West Central Blogger

Saturday, March 22, 2008

DEED's 2007 JOBZ report now available online

The 2007 Job Opportunity Building Zone Initiative (JOBZ) annual report is now available online.

JOBZ officials report that the program has created more than 5,400 full-time jobs since the program began in 2004. the report also shows that 339 companies--two-thirds of them in manufacturing--had participated in the program through the end of 2007.

JOBZ offers tax-free incentives to relocating or expanding businesses in an effort to stimulate the economy in eligible rural areas.

U of M grant program could mean an extra hand for your community project

Do you have a community project that would benefit from a college student helping you? The University of Minnesota-Morris Community Assistantship Program (UMM-CAP) is offering spring grants that will allow rural communities to hire a U of M student to work on a project. Proposals are due March 30, 2008 for projects running May 26-Aug. 24, 2008.

Learn more and fill out an online application. Or contact Jessica Beyer at 320-589-6451.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's storytelling time in Frazee

Storytelling isn't a kid-only activity. To prove it, Frazee holds an annual storytelling event just for adults. This year's Traditions in Storytelling is at 7 p.m., Friday, March 28 at the Frazee Event Center, 114 North Lake Street. Performers include Ann Zemke, Keith Bear and Michael Cotter.

Perham ECI Coordinator Patricia Nunn is an organizer of the event and participant.

Calculate the cost of commuting

How much does it cost you each month to commute to work? This calculator helps you figure it out.

Go outside and play! (Batteries not needed.)

Remember playing when you were a kid? If you’re over, say, 35, chances are good the pasture or empty lot behind your house was your ball field, the nearby woods your jungle gym, and you ran in and out of the neighbors’ houses like they were second homes to you—and probably were. "Organized sports" meant getting enough kids together for a pick-up ball game. Your parents’ daily admonition? "Be home for dinner/by dark."

Times have changed. We have been made more wary of our surroundings. We don’t know our neighbors as we once did, especially since the stay-at-home parent is practically a rarity these days and more young children spend their days in child care.

Today, we want our children to grow up in a safe environment, within close range of our watchful eyes, involved in activities we believe will enrich them. That’s great, but the downside is children don’t get out for creative, outdoor play as much as they used to.

The lack of play, particularly outdoor play, is a big contributor to the growing sedentary habits of children, says Betsy Thigpen, an early education specialist at Western Kentucky University Research Foundation. "Keeping children inside for most of the day leads to less active play and more structured, adult-directed activity. Outdoor play provides important opportunities to explore the natural world and learn about our environment."

Outdoor play strengthens muscles, hearts and lungs. "It encourages creativity and imagination and provides opportunities for collaboration and problem-solving with peers," Thigpen says.

The outdoors offers a treasure trove of experiences for the very young as well, who explore the world through their senses. "The outdoors presents a new world of sights, sounds, smells and tactile experiences," Thigpen continues. "Infants and toddlers benefit from time spent outside as much as older children do, but caregivers may not recognize the need or benefits for very young children."

Thigpen feels child care environments offer an untapped potential for addressing obesity, overweight and sedentary lifestyles in young children. Studies show that children in child care spend an average of only 60-75 minutes outside as part of a 10-hour day, and about 4-10 minutes an hour in actual vigorous play.

Thigpen offers these inexpensive ideas for caregivers and parents who want to create a more "outdoor friendly" environment for young children:

  • Create outdoor areas for diaper-changing, feeding and relaxing so play is minimally affected by these interruptions.

  • Kids can’t get enough of sand and water activities!

  • Provide a natural habitat with butterfly-attracting plants and bird feeders to give children a firsthand experience with the natural world.

  • Hang wind chimes or mobiles to provide visual and auditory interest.

  • Provide safe spots for crawling, such as grass or a vinyl or wood composite surface.

  • Rocking, pushing and riding wheel toys are a great way for kids to use their large motor skills.

  • Consider play areas that include gently-sloping non-metal slides, short tunnels, peek-a-boo places and sturdy ledges or railings about 14-16 inches high for babies to pull themselves up.

