Tim Penny: Local investments make small towns thrive

Published 5:47 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

Imagine being a kid in a small town in Minnesota who, more than anything, wants to dive into the city pool with their friends to escape the summer heat — but their family cannot afford the pool pass. This very situation is what prompted the Wabasha Kellogg Area Community Foundation (WKACF) to start offering free pool passes for all area youth. 

This initiative kept the pool open, created a space for children to play in the summer and it provided an opportunity for locals to give back to their community. This is just one of many examples of why Community Foundations are a key ingredient to small town growth and vibrancy.

At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), Community Foundations are one of the cornerstones of our Community Vitality focus area. SMIF supports 31 Community Foundations — from St. James and Montgomery to Preston and Pine Island – by providing the administrative and 501(c)(3) infrastructure. Additionally, SMIF provides the volunteer boards with training opportunities and is always on hand to answer questions and guide them as they work toward meeting their philanthropic goals. 

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Over the years, SMIF has also contributed more than $894,061 in matching grants to these foundations.

The free pool pass project that WKACF supports is one of many projects that SMIF’s Community Foundations have invested in over the years. Many memorable and unique local festivals count on foundation funds. For example, the Lanesboro Area Community Foundation provided grants to Buffalo Bill Days and Rhubarb Fest recently, as well as funding for several artistic opportunities in their community for music, artist demonstrations, and a grant to the public school for visual arts classes.

The Harmony Area Community Foundation supports a summer initiative of “No Child Left Inside.” Several grants were given recently to help provide activities to local youth at no cost. During the annual Canton Day Off Event, kids will have the chance to explore a state-of-the-art obstacle course of inflatables with a progressive agility course. 

Harmony has also contributed greatly to one of the first Splash Pads in our region. They continue to add to it as an inclusive place for families to cool down on hot days. These are only a few examples of the many ways that our foundations are enhancing the joy of summer.

In addition to summer fun, our foundations have helped fund food shelves, Veteran’s memorials, downtown enhancement projects, farmers’ markets and annual scholarship programs. During the early days of the pandemic, Community Foundations became a vessel for supporting local businesses and organizations. 

The versatility of these foundations allow them to leverage resources wisely to respond to the unique needs of their town. Author of Boomtown USA, Jack Shultz, said it best – community funds are one of the keys to small town success. The 31 Community Foundations under SMIF’s umbrella have invested $6.8 million into their communities since the program began in 1991.

Community Foundations provide a platform for individuals, families and businesses to make meaningful contributions that directly impact their communities. By fostering a culture of giving, these foundations instill a sense of ownership and pride, empowering residents to shape their own future. I encourage you to look up your nearest Community Foundation at smifoundation.org/community-foundations.

Contact Andi Arnold, SMIF’s Community Foundation Coordinator, at andia@smifoundation.org or 507.456.5593 with questions about this program.

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