Tatanka Bluffs: creating vibrant communities through collaboration

Image courtesy of http://www.tatankabluffs.com/

As the Minnesota River surges south to join the Mississippi River, it dances between the bluffs of Renville and Redwood counties. Standing atop a lush emerald hill, you can see how the swirling stream of water stitches the shores together –connecting the two counties.

Beyond the whooshing waters, for years the two counties remained detached, each having a different vision for the future of their region.

“It just didn’t make sense,” says Redwood resident and Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP) alumnus Loran Kaardahl. “[In Redwood] we tried expanding the industrial park and doing more traditional types of economic development, but chasing smokestacks was a losing proposition for us. And we didn’t have the money to compete with our neighbors. We needed to collaborate.”

So in 2007, a group of seven BCLP alumni, along with other area leaders from Redwood and Renville, set out to identify collaboration opportunities. They started by mapping the assets of the area. They found that it wasn’t a particular community in either county that had “star quality,” but rather that the Minnesota River corridor that divided them offered potential for bringing them together.

“The recreational potential of the corridor is immense,” says Julie Rath, Economic Development Specialist at Redwood Area Development Corporation and BCLP alum. “What’s even more unusual about the corridor is that between two state parks are five Renville County parks. That’s 50 miles of trails with more than seven camping destinations. Of all the hiking and biking trails out there, I don’t think there’s one that has the same level of connectivity as this one.”

With the joint dream of a thriving, connected region, the Green Corridor Initiative was born. Featuring unique geology and miles of pristine wilderness, the intent of the initiative is to acquire, restore, preserve and develop the available resources so the Corridor transforms into a premier recreation destination for travelers throughout the Upper Midwest.

Legacy Funding from the State of Minnesota supercharged their efforts as they began to clean up, beautify and connect the different parts of the Corridor.  Now only six gaps stand in the way of a fully linked trail system.

Increased attention and growing popularity of the Corridor has spurred more community members – from both counties – to get involved.

“It’s almost like watching the spring thaw,” says Kaardahl. “The concept of a larger, spatial community is gaining recognition. We’re now in this together.”

“We now see ourselves as 26 neighborhoods in one community, only separated by corn fields,” says Rath.

 

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Lake County chronicles their journey to broadband adoption on YouTube

The North Shore is a destination for many Minnesotans who want to unplug from everyday life — figuratively, not literally of course! Even in times of relaxation, we still want to be able to stream our favorite television show, search the address of that delicious cafe, or YouTube a tutorial on how to set the hook when we catch that big Lake Superior fish.

But high-speed broadband is a key that can open many more doors that just the one that leads to happy tourists.

As a historically underserved area, Lake County applied for federal stimulus funds in 2012 to build a countywide broadband network. After a few years of hard work, they recently signed up their first customer. From the digital natives in the schools, to the digital immigrants in the workplace, community members from around the county have pulled together to identify and implement broadband initiatives that contribute to the health and vitality of their area.

As a project coming out of the Blandin Broadband Communities Program, Lake County recently launched their own YouTube channel, chronicling their journey to broadband adoption. Videos highlight the important role broadband plays in education, community leadership, health care, economic development, etc. Below is one video from their channel. Visit the Lake County Digital Institute channel to see the entire library.

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Minnesota Council of Nonprofits expands presence in Greater MN

Nonprofit leaders connectingLeaders are at their strongest when they’re connected. We’ve learned, by engaging with our network of over 6,000 leadership alumni, how great things happen when people take the time to share knowledge, expertise and plans.

This is especially true for rural nonprofit leaders. Every nonprofit brings a unique understanding of the challenges facing today’s rural communities. When they come together, they can improve services, share costs and gain a better sense of what’s needed for a whole, healthy community.

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) gets this, and for the past 15 years they’ve been connecting nonprofits to training, to sector-specific information, and to each other. In recent years, they’ve focused on expanding their presence in Greater Minnesota.

