Column: Reap more dollars with Initiative FoundationWhen Bobbie Jo Vickerman, city administrator of Lanesboro, Minn., counted the 100 individuals who showed up at the initial town meeting in May 2007, she knew Lanesboro had tapped into something special.
By: Tim Penny, Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, The Republican Eagle
When Bobbie Jo Vickerman, city administrator of Lanesboro, Minn., counted the 100 individuals who showed up at the initial town meeting in May 2007, she knew Lanesboro had tapped into something special.
“Out of a town of 788, that’s not too bad,” said Vickerman.
Lanesboro and 40 other communities have participated in the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation-sponsored Town Meeting Initiative, which brings community members together to consider their assets, set goals, and accomplish a project.
SMIF provides facilitation, technical assistance, and up to $15,000 to assist these efforts that lead to economic growth and prosperity.
As a result, an estimated 5,000 southern Minnesota community members have been part of town meeting initiatives with more than $1 million invested in projects which promote the local economy, workforce readiness or early childhood education.
Support far and near
SMIF’s financial investment of $20,000 is just a small part of the value of this initiative in each community. The town meeting initiative’s asset-based planning process — facilitated by SMIF — assists communities in achieving success.
For example, in Lake Crystal, a project that began with rain gardens has transformed into a larger lake improvement project focused on addressing the blue green algae on the Crystal-Loon-Mill chain of lakes.
Similarly, the Lake Crystal Laker Trail Project began with the intention of improving four to five city blocks of the local trail system. Now plans include an expansion of the trail with the support of a $300,000 federal grant.
Local dollars are also being leveraged. The Laker Trail Project secured 70 community sponsors for bricks, trees and benches that adorn the trail.
“We anticipate selling additional sponsorships when the trail expands next summer,” says Gina Cooper, SMIF-trained community coordinator.
In addition to the infusion of cash and volunteers, the town meeting initiative, which typically spreads throughout a year or more, has had an impact on participants both personally and professionally.
For Cooper, making individual connections was important.
“As a new member of the community, this was an opportunity to meet a lot of the existing community leaders,” she said.
Vickerman notes there has been an advantage to her professional life as Lanesboro’s city administrator: “Working in government where there is often a ‘glass half empty’ mentality,” she said. “An asset-based approach provides a better frame. We’ve got good things; let’s make sure everyone can benefit from them.”
Cooper echoed a sentiment heard from others in Lake Crystal when asked to describe the community’s support for the Laker Trail project. “This will not fade away,” she said. “This is lasting.”
To learn more about the Town Meeting Initiative and how your community can get involved, contact Elise Davis at (507) 455-3215 or email@example.com.