For a list of outdoor and kids’ games and more information about outdoor play, visit http://www.wcif.org/ and click on "Kids’ Play."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Little drops of sunshine

The American Cancer Society sure knows the best time to launch its Daffodil Days! These little drops of sunshine are scattered throughout the WCI offices, giving us hope that spring is just around the corner. Don't they make you smile just looking at them?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Elbow Lake morning

Gilly's Prime Time Bar & Grill in Elbow Lake isn't usually open at 7 a.m., but on this Wednesday morning it welcomed participants of WCI's community breakfast with a tasty buffet. Business leaders, city and school officials, nonprofit representatives and others came to share their thoughts, concerns--and pride--about Elbow Lake with West Central Initiative. It's something WCI likes to do with each west central Minnesota community.

"What are the best things about living in Elbow Lake?" WCI staff asked. The list was long: It's the ideal place for young families and older adults; it's clean and quiet; it has good school and healthcare systems; it does a good job maintaining main street.

"What pulls the community together?" There were lots of answers for this, too, including, the library, the schools, and the new volunteer-run thrift shop that benefits the hospital.

"What are the challenges?" Not enough industry, the need for skilled workers, finding businesses for the vacant storefronts, the cost of commuting.

"How is Elbow Lake working with surrounding communities?" The school system is a great example of small town collaboration, many noted. The Elbow Lake Revolving Loan Fund is open to helping businesses in nearby communities. The Grant County Child & Youth Council is a wonderful organization that pulls together families, schools and communities from throughout the county. Case in point, the upcoming Traveling F.U.N. Fest, which will be held in Ashby this year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stevens County has a date with destiny

It's amazing how clear the future becomes when you have a plan. That's what the Stevens County Board of Commissioners hopes will happen through Stevens FORWARD, a two-year process to identify a shared vision or "destiny" among the communities of Donnelly, Chokio, Alberta, Morris and Hancock.

The Center for Community Stewardship in Bemidji will help guide Stevens FORWARD. The center will work with citizens to identify "Destiny Drivers": important goals that will help form Stevens County's economic, environmental and social future.

Currently, Stevens FORWARD is meeting with "stewards," residents who care deeply about their community who can start conversation around "Where do we want to go, and how do we get there?"

For more information, call 320-287-0882.

Several organizations have come together to help fund Stevens FORWARD, including West Central Initiative through its community organizing and visioning grant.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sunrise session at Perham

It's 7 a.m., but the back room of the Lakes Café in Perham is already filling with city and school officials, businesspeople, media, clergy, nonprofit representatives, civic leaders and more from both Perham and Frazee. They are there at WCI's invitation--all 36 of them--for a hearty breakfast and to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns about their community.

Perham folks are proud of their schools--both public and private. They love their quality of life and their town's amenities like the Perham Area Community Center, a stellar golf course, ball fields--and don't forget it's in the heart of lake country. The city's healthcare system is growing and innovating. People regularly come together in support of local events and are active in service organizations.

Perham also has more jobs than they have workers, and more workers than they have housing. And that's causing consternation. If people can't live close to work, they move to the surrounding towns. Then, school enrollment doesn't grow, which means less dollars for a school district that is already facing $500,000 in budget cuts. Also, with rocketing gas prices, many may not be able to afford the cost of commuting for much longer. So, local--and affordable--housing seems to be the lynchpin in the breakfast discussion this particular morning. But, if you want young families in town, you better make sure there's good day care and early childhood opportunities along with those new homes and apartment complexes, someone reminds the group.

Pressing issues, but not anything to keep a town down for long. "Perham is known as a town that cares about community. It’s known as a progressive community that will tackle tough issues," a participant says at the close of the meeting.

There is good working cooperation between businesses, schools and community, another person chimes in. “When people say we need something, we come together. Hard work and the initiative of community leaders get things done in Perham."

WCI holds community breakfasts throughout the region on a regular basis. It's a great way for WCI staff to learn the latest about the communities WCI serves.
Want to know when we'll be in your area? Contact Kim Embretson to find out.