“Minnesota has one of the most robust and varied nonprofit sectors in the country, and that is true from rural counties to large cities,” says MCN executive director Jon Pratt. “While the cities have historically had more resources and assistance available for people involved in nonprofits, organizations in other parts of the state have similar interests in developing their governance, funding, government partnerships and human resources.”

MCN currently has chapters in northeast, central and southwest Minnesota where they have 544 members. In 2013, members got connected to knowledge and resources by attending any of 45-plus MCN events.

The value that nonprofits place on these events is apparent in the rise in memberships (282 percent over 15 years in Greater Minnesota). However, a significant part of the state remains without a chapter. This is a barrier for rural nonprofits looking to access capacity-building resources that can advance their ability to achieve their missions.

In part, through $150,000 in Blandin Foundation support, this gap will close over the course of three years as MCN establishs two additional chapters in southeast and northwest Minnesota.

“As the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has increased activities outside the Twin Cities, we learned that proximity counts for a lot,” says Pratt. “With support from the Blandin Foundation, MCN will now, for the first time, be able to have a permanent presence and point of contact in every part of Minnesota. We are thrilled to be establishing a regional office in Rochester this fall, and doing the same in Northwest Minnesota after the first of the year in 2015. MCN staff and board members will be holding a series of meetings with nonprofit leaders in each region to identify priorities and plan activities for the coming year, with more to come.”

Stay updated on MCN’s plan to develop chapters in southeast and northwest Minnesota by following them on Facebook.

 

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Raise your voice! Join in planning for the future of the Great River Road

Aerial view of creekMinnesota is blessed with an abundance of awe-inspiring bodies of water, and while we boast about our 10,000 lakes, there is nothing more magnificent than the mighty Mississippi River. Once the nucleus of trade and commerce, the Mississippi River now functions as a beautiful reminder of the health and vitality of our state.

To preserve and enhance the corridor surrounding the river, the Mississippi River Parkway Commission and the Minnesota Department of Transportation have teamed up to create a new Corridor Management Plan for the Great River Road, a national scenic byway since 1938.

Before they kick off the planning process, they want your help! If the Mississippi River is an integral part of your community’s history, like it is in our home community of Grand Rapids, or if you simply love driving on the Great River Road, you might consider attending one of the events being held to connect Minnesotans to the project.

You can go to learn about the Great River Road and what’s been accomplished along it, identify your favorite stops and destinations, share your travel experiences, write about why the river is important to you, and share ideas on amenities and facilities that should be developed in the future.

Check to see if they’re stopping by you.

7/21/14 – Boom Island Park Picnic Shelter, Minneapolis

7/32/14 – Riverside Park Picnic Shelter, St. Cloud

7/24 – Minnesota Marine Art Museum, Winona

7/28 – Diamond Point Park Pavilion, Bemidji

7/29 – KAXE Rotary Tent, Grand Rapids

7/30 – Lum Park Picnic Shelter, Brainerd

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Blandin Foundation awards $4.4 million in grants

Blandin Foundation trustees approved during their June quarterly meeting 52 grants totaling $4.4 million that strengthen rural Minnesota communities.   Trustees also chose to extend by another 10 years and $21 million the Foundation’s decade-long investment in local early childhood programming for at-risk children and their families through the Invest Early™ initiative.

Invest Early braids initiatives and supportive resource streams for children ages 0-5 and their families, providing transportation, family development, extended day services and mental health support in addition to high-quality early childhood education.   Invest Early is governed by the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, advised by a local family services collaborative, and operated by a multi-discipline Invest Early leadership comprised of representatives of KOOTASCA Community Action, Head Start, Itasca County Public Health, local school districts, Blandin Foundation and Itasca Community College.

Blandin Foundation initiated the Invest Early initiative based on community input in the 1990s.  Since then, the Foundation has invested more than $40 million in Invest Early—its largest grant investment ever.

