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Column: Region's communities are boosting early ed

Recently, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation held its annual community luncheon in Spring Valley. Each year, we do this type of community visit to celebrate our accomplishments and to spend time visiting with our local partners.

We chose Spring Valley because of our many community partners in both early childhood education and entrepreneur development. We also have numerous grant partners both in Spring Valley and other Fillmore County cities.

As part of the luncheon, we heard from a few community members. One of our SMIF board members, Sue Kolling, senior vice president of cash management at Home Federal Savings Bank in Rochester and board president for the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation, reported on a matching grant opportunity.

This grant allowed Kingsland School students to attend a prestigious science, technology, engineering, and math academic camp -- the Gateway Academy -- free of charge. The success of this grant has drawn an anonymous donor to support the program for the next two years.

During the past year, SVACF also participated in a friendly rivalry with neighboring Preston Area Community Foundation during Give to the Max Day. Both were successful in raising funds for their respective foundations.

Naturally, we enjoy hearing these stories of successful grant and fundraising projects, and we are excited to see Spring Valley Area Community Foundation demonstrate such strong support for broader community needs.

At lunch, we also heard from David Phillips, owner and publisher of the Bluff Country Newspaper Group. He talked about a SMIF grant that Spring Valley EDA received -- "Communities of a Lifetime" -- in which five businesses participated in succession planning. David participated in the grant which helped support his own business succession planning for the newspaper.

As an outgrowth of that project, Fillmore County EDA applied for another SMIF grant that is supporting business succession planning for the entire county. We know that succession planning is critical for small communities in our region -- to keep the downtown vibrant and local businesses operating. We appreciate the efforts of the Spring Valley EDA and Fillmore County EDA in making succession planning a priority for their community and county.

Later, Holly Kanengieter, Fillmore County Early Childhood Initiative coordinator, shared about a $10,000 SMIF grant to support an early childhood outreach program, providing resources to support emotional health to families with young children in Fillmore County, and to increase access to high-quality, affordable childcare, and early childhood education opportunities.

In addition, the Fillmore County ECI has been a SMIF grant partner, receiving BookStart books for a variety of programs, a PreK-Grade 3 alignment grant, as well as other support. These are great examples of a community that emphasizes early childhood development.

At the finale of the luncheon, we participated in table discussions about the greatest assets and needs in Fillmore County. Groups were able to brainstorm ideas for future projects, as wells as areas where SMIF could partner. We heard great feedback from this interactive discussion and appreciate the suggestions generated from this time.

We know that our region is peppered with many success stories in our small communities. We need to celebrate local entrepreneurs who are providing good paying jobs and who have gained a strong reputation for providing quality products/services throughout the country and world.

We need to applaud many communities who are successfully providing programs and education that address early childhood development needs. SMIF's annual community luncheon allows us to do that.

I encourage you to visit our website for information on our current grant and loan opportunities and let us know how your community can partner with SMIF.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.