From Our Home to Capitol Hill

Today we’re joined by Colleena Bibeau, Indian Services Student Advocate and Tutor at Grand Rapids High School. This month she had the opportunity to accompany local students as they traveled to Washington D.C. to see the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree. Here’s her experience.

Local students follow this year's Capitol Christmas Tree from their home to Washington D.C.

When I saw the U.S. Capitol holiday tree from Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe on Capitol Hill, I was amazed and I said to our students, “look there is the tree!” As a tutor in American Indian education, I worked along with many Native American and non-Native American leaders from northern Minnesota to make this trip a success for our youth from all over Minnesota–Leech Lake reservation to urban, suburban, and rural areas alike. Simultaneously in the early 1900s, my great grandfather and great great grandfather made their living by timber logging and resided near Ball Club lake on Leech Lake reservation. I have a sacred spiritual and familial connection with Leech Lake as a place I call my home. Moreover, the history of my Ojibwe grandfather’s work in forestry a century earlier interestingly relates to the 2014 holiday tree along with the crucial roles of the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Band serve in taking care of our sacred land today.

This rewarding experience was a once in a lifetime chance for 135 Native American students to see our 88 year old, White Spruce tree on Capitol Hill. Our youth visited the United States Capitol headquarters, danced at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and viewed several monuments. I had the pleasure to chaperon a handful of well behaved and intelligent Grand Rapids High School students. I think the students were most excited when the Holiday tree was finally lit at the official ceremony and the U.S. Navy played music to accompany the delightful cheers and laughter of our group of over 200 elders, children, and adults. Along with the tree ceremony, our students were so happy to join together in celebrating our Anishinaabe traditions in a dance performance at the National Museum of the American Indian.

To see the more photos from the students’ trip to Capitol Hill, visit the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s Flickr page.



Who’s championing rural philanthropy?

Around our office, you often hear – “If you’ve been to one rural community, you’ve been to one rural community.” Understanding that every rural community is unique and has its own challenges and opportunities is central to our work.

Sometimes, though, a challenge is so pervasive that it does impact all rural communities. Philanthropy in rural is one such challenge.

Last week, Nonprofit Quarterly writer Rick Cohen penned a thought-provoking piece entitled, “What Ails Rural Philanthropy and What Must Be Done.” In it, he talks about the downward spiral of philanthropic funding in rural communities across the U.S.

He says,

“Summarizing other reporting we have done on rural philanthropy comes out roughly the same, a picture showing that the philanthropic resources devoted to rural America have not kept up with the moneys flowing to metropolitan and suburban locales…rural is falling behind in its access to philanthropic grants.”

The philanthropic trends, he says, seem to be going against rural. What are those trends?

  1. The big leadership foundations are not stressing rural
  2. There is no big rural philanthropy advocate
  3. There is a lack of government accountability
  4. Economic development is failing to count philanthropic resource flows

In the article, Cohen names eight foundations that “lead rural stalwarts,” and of the eight, four serve Minnesota (Northwest Area Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation and Blandin Foundation).

So what does Minnesota’s urban/rural philanthropic pie look like?

The Minnesota Council on Foundations just released their 2014 Giving in Minnesota report. The report shows that in 2012, $1.59 billion grants were paid in Minnesota – 8% (or $127.2 million) went to Greater Minnesota and 31% (or $492.9 million) to the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. The 2012 percentage for rural carried over from 2011, which was a 2% decrease from the previous year. Below you can see the grants distribution since 2001, according to the Minnesota Council on Foundations’ Giving in Minnesota reports.

  • 2011: Greater Minnesota 8%, Twin Cities Metro 30%
  • 2010: Greater Minnesota 10%, Twin Cities Metro 31%
  • 2009: Greater Minnesota 10%, Twin Cities Metro 30%
  • 2008: Greater Minnesota 11%, Twin Cities Metro 32%
  • 2007: Greater Minnesota 12%, Twin Cities Metro 32%
  • 2006: Greater Minnesota 11%, Twin Cities Metro 32%
  • 2005: Greater Minnesota 11%, Twin Cities Metro 33%
  • 2004: Greater Minnesota 13%, Twin Cities Metro 34%
  • 2003: Greater Minnesota 9%, Twin Cities Metro 33%
  • 2002: Greater Minnesota 13%, Twin Cities Metro 35%
  • 2001: Greater Minnesota 11%, Twin Cities Metro 30%

What do you notice about the data? Post below!


