West Central Blogger

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The agrarian life was never so fancy!

While a WCI staffer was in Washington D.C. in "consultative sessions" with colleagues from around the country, her husband enjoyed all that the city had to offer, including lunch at Agraria (pictured).

This cosmopolitan restaurant actually has its roots in the Upper Midwest. It was originally conceived by the North Dakota Farmers Union with the intent to promote and enable the American family farmer to capture a greater share of the food dollar. The restaurant is a family-farmer owned and sourced restaurant with contemporary American cuisine that emphasizes seasonal dishes from across the country. Diners at Agraria are helping to support family farmers that proudly supply the food, “From Our Fields to Your Table™.”

Meanwhile, our hard-working staffer did her own part supporting rural families by offering advice and brainstorming about a Rural Family Economic Success Community Action Guide and Idea Book that is being developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

Monday, April 23, 2007

It's the Week of the Young Child (April 22-28)

On this Week of the Young Child, we want to recognize the needs of young children and thank those involved in building better futures for all children.

Some people might say that every week is the Week of the Young Child, but some very sobering facts* tell us otherwise:

  • A quarter of U.S. children under 6 live in poverty.

  • A quarter of children under the age of 18 aren't covered by health insurance.

  • An estimated 12 million children do not have enough food to meet their basic needs.

Research shows that high-quality early childhood programs help children--especially those from families with low-incomes--develop the skills they need to succeed in school.

Here in west central Minnesota, The Early Childhood Initiative--a coalition of people and programs devoted to early childhood care, health and education--are working to make sure our youngest children get the building blocks they need to grow up happy, healthy and successful.

To these care givers and educators, we say, KUDOS. Your work is making a real difference in our region.

And to our littlest ones, we offer our hopes for hugs, laughter, and warm and nurturing caregivers and mentors for a lifetime.

Week of the Young Child is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

*Facts from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Article looks at rural charity gap

Giving Back Bridging the Rural Charity Gap
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
By Robert J. Hughes

Rural areas get fewer charitable dollars per capita than urban parts of the country. Now some charities are trying to tackle this philanthropic divide.

Behind the gap are issues of perception and geography. Most foundations are based in urban centers and have a limited picture of what constitutes "rural," says Karl Stauber, chief executive of Northwest Area Foundation of St. Paul, Minn. Rural America includes four types of regions, all of which can have economic needs, he says: scenic areas that attract tourism, areas within commuting distance of metropolitan centers, agricultural regions and isolated parts of the country such as mountains and deserts.

In addition, the prevailing thinking at many foundations is that rural areas of whatever stripe are self-sufficient, with a can-do attitude that precludes outside help -- even though issues of poverty, health care and economic development plague these regions as much as cities, says Rick Cohen, who wrote a recent study on the topic and works at a quarterly magazine about nonprofits. That thinking is compounded by the limited foundation infrastructure in rural regions, meaning rural charities can have trouble meeting the people who give grants. Grant makers, in general, don't travel to rural regions, and "therefore they're not aware of the multiplicity of [charity] groups in the rural areas," he says.

Read more by clicking on title above.

Picture It Painted program celebrates 10 years

What do a unique sculpture garden in Vining (see photo), a foster home for disabled children in the Moorhead area and Alexandria’s Runestone Museum have in common? They will all get new coats of paint this year, thanks to Valspar Corporation and the Minnesota Beautiful "Picture-It-Painted" Program administered by West Central Initiative and its five sister Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs).

The six foundations recently honored Valspar, a Twin Cities-based manufacturer of paints and coatings, with the Valued Partner Award for a decade of helping to beautify Greater Minnesota. Valspar has provided 27,700 gallons of free paint, stain and sealant for 650 community beautification and restoration projects throughout greater Minnesota. The Valspar family of brands includes Valspar, Cabot, Goof Off, House of Kolor, plasti-cote, and QUIKRETE.

"This is our only program in Greater Minnesota," said Valspar’s Gwen Leifeld, as she accepted the award at The McKnight Foundation offices in Minneapolis. "We are thrilled to have partnered with the Initiative Foundations for the past 10 years and feel we are a part of small-town Minnesota through their efforts."

"Valspar's decade of generosity means there’s hardly an area in west central Minnesota that hasn’t been positively affected by the Picture It Painted program," said Nancy Straw, president of West Central Initiative. "We’re thankful for this successful collaboration and for Valspar’s ongoing commitment to our region and all of Greater Minnesota. "

This year, 17 organizations from west central Minnesota received Picture-It-Painted grants, totaling 856 gallons of paint.

