shared how important it was for her staff to attend trainings on developing social-emotional development skills for children, which prepares them for success in school and in life.
Our economic development partners spoke of the support they have received and the programs on which they have partnered with SMIF to support economic growth in the region. Fatima Said, executive director of Project FINE, a Winona-based nonprofit that helps new immigrants integrate into life in Minnesota, spoke about creating pathways to prosperity for entrepreneurs through support from the SMIF.
We also heard how our partners contribute to community vitality. SMIF supports 30 community foundations in the region, including the Wabasha Kellogg Area Community Foundation. Dr. Bob Mann, Past President of the Community Foundation, spoke about the many ways they have been able to reinvest in the community. Whether it’s providing free youth pool passes, raising money for the local library to add an addition to the kids, training a mental health professional who serves Wabasha, from starting a tree garden to replace trees that have been lost to the emerald ash borer or making the food shelf more accessible, the Community Foundation has partnered with SMIF on many initiatives that give back to their small town and its surroundings.
I hope everyone who attended these events came away with new information on how they can partner with SMIF to help their communities thrive. If you weren’t lucky enough to attend our Sprout events this year, you can watch videos of our speakers and view photos from the events by visiting smifoundation.org/sprout.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at [email protected] or 507-455-3215.
Tim Penny is President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He represented Minnesota’s 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994.