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Creating a positive footprint throughout Austin

Editor’s note: This the second of a two-part series on The Hormel Foundation’s impact in the Austin community.  Read part one here: Forging a partnership in stability; Foundation, corporation partner to look long term

When Sandy Forstner looks around Austin, he sees the fingerprints of The Hormel Foundation on nearly every major project.

“It’s kind of hard to think of one where they didn’t play a key role in,” said Forstner, the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director.

As it celebrates its 75th anniversary this month, Forstner noted The Foundation has become more accessible, visible and active in the community in recent years through major projects like the redevelopment of Oak Park Mall into a new Hy-Vee grocery store, the Wescott Athletic Complex dome and turf project, $5 million in support to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s new interpretive center, several Vision 2020 projects and more than $20 million to double the size of The Hormel Institute.

In 2015, The Foundation gave $7.1 million as part of its annual budget.

Looking long term, Chairman Gary Ray said the Foundation board has stepped up its giving to invest in Austin’s future.

“Just a lot of worthwhile projects that have been presented to us that we felt we could have a real opportunity and a real impact to the community if we stepped up,” Ray said.

When funding requests come in, Ray said The Foundation first examines whether it benefits the community in general. But he admits the requests usually exceed what The Foundation is able to give, but several community organizations sit on the board and they examine what will benefit the community long term.

Along with the big, marquee projects, The Hormel Foundation gives to numerous community projects and organizations that often aren’t as flashy and can occasionally be more easily overlooked.

But Forstner says The Hormel Foundation’s role remains simple as it celebrates 75 years — to make Austin a better community.

“I think people understand that The Foundation is here to enhance the quality of life for everyone,” Forstner said.

Bonnie Rietz, vice chair of The Foundation since 2011, agreed its unusual for a town like Austin to have a foundation focused on improving the quality of life in the community.

“We are just very, very luck as a community to have the foundation,” she said.

Giving around Austin

The Hormel Foundation supports a variety of issues around Austin, largely through annual appropriations to 13 qualifying organizations, which include Austin Area Foundation, Austin Community Charitable Fund, Austin Public Schools, Austin Salvation Army, Austin Community Growth Ventures, Austin Scholarship Committee, Cedar Valley Services, city of Austin, Mayo Clinic Health System Austin, The Hormel Institute-University of Minnesota, Riverland Community College Austin, United Way of Mower County and The YMCA of Austin.

Foundation Treasurer Jerry Anfinson described The Foundation as being involved in community activities that aren’t subsidized by taxes, and it subsidizes the school district and city of Austin.

Two of the largest beneficiaries of Foundation money are The Hormel Institute — the largest recipient of annual and overall Foundation donations — and various educational efforts in Austin.

The Institute dedicated about $24 million to The Hormel Institute expansion completed last year by matching the $13.5 in state bonding and it added additional money for recruiting — both of which were above the annual giving to The Institute of more than $3 million.

“The Hormel Institute would not exist today if it was not for the Foundation. Period,” Anfinson said. “Today they are one of the leading bioscience cancer prevention centers in the world. Their outreach is phenomenal.”

Rietz is proud to know The Foundation’s support is going toward boosting The Institute’s work that affects families around the globe.

“When I think of that, I just have such a sense of pride to be able to be a part of all of that working with the foundation,” Rietz said.

Boosting education

Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz said The Hormel Foundation’s support helps the district go above and beyond what it’d be able to do through general revenues.

“That really sets us apart, I think, from other districts,” Krenz said.

Since various challenges across the district often quickly absorb general revenue funds, Krenz said the district looks to benefactors like The Hormel Foundation for special projects, and The Foundation has been a key supporter.

“It’s not just the students that benefit from this,” Krenz said. “I think community wide we all benefit, because when your kids are successful then your communities successful too.”

And that support also comes with a great deal of trust in the district’s goals.

“Most of the time it’s just no questions asked,” Krenz said of The Foundation.

For example, Austin has Gifted & Talented Services beyond the Rochester Public Schools, even though Rochester is much larger in size, thanks to The Foundation’s assistance.

“Without their funding, we would be like everyone else,” Krenz said.

In the mid-2000s, The Foundation helped fund and design new science labs at Austin High School with the help of the University of Minnesota to be similar to the college’s science labs, a move Krenz said helped change the face of science education in Austin.

“That was big,” Krenz said.

The Foundation has also partnered with the district to help teachers earn additional education and master’s degrees through various staff development efforts. It also helped in the efforts to train teachers for STEAM — or science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics — education efforts when I.J. Holton Intermediate School opened.

The Foundation’s also assisted with a variety of other programs and efforts like media labs, the REACH program, Southgate Elementary’s Pi Academy, and Krenz credited Foundation dollars with helping boost Austin High School’s agriculture and FFA offerings after numbers dwindled around 2009.

Rietz also credited The Foundation with filling in funding gaps for various projects and fundraising efforts. One example being programs and efforts to buy instruments for students to play in the bands.

The Foundation also designated $5 million to the new interpretive center of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, which will include educational opportunities and exhibits, and it’s working with the MacPhail Center for Music in Austin.

The help goes beyond Austin Public Schools, as Anfinson spoke of all The Foundation does for Riverland Community College.

Anfinson noted the importance of a strong college in the community, saying the attributes of a college — the learning, the professorship, its athletics and more — all benefit the community.

“We feel that every successful community should have some sort of college presence,” Anfinson said.

Rietz has been excited to see all The Foundation has done for the community college, where she formerly worked.

The Foundation supports Cycles for Success to help provide funding to students, many of whom are first generation college students, to attend college.

“I just find that so exciting that we as a foundation are able to do that,” she said.

The company is also partnering with Riverland with the goal of making the school an agriculture hub, and RCC President Adenuga Atewologun has been appointed to The Foundation board.

A helping hand

Anfinson also noted the Foundation aims to take care of the community’s less fortunate, adding someone once told him you can tell the complexion and attitude of a city by seeing how it takes care of its less advantaged citizens.

Anfinson recommended groups like Cedar Valley Services, the United Way, Arc Mower County, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

“These are a lot of our less advantaged citizens of the community, and we provide significant benefits for them,” Anfinson said.

The United Way and the Salvation Army occasionally complete community needs assessments, and Anfinson said the Foundation gauges that when setting its annual appropriations.

From the large, marquee projects to the quieter program support, Forstner said The Foundation’s support helps give Austin an edge.

“It’s hard to imagine Austin without The Foundation,” Forstner said. “It’s the greatest gift. I think we are the envy of almost any community in the state of Minnesota because we have The Foundation here.”

“You can’t say enough good about The Hormel Foundation,” he added.