West Central Blogger

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What in the world do you know?

A group of educators from the Littleton, Colo., school district, spearheaded by Karl Fisch, director of technology at Arapahoe High School, put together a PowerPoint slide show at the beginning of the school year to help the teachers envision how the work they do impacts the world and the future. The slide show, Did You Know? is a thought-provoking look at globalization and the lightning speed of the information age. It challenges us to prepare for a future we can barely glimpse, it's morphing so fast. It warns us that we can't afford to live life as we have.

What does that mean for the small communities of west central Minnesota? For our schools and employers? For our region's youth? Think about it as you watch the slide show.

Meet RuFES

A few years ago, West Central Initiative worked with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to create an approach to helping low-income working families in west central Minnesota thrive.

Rural Family Economic Success, or RuFES, as it's called, is a framework based on three components: Earn it. Keep it. Grow it. These goals describe what families need to do to achieve economic success.

Recently the Annie E. Casey Foundation published a paper on how WCI helps implement the RuFES approach in west central Minnesota. Take a look. You can also find it on WCI's Web site home page, www.wcif.org.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Let the summer games begin!

Memorial Day Weekend is the official kick-off of the summer season here in Minnesota.

For a lot of us, it means vacations to plan, local community festivals to attend, places to explore and a whole slew of things to see and do ... and eat!

West central Minnesotans and those who plan to visit here (we hope there are a lot of you!) may want to start their summer planning by visiting Explore Minnesota's North Central/West Region Web page. It includes a list of local events and links to area tourist bureaus.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Before and after

It's always gratifying to see the successful conclusion of a group's collective efforts.

These photos show the results of a collaboration between WCI, the Otto Bremer Foundation and the city of Pelican Rapids to create affordable residential building lots by removing blighted structures.

WCI has taken on the role three times to help secure the appropriate funding on behalf of communities in west central Minnesota. The most recent effort concluded in 2005 and was made possible by a grant to WCI from the Otto Bremer Foundation.

The Community InFill Housing Program provided matching grants to communities and non-profit housing developers to demolish deteriorated structures. In turn, the recipients made lot(s) available for affordable housing development.

These photos from Pelican Rapids show structure demolition and the corresponding exchanged lot with its new home. Pelican Rapids was one of six west central Minnesota communities that took advantage of the InFill Housing Program.

Although a successful program, it takes on average two to four years for a sufficient number of tax forfeited and other properties to become available for WCI to seek outside funds to run a similar program.

A west central sunset

Monday, May 21, 2007

Curious George meets curious kids

West Central Minnesota's Early Childhood Initiative teams are a creative bunch. These networks of community partners care for families and children from birth to six years of age by providing education and experiences that support social and emotional development.

To celebrate Week of the Young Child, April 22-28, the Moorhead Early Childhood Alliance (MECA) invited kids and their families to meet Curious George at the local mall. More than 300 came for snacks, crafts, books, storytime ... and a photo op with George, of course! Parents could also pick up materials and information on the importance of the social and emotional development of young children.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Community "ramps up" its giving

When the West Central Area School District needed a ramp to help with stage accessibility for school performances, the Elbow Lake Area Community Fund teamed with the district and the Elbow Lake Fire Department to meet the need.

Showing off the new ramp are: Pat Westby, WCA Elementary Principal, Al Schoenbauer representing the Elbow Lake Community Fund, and Gary Huebner, Elbow Lake Fire Department.

The Elbow Lake Area Community Fund is a component fund of West Central Initiative.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In the year 2050

What will the communities and landscape of the Great Plains be like in 2050? Participants of the Meadowlark Project challenged themselves to come up with four possible scenarios. Some are troubling, some are inspiring, all of them are thought-provoking.

What do you see in your community's future? Are you concerned that your region's focus is decidedly near-sighted? What do you think you, your neighbors, your organization, your city and county can do now that will have a positive, far-reaching impact?

Through West Central Initiative, many west central Minnesota communities are creating community funds that are already make a huge difference to what their communities can achieve. Schools, lake associations, libraries, healthcare facilities, families, individuals and more have set up donor-advised funds for specific projects or for the overall benefit of their community for years to come. Taking proactive steps now makes the unknown journey into the future a little less scary, and a little less unknown.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 11 is Provider Appreciation Day

"So, Nate, what're you up to? Are you working? Do you have a job yet? Are you helping out your mom and dad?" I tease my three-year-old nephew.

"Yes," he replies seriously. "I go to Sarah's."

"That's right," his mom answers. "It's Nate's job to go to Sarah's."

Sarah is Nate's child care provider, and has cared for him and his older sister since they were babies. For my brother and sister-in-law, Sarah is not only a care provider, she is a partner in raising their children in a positive, loving and safe environment. The whole family thinks the world of her.

Because of care providers like Sarah, May 11 has been named Provider Appreciation Day. It's a special day to recognize child care providers, teachers and educators of young children everywhere.
Is there a care provider in your life? Now is a great time to let them know how much you appreciate all they do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

It's never too early to become financially literate

West Central Initiative subscribes to the Family Economic Success model of "Earn It, Keep It, Grow It."

