‘They’re all our kids’: Austin Aspires receives $50,000 grant for mental health initiatives

Published 7:55 am Thursday, June 6, 2019

Inside the Austin Public Schools District offices, a step was made Wednesday morning to help ensure that all of Austin’s students who are struggling with mental health can get the right support.

PrairieCare Child & Family Fund announced a grant for $50,000 to be given to Austin Aspires to help meet these needs.

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The grant making foundation awarded a total of $180,000 to support mental health education and training to those who support or provide educational services to youth.

“We received so many great proposals throughout Minnesota, both metro and rural communities,” said Rhoda Michaelynn, the chair of the grants committee in a statement. “We were inspired to increase funding to impact more students and families.”

Nancy Burton, with PrairieCare Child & Family Fund, talks about how important it is to make sure students have access to mental health care Wednesday. Austin Aspires was given a $50,000 grant from the organization to help continue making sure students get this kind of access. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin Aspires partnered with Austin Public Schools, Pacelli Catholic Schools, the United Way of Mower County, Parenting Resource Center, Wee Learning Center, Austin Public Library and the Austin YMCA to start training in social emotional learning and trauma-informed educational practices.

With the $50,000 grant, Austin will be able to use the dollars to address mental health in early childhood and preschool-aged children in the community. The long-term goal being to improve a healthier community, which includes physical and social emotional health.

“This is amazing,” said NancyGrace Norman, market mentor for PrairieCare. “We read your proposal about 15 times and I’m tearing up. To see this level of involvement and commitment … I have chills. This is phenomenal.”

The goal of the grant is to create sustainable education programs for district and program staff to better identify and work with children who may be struggling with poor mental health. Districts that were chosen provide a wide representation from various social, economic and cultural classes throughout Minnesota.

PrairieCare Child & Family Fund received statewide proposals and selected seven school districts to receive grants based on the overall impact and sustainability of their proposed programs.

Less than a year ago, members of the Austin community rallied together to find solutions on how to address mental health needs for students, according to John Alberts, executive director of education services. With the availability of the PrairieCare grant, organizations and entities such as the school districts and United Way of Mower County were able to collaborate on finding ways to improve services for all children living in the area.

“There was talking, but not really much doing,” Alberts said. “These students, they’re all of our kids regardless of where they are students in the community. We hope that this is just the start.”