West Central Blogger

Monday, April 28, 2008

New York Mills joins the blogosphere

Members of New York Mills' Horizons Leadership program have launched a community blog, with area residents as the bloggers! Recent topics include community garden news, starting a farmers' market, citywide clean-up day, meeting reports and dodgeball tournament results. The blog also includes upcoming events.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Minnesota's rural voices speak up on the issues

The Blandin Foundation recently released its Rural Pulse 2008 survey of emerging and established leaders from rural Minnesota communities. The report highlights the issues these leaders identified as the most critical, including:
  • Health care access and cost of insurance.
  • Quality of education.
  • Attracting and retaining household supporting jobs.
  • Welcoming people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Component funds at work!

WCI's component funds help give communities, schools, businesses, organizations and individuals the financial strength to make a difference in west central Minnesota. Here's what some component funds have recently helped fund:
  • The Ashby Education Foundation contributed to the purchase of equipment for the Ashby High School Science Dept. The new tools have already been put to use at the 2008 Science Fair.

  • The Battle Lake Community Fund provided a $500 donation for new seating at the local baseball dugouts.

  • The Elbow Lake Area Community Fund donated funds to the Elbow Lake American Legion for a veterans' museum in the Grant County Historical Society Annex.

  • Perham's 549 Family Foundation helped the Perham High School Industrial Technology Dept. purchase a laser engraver and accessories. The equipment can engrave a variety of materials and is already being used extensively for school and community projects.

Alexandria/Fergus Falls named top "micropolitans"

Site Selection magazine recently listed Alexandria and Fergus Falls as two top "micropolitans" for 2007. A micropolitan is an urban area with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000, with a number of construction or expansion projects.

Alexandria was ranked one of the 10th fastest growing micropolitans in the nation with eight business expansions that occurred in the last year. Fergus Falls was also recognized for its three business expansions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Get the biggest bang from your tax rebate check

by Shirley Anderson-Porisch, U of M Extension

Already making plans for how you'll spend your tax rebate check from the federal government? The frist economic stimulus checks are due to arrive in early May.

Consider some fo the following ways to make the very most of your tax rebate check:
  1. Open an emergency account. Most Americans do not have money set aside for those financial emergencies that alwasy seem to happen when no cash is available. The rebate check is a great start or addition to an emergency account. The goal might be to have three to six months of monthly fixed expenses in the account.

  2. Pay for repairs. Maintaining expensive possessions now will result in dollars saved tomorrow. Use the refund to repair a leaky roof before it develops into a bigger problem; replace car tires with new, safer ones; or fix home ceilings, walls, floors, doors, windows, etc.

  3. Make an extra home mortgage payment. Though you will not feel the benefit immediately, making an extra mortgage payment now puts you one payment ahead and can save you a payment later.

  4. Fund your retirement account. About 30 percent of all working Americans have no money invested for their retirement. If you are aone fo them, seriously consider setting up or contributing to an IRA account.

  5. Open a 529 College Savings Plan. A four-year colege education can cost upwards of $100,000. The 529 plan works much like a Roth IRA, and withdrawals are tax-free when used for higher education purposes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The "art" of giving

Yesterday the Minnesota State Community and Technical College's Fergus Falls campus held its annual Empty Bowls Charity Lunch. Art students from the college and high school plus local artists donated bowls for the event, which raises funds for the local Salvation Army soup kitchen. A $12 donation gets your pick of many marvelous bowls, which is then filled with soup. The Empty Bowls lunch is held throughout the country and throughout the year. It visually demonstrates the beauty of giving!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Young children get a "Tour of the Towns"

The Pope County Early Childhood Initiative is inviting toddlers through 5-year-olds to take their parents on a "Tour of the Towns" as a part of Week of the Young Child, April 14-18.

Each day, activities for young children will be held 4:30-6:30 p.m. throughout the area. Here are some great ideas to try in your area!

Monday, April 14: Week of the Young Child Kick-Off: The "Story Bug" comes to the Early Childhood wing of the Starbuck School to share stories through props and puppets.
Tuesday, April 15: Visit the police stations! Get a badge, explore a police car and visit with an officer.

Wednesday, April 16: Glenwood's ECFE invites kids to "Think Spring" with many fun "make and take" projects.

Thursday, April 17: The Minnewaska Wellness and Fitness Center will host "pre-schooler on the move" classes.