Trustees also have awarded a grant to the Tiwahe Foundation, which is building an American Indian leadership alumni network across rural communities in Minnesota.   Tiwahe’s mission is to be a resource for giving and to strengthen American Indian communities by building capacity through leadership, culture, values and vision.   Tiwahe has created a model of collaborative philanthropy, engaging multiple funding sources.  Blandin Foundation’s grant of $225,000 over three years leverages support for this alumni network by several other Minnesota foundations, such as St. Paul Foundation, Bigelow Foundation and Headwaters Foundation.   Blandin’s grant also builds on its relationships and learning developed over 13 years with more than 500 reservation community leaders who have participated in its Blandin Reservation Communities Leadership Program.

Similarly, a grant awarded to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits will strengthen Minnesota’s network of rural nonprofits.   Through $150,000 in support over three years, MCN will establish two additional chapters in southeast and northwest Minnesota, increasing access to quality nonprofit management training and capacity building resources for nonprofits.  Existing chapters serve Greater Minnesota from Duluth, St. Cloud and Mankato.  With these additional resources, MCN will continue holding statewide and regional nonprofit summits in Greater Minnesota, create local networking opportunities for nonprofit leaders, and continue to complete and disseminate annual research on the impact of nonprofits on Minnesota’s economy.

“Across rural Minnesota, we see every day what local leaders can do,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, CEO and president of Blandin Foundation.  “Wise leaders know that creating a shared vision for the future, a vision arising from and embraced by the community, is the engine that powers change.  Through these grants and in many other ways, we are thankful to be able to stand with hopeful, rural communities and leaders who are accomplishing amazing things.”

Click to view a complete list of grants awarded during the June 2014 meeting.

Who’s in rural’s corner at Blandin Foundation?

In the words of rural Minnesota native Bob Dylan,  times they are a-changin’ at Blandin Foundation. In just a few short months, we’ve said goodbye to cherished, long-time colleagues and we’ve also welcomed new talent. Here’s an update on who’s in rural’s corner at the Blandin Foundation.

Mary Kosak retires

Mary Kosak

Mary Kosak

After 18 years of commitment to the work of the Blandin Foundation, grants program officer Mary Kosak  retired. Mary began working with the foundation in 1998 as a consultant to the Children First! Initiative, which she helped design and  carry out with a group of dedicated community leaders who wished to respond to our community’s need for early education.

Five years later, Mary joined our full time staff and for the last eleven years, she has worked as a grants officer, concentrating mainly on education and youth grants — again, with particular interest and attention to creating systems that support at-risk children and families.

She has been one of a dedicated group of local leaders behind the success of the Invest Early initiative, an area-wide initiative that provides support for at-risk children and families so that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and thrive.

We will miss Mary’s spirit greatly around here. We will miss her positive and contagious mood, her energy to always show up and pitch in outside of work, and last but not least her unmatched passion for the success of the state’s littlest learners.

Gary Rosato retires

Gary Rosato - Blandin Foundation

Gary Rosato

Since 1993, Gary Rosato has been a dedicated staff member of the Foundation. Gary led the building, grounds and hospitality team and provided a welcoming, safe and clean environment here at the Foundation.

Many changes have occurred during Gary’s time with the Foundation and he was instrumental in initiating, implementing or maintaining them. Here are a few highlights:

  • In 1999, Gary oversaw the construction of the Foundation’s third floor.
  • Gary led internal infrastructure improvements needed because of information technology changes.
  • Gary updated the building by going green and saving energy as new and improved technology became available.
  • Gary maintained the beautiful green space located across the river known as River Park.

We will miss Gary’s smiles and sense of humor, his Foundation-first values and his real-life experiences which he shared every day.

Thank you for your 21 years of service!

Kyle Erickson joins Blandin Foundation

Kyle Erickson

Kyle Erickson

This month, Kyle Erickson joined Blandin Foundation as a grants program officer. In his new role, Kyle will join the Foundation’s efforts to develop and support relationships with organizations strengthening rural Minnesota communities, especially those that align with the Foundation’s strategic priorities of a vibrant Itasca County area, investing in community leadership and expanding opportunities.

Kyle earned a degree in secondary education from Crown College and holds a Certificate in Fundraising Management from Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. Prior to joining the Foundation, Kyle served as the director of institutional advancement at Leech Lake Tribal College.

