OWATONNA — “The importance of community funds is that it helps a community invest in their own future,” said Tim Penny, the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, or SMIF.
A community investing in itself was one of the many messages that were shared during the annual SMIF luncheon on Thursday. During the event, presenters spoke about the different ways SMIF has helped organizations progress in the areas of rural philanthropy, economic prosperity for immigrants and refugees, and school readiness. The theme of the day was “Moving the Needle.”
“Moving the Needle literally means to change a situation to a noticeable degree,” Penny explained. “We’ve been investing in the areas of early childhood, economic development, and community vitality for 32 years now, which means that many of our partners have been influencing change in these areas for a long time, long enough to change the situation to a noticeable degree.”
According to Penny, 30 percent of the 176 communities in Southern Minnesota are home to a community foundation, with half of those being administered by SMIF.
“Community foundations are an important way to capture and retain philanthropic wealth, which is becoming increasingly important as $7 billion is expected to transfer between generations by the year 2030 here in our region,” Penny added, as he introduced Dan Christianson of Preston Area Community Foundation to speak on the way SMIF is helping organizations “move the needle” on rural philanthropy.
Christianson explained that the Preston Area Community Foundation has been able to provide several community improvements throughout the years, including updated playground equipment at schools and city parks, a free night at the local theater for families, new tennis courts, and several others. Their next venture is to construct a Veteran’s home with the goal of raising $1.2 million through private donations and grants.
The luncheon crowd also heard from Fatima Said, the executive director of Project FINE based out of Winona. Said, a refugee from Bosnia, spoke on how SMIF has helped her non-profit “move the needle” on economic prosperity for immigrants and refugees. Project FINE has been serving refugees and immigrants in Southern Minnesota by offering a variety of services to both newcomers and established residents.
Two representatives from A Chance to Grow, a school readiness organization, spoke at the luncheon as well. Cheryl Smythe and Jessica Kittleson explained that though they are a Minneapolis based organization, SMIF has allowed them to travel to Southern Minnesota to provide S.M.A.R.T. — Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training — workshops for teachers to better provide the educational tools they need to serve all children. Because of this training, they state that they are ‘moving the needle’ on school readiness.
At the end of the event, Penny announced that Community Economic Development Associates, or CEDA, is the SMIF Partner of the Year, stating that the organization touches on all the same pillars that SMIF stands on as an organization.
“On behalf of our board of directors and our team members, I am very proud and quite frankly very humbled to accept this Partner of the Year award from SMIF,” said Ron Zeigler, thepresident and CEO of CEDA. Zeigler stated that because of help from SMIF many years ago, CEDA is now able to cover five different states and 40 different communities.
For the 2018 fiscal year, SMIF was able to invest $1.5 million in early childhood, impacting 17,213 children. The organization also invested $1.8 million in economic development, allowing 711 entrepreneurs to receive support through lending or programming. SMIF also helped 159 communities in 2018 by investing $990,217 in community vitality.