Tim Penny: Building a foundation for the future

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

For me, autumn always signals a natural time to slow down and contemplate the past year as we bundle up and move indoors. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we use this time each year to reflect on the partnerships that have resulted in a brighter future for southern Minnesota. We do this by celebrating a handful of these partnerships in our annual Impact Report.

In the first story, Beth Fynbo shares her entrepreneurial journey as the founder and CEO of Busy Baby in Oronoco. When she became a parent, she had an idea for a placemat that suctions to surfaces and allows caregivers to connect babies’ toys to a tether system so they can no longer be dropped and thrown. As she turned this idea into a successful business, SMIF supported her through three loans. She has also participated in SMIF’s CEO Peer Network to connect with other entrepreneurs who helped her pivot during the pandemic. Since she first reached out to SMIF three years ago, Beth has grown to a seven-figure business and even made an appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank.

Another entrepreneur, Angel Uribe, shares her story about starting Stages of Change Center, a business which empowers individuals to rethink their relationship with alcohol or drugs. Her business, based in Eagle Lake, began in 2011 with no financing or support. In 2016, she joined SMIF’s Prosperity Initiative program which provides business coaching to entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). This program helped her to develop business competencies and strategies that are still helping her navigate her business with greater confidence today. During the pandemic, she has remained engaged with SMIF through a Prosperity Initiative Peer Network and by participating in business trainings. Angel is currently a SMIF Board of Trustee member.

In the Early Childhood space, we spoke with Jenny Carrier who is the community education director at Kasson-Mantorville Public Schools. As one of SMIF’s 25 Early Childhood Initiatives, which are collaboratives that address important needs for children and families in their communities, they have a long history with SMIF. One month prior to the first shut down brought on by the pandemic, they received a Child Care Expansion Grant from SMIF, which filled a critical need of providing onsite child care for ages six to 12 years. During the past year they received two more SMIF grants to support improvements in their building and expansions in their programming, resulting in 12 new jobs.

Finally, the leaders of one of SMIF’s 30 Community Foundations shared their story. Mick McGuire, president of Montgomery Community Foundation (MCF) wanted to start a Community Foundation for people to give back to their hometown. Since beginning in 2018, they have supported many local projects, including the restoration of a mural and an historic log cabin. Liz Krocak, vice president of MCF, shares about their COVID-19 response efforts, which included grants to the food shelf and to the Montgomery Economic Development Authority. SMIF provided matching grants for these efforts, in addition to a Small Town Grant which they used to distribute “Monty Bucks” to people in need to spend at local businesses.

The voices that are highlighted in this year’s impact report capture the ongoing growth, community togetherness and innovative spirit of our region that is always there, regardless of what is happening in the world. While SMIF played a significant role in helping individuals and communities throughout the pandemic, one detail that shines through each of these stories is that SMIF was there for these folks long before it began, building a foundation of support and trust over many years.

I invite you to read the stories from our 2021 Impact Report by visiting smifoundation.org/impactreport. It is through partnerships like the ones highlighted in this report that we can make an impact on southern Minnesota’s future.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at timp@smifoundation.org or 507-455-3215.