Tim Penny: Making connections for lasting partnerships

Published 9:35 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

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Throughout the month of June I had the pleasure of visiting with folks from across Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s (SMIF) 20-county region during our Sprout events. These events, which were held in New Ulm, Dundas and Winona, were an opportunity to directly share SMIF’s resources and stories so that more people can take advantage of the funding and support services that we offer to help communities in the region thrive.

Our staff are often out on the road meeting with clients, hosting trainings and visiting with partners. However, we do not get very many opportunities to bring people from all three of our program areas – Early Childhood, Economic Development and Community Vitality – together. The Sprout events did just that. Similar to a Business After Hours, these events were primarily about networking, forging new connections and doing what we do best — collaborating for regional vitality.

Not only were people from all backgrounds able to come together in one location to make important connections, but we also had a short program at each Sprout event during which several of our partners shared their stories of how working with SMIF has impacted their communities.

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Betty Uehling, director of Early Childhood and Family Education programs at New Ulm Public Schools, was one of several Early Childhood professionals who shared how receiving free books has contributed to early literacy amongst young children in the district. She also shared how important it has been for her staff to attend trainings about building social emotional development skills for children which set them up for success in school and in life.

Our economic development partners spoke about the support they have received, and programs they have partnered with SMIF on, to support economic growth in the region. Fatima Said, executive director of Project FINE, a Winona-based nonprofit that helps new immigrants integrate into life in Minnesota, spoke about creating pathways to prosperity for entrepreneurs through support from SMIF.

We also heard how our partners are contributing to community vitality. SMIF supports 30 Community Foundations in the region, including the Wabasha Kellogg Area Community Foundation. Dr. Bob Mann, former chair of the Community Foundation, spoke about the many ways that they have been able to invest back into the community. Whether it’s offering free pool passes to youth, raising funds for the local library to put in a children’s addition, training a mental health professional that serves Wabasha, starting a tree garden to replace trees that have been lost to the Emerald Ash Borer or making the food shelf more accessible, the Community Foundation has partnered with SMIF on many initiatives that give back to their small town and surrounding area.

My hope is that everyone who attended these events walked away with some new information about how they can partner with SMIF to help their communities thrive. If you didn’t get a chance to attend our Sprout events this year, you can watch the videos of our speakers and view photos of the events by visiting smifoundation.org/sprout.

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