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Lesson #1 in Increasing Internet Access and Use: It all comes down to community leadership

In today’s Council on Foundations blog post, Blandin Foundation’s Bernadine Joselyn makes the case for philanthropic support for increasing Internet access and use in the U.S. This is work that Blandin Foundation has been doing in rural Minnesota communities since 2003. Through the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities project and the current Blandin Broadband Communities program, we’ve planned with, and supported, nearly 30 communities on their journey to meet information technology goals and bridge digital divides.

In those twelve years, much learning has taken place – learning that can inform the work of others.

As Bernadine shares in the blog post, “while there never will be a single road map, we can help point out some of the short-cuts.”

Here is a boiled-down version of the Top Five Lessons Learned, shared on the COF blog:

5. Peers make great teachers.

4. Engage tomorrow’s leaders today.

3. Broadband is not an end in itself.

2. Have patience.

1. It all comes down to community leadership.

To dig deeper into the lessons learned, and see how broadband is playing a critical role in the health of communities, click here for the full Council on Foundations blog.

To follow the work broadband work happening in rural Minnesota, visit the Blandin on Broadband blog.

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Creating conditions for nonprofit success

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” – Oscar Wilde

Rural nonprofits, like any organization, succeed when the conditions are right. So what does it take? Heavy pockets and an army of do-gooders? Not quite.

Based on learning from 13 interviews with Blandin Foundation Rural Quick Start grantees (grants up to $5,000 available to communities that have gone through Blandin Community Leadership training), here are some key conditions that led to their successes:

Communicate Clearly: Framing, framing, framing

Excellent communication is of enormous value in developing necessary partnerships, navigating obstacles, proper framing of the issues at hand, and successfully completing any project. In the words of one grantee: “Good communication is a must. Anything that succeeds and anything that fails is because of communication.”

Build Social Capital: Relationships matter

Building strong, inclusive relationships is key to project success. Many grantees spoke of the need to be inclusive in bringing a wide spectrum of voices to the table. Several stated that using an inclusive process was part of what contributed to the success of the projects. Others saw the ability to continue to engage new leaders into their projects was important to sustaining their efforts. From a grantee, “Utilizing your social capital is huge. I do it all the time now! I picked an all-star team to make this happen.”

Leverage Resources: The Ripple Effect

Small grants can have significant impact. When looking for additional resources, demonstrating the capacity to succeed is key. By effectively communicating the value of existing partnerships and resources, others funders will recognize a well thought out  strategy and be more inclined to act.

What other conditions would you add as keys to success? Post below!

Ten Blandin Broadband Communities Named at Yesterday’s Border to Border Broadband Conference

Leaders from the 10 rural Minnesota communities gather to accept the invitation to become a Blandin Broadband Community

Yesterday more than 160 economic developers, educators, providers, legislators, co-ops, and community leaders came together to tackle the tough issues related to Internet access and use. The day kicked off with an uplifting introduction by Blandin Foundation Director of Public Policy and Development Bernadine Joselyn.

“Look around the room. Do you get a sense of the power of what we can do together that we can’t do alone? That is what today is all about, to get better at working together to harness the power of broadband for a more prosperous Minnesota with opportunity for all,” said Joselyn.

Here’s a quick rundown of the day:

The big news for Blandin Foundation came during the noon hour when 10 new Blandin Broadband communities were named. These communities will enter into two-year partnerships with the Foundation that will provide planning, technical and financial support to help meet each community’s digital technology goals. The new communities are:

  • Carlton County
  • Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)
  • Resilient Region 5 (north central Minnesota)
  • Sherburne County
  • Chisago County
  • Redwood County
  • Renville/Sibley Counties
  • Red Wing
  • Nobles County
  • Martin County

“At Blandin Foundation we recognize that broadband access – and the skills to use it – are essential to expanding opportunity for all. Communities have told us this for over 12 years and it is the foremost reason why we’ve renewed our commitment to broadband,” said Joselyn. “Thanks to community leaders across the state, Minnesota is making important strides toward ensuring that rural places and the economically and socially disadvantaged are not left behind. That momentum can’t stop.”

Click here to see the full press release and here for reactions from 10 leaders in each new Blandin Broadband community.