Friday, April 18: Free swimming for the first 60 people at the Minnewaska Area School swimming pool.

For more information about any of these fun events, call 320-634-3909.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You'd be happy too, if your teeth were this nice!

A group of cuddly and decidedly happy-looking characters are residing at WCI (no, not the staff, although they're pretty happy most of the time), at least until they find permanent homes. These Star Smilz puppets (the big ones) and stuffed animals are used to teach children how to brush and floss. But be careful. The creatures have the ability to squirt water, too! The Star Smilz animals will be used as door prizes for the Early Childhood Dental Network's next round of "How to Talk 'Tooth" When You're Not a Tooth Professional" training events being held around the region. Stay tuned for event information.

The Fergus Falls community chimes in

WCI staff didn't have to travel far for their latest community breakfasts--they were held right in Fergus Falls at the WCI offices. About 25 people at each of the two breakfasts enjoyed egg bake and caramel rolls as they shared their ideas and concerns about the Fergus Falls community.

Fergus Falls folks like the safeness of the community, the good school system, the beauty of the area, the quality of healthcare and the fact that, even as a rural community, there's easy access to metropolitan areas, thanks to the proximity to the interstate. Older people--especially those who grew up in the area or have a lake home--are retiring here. People are generous, too. And it's a good place to do business.

Folks in Fergus Falls think regionally. Government officials from neighboring communities gather regularly to learn from each other and collaborate. Many people think nothing of driving 30-40 minutes to eat at a good restaurant--and that's true for people coming to Fergus Falls as those from Fergus Falls.

There are challenges, though. Long-timers may not be as positive about Fergus Falls as newcomers are. The sidewalk sometimes seems to roll up after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Shoppers may not come to the city if they perceive nothing will be open. Even with a Minnesota State Community and Technical College campus in town, there doesn't seem to be much for young adults to do. "How do we keep young people in town?" some people asked. "We don't. We let them spread their wings and experience the world," others replied. "Then, when they are older and married and having kids, they'll think what a great place Fergus Falls is to live and raise a family."

What are some areas to concentrate on?
  • Start building a quality workforce to replace those retiring in ever greater numbers.
  • Make Fergus Falls a retail destination, especially on Saturdays.
  • Invite businesses and entrepreneurs to invest (and reinvest) in the community.
  • Be a welcoming community, especially in terms of the possibility of the Regional Treatment Center turning into an international school.
  • Stop worrying about shrinking school enrollment and start figuring out how to make the new, smaller model a model for success and excellence.
  • Pay attention to aging infrastructure issues.
  • Push for making Fergus Falls an arts mecca for the west central region.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

West central Minnesota is rooting out poverty

More than 300 people managed to shovel out of the preceding day's snowstorm to attend "Rooting Out Poverty--Rural Family Economic Success," April 7 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. It was the 4th annual Community Action Partnership and partners all-staff training event.

Gregory Gray, executive director of the Minnesota Legislative Commission to End Poverty by 2020, started the day by sharing the commission's progress. Ending poverty requires a consistent and persistent approach, and the participation of people of faith, nonprofit agencies, government and businesses, he told the audience.

"The people in this room are going to help end poverty. You're the real genius of community action," said former St. Paul mayor Jim Schiebel. He recently served as executive director of the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties. Schiebel talked about Community Action's "Rooting Out Poverty" campaign, and highlighted five action themes:
  • Maximize participation.
  • Build an economy that works for everyone.
  • Invest for the future.
  • Maximize equality of opportunity.
  • Ensure healthy people and places.

A panel shared success stories, and Minnesota CAP Executive Director Arnie Anderson encouraged the audience to take an active part in politics through voting, letter writing, volunteering and contributions, in order to further the cause of rooting out poverty.

Keynote presenter John Molinaro, associate director of the Aspen Institute's Community Strategies Group in Washington, D.C., introduced participants to RuFES: Rural Family Economic Success. Actually, many of those attending knew RuFES well--west central Minnesota has been using the RuFES principles of Earn It, Keep It, Grow It. Most families in rural America are working, but struggle to get ahead, Molinaro said. Obstacles include low wages, the need for multiple jobs and dealing with special obstacles like limited opportunities and support that is hard to find. Molinaro led the participants through exercises to help the group and individuals determine what they could do to help rural families thrive and succeed.