Grant selection is based on the visual impact of the project, public benefit to the community, local volunteer participation and support, intended use of the building, and benefit to the needy. Projects that qualify include, but are not limited to, historic buildings, senior citizen or handicapped facilities, community centers, public buildings and murals.

Formed in 1986 by The McKnight Foundation to serve the people of rural Minnesota, the MIFs include the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Initiative Foundation, Northland Foundation, West Central Initiative, Southwest Initiative Foundation, and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. Their unique, decade-long partnership with Valspar to implement the paint grant program was created out of Valspar’s desire for a greater philanthropic presence throughout Minnesota.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Change is scary....

....but the impact of not changing can be even scarier. That's what participants of the 8th Workforce Solutions Conference, April 18 in Fergus Falls, found out. Futurist Ed Barlow laid the cards on the table:

  • In six years, 70% of today's manufactured goods will be obsolete.
  • Low unemployment, a growing number of jobs and an aging workforce add up to a significant worker shortage.

  • It takes on average seven years to make a curriculum change in public schools.

  • Schools are mandated to teach kids testing skills, not relevant, job-related skills.
Meanwhile, there are so many new things to learn; by 2012 our knowledge will double every year, and by 2010, technological information will double EVERY TWO HOURS. In a nutshell, that means companies, schools, communities, nonprofits--all of us--need to be on our toes, scanning for new information, finding new ways to do things and embracing new technologies. Barlow even suggested we review our strategic plans every 90 days to make sure they're still relevant.

After a two-hour, top-speed presentation, and a stellar panel discussion, participants gathered in small groups to share the three most important things they learned. Topping the list:
  1. Consider three new R's of education: relevance, rigor and relationships. What if education was about gaining skills, not just degree acquisition?
  2. The job is a journey, not a destination: Both employers and employees should have expectations of job growth and skill enhancement.
  3. Accept and adapt to rapid changes: Apathy and Ignorance--those twin specters that have been around forever--are a company's main competition, and what keeps a community poor.
The small groups also brainstormed to come up with one great idea that would make a difference to west central Minnesota. The ideas ranged from developing school-to-work programs that include mentoring and learning soft skills such as customer service, team work and building a good work ethic, to creating a regional culture of collaboration toward a common vision of the future, to finding ways to attract and retain young adults and active retirees in our communities and our workforce.

Barlow concluded by bringing the talk down to a personal level.

"If I call you a week from now--and I've been known to do it--what will you tell me you've done with the information you've learned today?" he challenged the audience. "What new competency do you need to acquire to be a better leader? How different are you now than when we started?"

So, dear reader, how will YOU keep up with change? What new competency will YOU acquire? Sure, change is scary, but standing still in the middle of our fast-flowing highway of life--that's downright deadly.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Discover "The Ultimate Gift"

Red Stevens is determined to teach his grandson Jason a lesson--12 actually--even in death. In his will, he challenges Jason to accomplish 12 tasks in order to inherit what Red describes as "the ultimate gift." What it can be is what Jason has to discover by embarking on a year-long quest.

You can discover what it is, too, in the movie, The Ultimate Gift, starring James Garner, in what he says will be his last role, Brian Dennehy and Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin.

A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls is showing The Ultimate Gift, May 1-4. Visit the Center's Web site for exact times.

The Ultimate Gift is partnered by LEAVE A LEGACY®, a national effort to inspire people from all walks of life and all income levels to think beyond their lifespan when doing good works. More than 20 Fergus Falls non-profit organizations, including West Central Initiative, and many more groups throughout west central Minnesota, are members of LEAVE A LEGACY®.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Take time for a little crystal ball gazing ... and more.

The folks in west central Minnesota have a tremendous opportunity not just to see into the future, but to create it.

The eighth annual Workforce Solutions Conference, "Creating the Future," will be held Wed., April 18, from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls.

Futurist Ed Barlow from Creating the Future, Inc., is the guest speaker and the day's facilitator. Ed has presented in Greater Minnesota before, and those we know who have heard him speak say his presentation is electrifying and galvanizing. He talks about trends and challenges the audience to do something about them/with them.

So far, there's an eclectic group of participants: manufacturers, small business owners, healthcare professionals, city officials, educators and more. This dynamix mix should result in some spirited discussion and creative brainstorming.

Interested? There's still time to register online or call 800-735-2239.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Get ready to celebrate 150 years of statehood!

The State of Minnesota is gearing up for a grand celebration in 2008 to commemorate its Sesquicentennial. The actual date of the 150th anniversary is May 11, 2008. In the meantime, the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission is eager to get people involved, including providing grant opportunities for state organizations.
Keep looking back for more information about the Sesquicentennial, and West Central Initiative's involvement.