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Tele-dentistry fights the “silent epidemic” in rural Minnesota

Did you know that 51 million hours of school time is lost each year due to dental illness? That’s a staggering number!

“A lot of people don’t realize dental disease is the most common disease in kids and it’s completely preventable,” says Sarah Wovcha, executive director of Children’s Dental Services (CDS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the oral health of children from families with low incomes. “There needs to be a wake-up call about the negative impact this is having on our children.”

CDS provides a full range of dental services to children and pregnant women across Minnesota, but rural communities pose unique problems, Wovhca says.

“In Minnesota, we see various pockets of very vulnerable people, but we’ve really seen a crisis in access to care in our rural communities.”

Why? Travel distance and lack of available dentists, says Wovcha.

This is most evident in northeastern Minnesota, where some communities have fewer than three dentists.

This predicament has led to what U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher called a “silent epidemic.”

“With so few dentists, people on public assistance just don’t get served,” she says.

Enter the connective power of technology.

With a $50,000 Blandin Community Broadband Program grant, CDS implemented the use of tele-dentistry to view and send digital images electronically to dentists in remote locations in order to expand access to restorative care to the Nashwauk, Keewatin and Northome school districts.

Technology has enabled CDS to fight this “silent epidemic” in rural Minnesota, says Wovcha.

Through the grant, CDS was able to provide dental care to 512 low-income, underserved children and pregnant women in northeastern Minnesota.

“We’re literally saving their teeth, reducing their risk of cancer and death by oral disease and, ultimately, putting them on a path to lead longer, healthier lives,” said Wovcha.

While kids might say that going to school is like getting teeth pulled, given the choice, I know what I would choose. How about you?



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Minnesota shares a holiday gift with the nation

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Herald Review

As intricate, iridescent snowflakes start to fall, the smell of pine needles, the sight of twinkling lights, the taste of peppermint treats, and feeling the holiday cheer is palpable. The warmth of family, friends and community envelopes us like a weighty, woven blanket.

The magic of the holidays was in full-swing last week when students from the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig and Northland Schools performed a drum and dance ceremony while standing among the towering trees of the Chippewa National Forest. One of those trees, an 88-foot white spruce, was cut down by Minnesota Logger of the Year Jim Scheff to be transported to Washington D.C. and featured as this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree.
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Seniors-to-Seniors: Tech night boosts broadband literacy in Lake County

A recent Lake County News Chronicle story featured a Blandin Community Broadband Program that partnered seniors (older folks) with seniors (from Two Harbors high school) to “help get them online, offering training and support.”

Chris Langenbrunner, Community Education Director, said, “We had heartwarming interactions and personalized learning occurring in our media center all night. It was so cool to see the different generations engaged, talking, laughing, asking questions and enjoying each other.”

Due to the success of last year’s class, they are holding another Student-to-Senior Multi-Age Tech class tomorrow. Take a look at highlights from last year’s class in the story and video below!
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Starting Strong: student success stories from MinnCAN

Last month MinnCAN spotlighted four rural Minnesota schools in their recent report, Starting Strong: Pre-K through 3rd grade success stories from across Minnesota.

Vision, collaboration and leadership were three key elements in each featured school. With alignment as the goal, read how each school rallied their resources to make lasting positive change.
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A Down-and-Dirty Rural Definition

By Tim Marema

Here are the words you don’t want to hear at the beginning of rural policy meetings:

“Before we get into our topic, let’s take a quick look at how we are going to define rural.”

There’s never anything quick about it. Hours later, after the last statistician, artist, organizer, or demographer has collapsed in fatigue, you might be ready to move on to your real topic.

Yet, for all the difficulties of definition, we know rural America exists, because we’ve experienced it.

Many of us live there (about a quarter of Minnesotans and a fifth of the nation, but that depends on how you define it). And almost all of us care about the health and future of our rural communities, whether we live in a big city or the countryside.

The first thing to acknowledge is that defining rural depends on the policy context. Are you dealing with waste water, communications, transportation, education, culture, regional planning? Each policy area might require a slightly different approach to the definition.

Are you engaged in a five-year scholarly study or a 30-minute down-and-dirty analysis for a member of the press who needs the answer yesterday?

Are you looking within just one state, a region, nationally?

Are you expected anywhere for supper?
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