Basically, it means finding ways to help families remain employed, able to pay their bills, with money left over to save and invest wisely for the future.

Unfortunately, many of us live financially extended lives, and "savings" has become a foreign word. Parents are talking to their children less and less about what it means to be fiscally responsible.

The University of Minnesota Extension Program is working to change this by offering teacher training for financial planning for high school students. The workshop (open to teachers, representatives of financial institutions, community agency staff and adults working with youth) will be held throughout Minnesota in the month of June, including Morris on June 21 and Moorhead on June 28.

Want to know more? The Extension has additional online info on youth and money.

Friday, May 4, 2007

15th annual Great American Think-Off finalists announced

New York Mills is holding its 15th annual Great American Think-Off on June 9. More than 500 essays were received responding to the question, "Which Should You Trust More--Your Head or Your Heart?" Four finalists were chosen to defend their positions at the June event.

Think this is just for the folks of west central Minnesota? Guess again. Essays came from as far away as London, Guam and the Far East.

The Great American Think-Off is a national philosophy competition providing an opportunity for ordinary people to voice their opinion on life's perplexing questions.

So, heart or head--which do YOU think we should trust more?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Fergus Falls folk finish first

Several Fergus Falls graduates of the Blandin Community Leadership Program (CLP) took on a statewide challenge and emerged as winners--garnering first place in the Thriving by Design competition.

Two months ago, Minnesota Rural Partners announced a statewide contest for a community, regional or statewide vision for Minnesota’s future, as part of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial celebration in 2008. The challenge was to use what has been learned over the last 150 years and design a plan for the future of Minnesota that will help the state thrive for the next 150 years.

Several graduates of the Blandin CLP were inspired by what they had learned about building strong communities during their year-long Blandin training. After some brainstorming they came up with the topic of reusing old buildings for new purposes. They called their concept “Little Cities.” Buildings like the empty milk plant or the abandoned flour mill in Fergus Falls could be redesigned to include housing, office space, retail stores and recreation areas. The green space surrounding these Little Cities would be open to the public for hiking trails or park space. The people living in these Little Cities would work in the offices, run the retail stores and use the recreation space for art shows and activity centers. Multiple Little Cities could be developed in different parts of a rural town depending on the reuse of the old buildings.

The essay answered the application questions, and artists stepped up to provide drawings and photos of the Little Cities concept. The completed application was hand delivered to the Thriving by Design judges.

The group held its collective breath. But whatever the outcome of the competition, the participants had learned a lot about planning for a diverse population to thrive in Minnesota rural communities.

News came today: “Congratulations! I am writing to let you know that [the Little Cities Design] team’s entry into the Thriving by Design Competition was awarded first place Visionary Award!”

Members of the design team will be traveling to Brainerd to receive the award at the Minnesota Rural Summit on May 10.

Read the winning Thriving by Design entry!
Minnesota Rural Partners will post the entry plus the accompanying drawings and photos online after the May 10th summit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A red carpet event--Fergus Falls style!

Glamorously attired guests walk the red carpet, smiling at the paparazzi and signing autographs for their adoring fans.

Is it Hollywood? No, it's Fergus Falls.

Sixteen Fergus Falls non-profit organizations came together Monday, April 30 to host the city's premiere of The Ultimate Gift at A Center for the Arts.

The premiere’s guest list included members of the Fergus Falls community who have made an impact on the area by serving faithfully over the years as volunteers, board members and donors.

The Fergus Falls non-profits are all partners of Leave a Legacy®, a nationwide effort to help people learn about charitable giving through a will or from an estate. Leave a Legacy® partnered with producers of The Ultimate Gift to publicize the movie to encourage people from all walks of life to “make a difference in the lives that follow” by leaving a charitable gift in their wills and estate plans.

The Fergus Falls High School photo class joined in the fun by acting as paparazzi and autograph hounds, as the local stars walked the red carpet. Local wine makers and the Lakes Country Wine Club donated locally made refreshments for the wine- and cheese-tasting reception.

The Ultimate Gift tells the story of Jason Stevens, a young, disillusioned man who receives a legacy from his grandfather—provided he complete 12 tasks. The tasks take Jason on a year-long journey to learn about what is truly important in life.

Thanks to all the non-profit organizations sponsoring the event:
A Center for the Arts
Communicating for America Education Scholarship Foundation
Fergus Area College Foundation
Fergus Falls Area Community Foundation

Fergus Falls 544 Education Foundation
Fergus Falls Area Family YMCA
Friends of the Fergus Falls Public Library
Friends of the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center
Lake Region Hospital Foundation
Lakeland Hospice and Home Health Care
Otter Tail County Historical Society
Permanent Family Resource Center
Pioneer Retirement Community Foundation
Productive Alternatives, Inc.
United Way of Otter Tail County
West Central Initiative