To get to know Kyle better, we asked him a few fun questions:

What can’t you live without?

Well, I suppose that I could live without fishing, but I’d rather not. Being on the water is my primary form of recreation/therapy.

What is your proudest moment?

After six years of advocacy work, last year I was finally able to help push a bill through the Minnesota legislature to provide state funding for Minnesota’s tribal colleges. It was so rewarding to be part of a process creating long-overdue legislation.

What do you love most about your job so far?

I grew up in a poor community where people too often focused on community problems. I’m so excited to be a part of the Foundation’s work that is focused on developing solutions to create stronger communities and greater opportunity in rural Minnesota.

What does a vibrant rural community look like to you?

Short lines at the food shelf and long lines at the stores — all people’s basic needs being met, allowing communities to focus time and energy on growth.

There you go! Now you’re all caught up on who’s in your corner at the Blandin Foundation.

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Leadership change at Minnesota paper could mean more coverage of rural

Sunrise in Bemidji, MNIn a move that brings Minnesota’s largest newspaper back under homegrown ownership, businessman Glen Taylor finalized his purchase of the StarTribune last week. Taylor, who is originally from Comfrey, Minn. (population 382), already has displayed his rural roots, stating that he would like to see the StarTribune increase their statewide coverage. In last Monday’s paper he said:

“When I was a young person, and we lived on the farm, boy, I’ll tell you a lot of people got the Tribune … and I don’t want us to end up [as] a Minneapolis or suburban paper,” said Taylor, who grew up in Comfrey, a town 50 miles west of Mankato. “I think it should be a statewide paper, and anything I can do to support that, and help in that area, I’m going to do that.”

This is good news for rural. In our 2013 Rural Pulse survey, 34 percent of rural Minnesotans, and 26 percent of urban residents, said that the rural voice is not being heard by legislators and policymakers. Furthermore, in a 2013 Center for Rural Affairs report on rural voice, 27.5% of rural respondents said that having a statewide presence is the most important element in promoting public policy and economic development interests in Minnesota. Sustained, in-depth coverage of Greater Minnesota could help bring rural issues and triumphs to a bigger stage.

Keep us updated on any shifts you see in rural news coverage and we will do the same!

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Grants Reports: 6 Ways to Wow your Funders

Photo at Grantee Update EventSo you got the grant. Congratulations! After a round of back slaps and high fives, get to work. Fast forward a handful of months and it’s time for a grant report. Let’s be honest, it’s about number 1,398,482 on today’s to-do list, but it’s got to get done. To make the writing process as trouble-free as possible, here’s a handful of helpful hints from our grants team on what makes a compelling grant report.
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To support rural work, connect the dots

As alumni of the Blandin Community Leadership Programs well know, social capital is a cornerstone of community work.

But what does rural Minnesota’s social capital look like on a larger scale? A team of rural Minnesota experts decided to find out.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality along with Jane Leonard of Minnesota Rural Partners shared a snapshot of Minnesota’s rural networks at the Center for Small Towns Symposium. Their findings? Rural Minnesota has the right connections to get policy, economic and community development work done.
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Think people, not place in rural migration

The interplay between urban and rural migration demonstrates the pattern identified in the Age of Return Migration

Ducks migrate for a reason. The Earth spins and triggers their “biological clock,” alerting them that it’s time to go. Global forces shape their movement.

Though human and duck migration patterns look very different and are driven by very different forces, according to geographer Jim Russell, one conclusion can be drawn – migration is a global affair.

In his keynote at Center for Small Towns Symposium, Russell stated that the dominant perception asserts that migration trends are the result of local or regional impacts, not global. Instead, Russell argued that global forces shape local migration trends. Using three economic eras in conjunction with “iconic migrations” – Manufacturing/Great Migration, Innovation/Sprawl, and Legacy/Urban Millennials – he demonstrated how the flow of people reflect the job opportunities of time.

So now that we know our kids are leaving the rural communities after high school and adults are returning in their 30s and 40s, what era are we in?
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