Twenty-five years of giving is reason to celebrate — not just for the 761 Foundation, but the entire community.

And that’s just what we did last week. First with a small gathering of those who have supported the Foundation since its inception and then at the Huskies football game where board members handed out a thousand “celebration cookies.”

Both events offered me an opportunity to reflect on the 761 Foundation’s many accomplishments.

• Since its inception, the Foundation’s assets have grown from roughly $50,000 to about $3.7 million.

• The Foundation’s mini-grant program has expanded from a single award of $16,000 to the Owatonna High School Ag Department 25 years ago to 53 smaller awards totaling about $110,000 this year. Over the past 25 years, mini-grant awards have totaled more than $2 million, helping to fund hundreds of local school programs

• And then there are the scholarships. This year alone, the 761 Foundation awarded more than $140,000 to graduating seniors who excelled during their high school years and now need financial assistance with their post-secondary education. Over the years, the 761 Foundation has awarded nearly $1.4 million to our graduates.

Frankly, I’m extremely proud of this organization’s rich tradition of giving – a tradition that could not and would not exist if it weren’t for the generosity of those who have contributed so generously.

As much as I’d like to recognize each donor individually, there isn’t enough space here. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the late Robert Chladek who left a substantial portion of his estate to the 761 Foundation in the mid-90s

The Chladek gift was the 761 Foundation’s first major donation, the catalyst – if you will – that allowed us to become a major funder of and for students in this community.

For that reason, the 761 Foundation Board created the Robert Chladek Academic Ag Scholarship in 2015. The 761 Foundation now awards a $5,000 scholarship each year to a graduating senior in Steele County who plans to study agribusiness at a college or university. This year, two graduating seniors, Anthony Manderfeld from Medford High School and Lexie Ignaszewski from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School, split the award.

Yes, there is a lot to celebrate and there’s more to do.

Although assets have grown significantly since the Foundation’s start in the early 1990s, needs continue to outpace our ability to fund mini-grant requests. We simply can’t fund all the requests we receive from worthy and innovative programs.

About a year ago, I noted that Owatonna’s current students are tomorrow’s leaders and they deserve this community’s full support as they pursue their dreams and make their way into the world of adulthood. I know the 761 Foundation will continue to play a pivotal role in making that happen.

It’s also the reason I’m committed to building on the 761 Foundation’s past successes, to helping this community “Invest in Young Minds,” whether it be through scholarships, mini-grants or programs not yet envisioned and to ensuring that the Foundation remains true to its original intent.

Since its inception, the 761 Foundation’s goal has been, and still is, to provide funding to teachers and principals for programs and activities that enhance educational opportunities for all students – creative and innovative programs that would not otherwise be funded with tax dollars and to provide for post-secondary scholarships.

An Owatonna native, Bruce Paulson chairs the 761 Foundation, a 501©(3) tax-exempt organization committed to enhancing educational opportunities for public school students.

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at jjackson@owatonna.com

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