Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation awards $206K in small town grants

(ABC 6 News) – Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) recently approved 23 grants totaling $206,000 to support small towns of 10,000 or less in its 20-county region.

The Small Town Grant program was launched in 2017 to support smaller communities which can benefit from additional financial resources to help them grow and address challenges. The recent grant approval has pushed the total of Small Town Grants awarded to 113 projects since the program began. Through this program, SMIF has invested a total of $972,490 in small towns in its region.

The program is supported, in part, by a generous donation in memory of Paul O. Johnson who wanted southern Minnesota’s smallest communities to thrive. Paul’s legacy is being continued by his family, Amy De Jong, Paula Rehder and Scott Johnson.

“We are pleased and honored to be able to continue our father’s legacy by supporting small towns in the region of Minnesota where we were raised,” said Paula Rehder.

“We are seeing the potential of his gift realized through the amazing projects that these small communities have proposed that will make a difference in the part of the country that was near and dear to our father’s heart,” said Amy De Jong.

The 2023 Small Town Grant award recipients are:

  • $10,000 to Alden-Conger Public Schools to upgrade their existing playground to be more inclusive.
  • $10,000 to the City of Caledonia for a Holiday Pop Up Shop incentive program to allow community members with business ideas to temporarily trial their business concept to introduce a new product line, test a new market or generate awareness for the new product.
  • $7,500 to the City of Elkton to transition an unused football field into a useable park with disc golf and other amenities. Additionally, they will make their Community Center for inclusive by adding sound boards which will make it easier to hear.
  • $10,000 to the City of Gibbon to convert unused tennis courts into pickleball courts to make the space accessible to groups of all ages.
  • $4,870 to the City of Lewiston for a permanent shelter at the popular Lewiston Dog Park.
  • $6,630.75 to the City of New Prague to update the signage and add some new features to the disc golf course.
  • $10,000 to the City of Plainview to support the development of a National Service Park which will highlight all forms of national service including Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, military and other types of service.
  • $10,000 to the City of Rushford for the development of a lighted pedestrian multi-use trail and sidewalk extension to provide a safe, off-street route for students and residents of the community.
  • $10,000 to Dundas Oktoberfest to establish a new annual event unique to Dundas which will build community connections, is family-friendly and will attract visitors to town.
  • $10,000 to the Ellendale Area Heritage Society for an aluminum mural featuring the history of the town to serve as a backdrop for a central gathering location for outdoor community activities.
  • $10,000 to the Fillmore County Historical Society for educational signage to better accommodate tourists that come in search of the sinkholes that are unique to the area.
  • $10,000 to Good Earth Village in Spring Valley to create interpretive signage and educational materials to help the community and visitors learn about the rare species that exist on the 477-acre property.
  • $6,000 to Henderson Feathers to create a strategic plan and initial setup for the National Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Center.
  • $10,000 to Lake City Port Authority to implement recommendations provided to Lake City from a Rethos Downtown Assessment. This will include downtown revitalization initiatives, community events and an updated website to allow residents to access information more easily.
  • $6,854.25 to the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center to develop one cohesive brand for the community to be used by the Chamber and other city-wide organizations.
  • $10,000 to Legacy Fund of Le Sueur Rotary for ten informational kiosks which will provide community and visitor education on the economic and historical development of the city of Le Sueur and its industries.
  • $10,000 to Leo Augusta Children’s Academy in Blooming Prairie for equipment that will make it possible to turn the gymnasium into a community space.
  • $10,000 to Preston Historical Society to create an implementation plan for the historic campus and riverfront area. The plan will include key design elements such as the depot/museum, riverfront amenities, history and story-book trails, playground and park spaces and historic signage, as well as land use and historical cultural designations.
  • $10,000 to Rushford Public Library to place a gazebo in the Library City Park to bring back nostalgic history to the park where the community can relax or attend local events.
  • $7,395 to the Stewartville Public Library to update a room so that it can accommodate virtual meetings and test proctoring for the community.
  • $10,000 to St. James Public Schools Community Education to support action steps for the Climate Smart St. James group, a community-driven initiative to develop a coalition of stakeholders to create a shared vision of commitment to climate smart decision making and to encourage widespread participation on sustainable environmental efforts.
  • $10,000 to the Town of Pilot Mound for a plan to build a replacement Town Hall in order to provide a safe, functional and accessible building to conduct township meetings, serve as the township polling place and act as a social center for the community.
  • $6,750 to Waterville Area Chamber of Commerce to implement a marketing strategy for the community, including downtown banners, sandwich signs, marque letters for a community billboard and a marketing video.

“This grant gives our smallest towns the financial support they need to do things that can make a huge difference for the people living there,” said Tim Penny, president and CEO of SMIF. “We are once again grateful to Paul Johnson’s family for continuing his legacy and giving SMIF an opportunity to leverage additional funding for small town support. Without them, we would not have been able to reach this milestone so soon.”  

In addition to the above grant awards, SMIF was also able to award an additional $24,000 to organizations that applied, but which projects aligned more directly with different grant funding in SMIF’s portfolio. The following three grants were awarded:

  • $4,000 to the City of St. James for Lunch and Learns for business owners and other community members to learn about various topics such as marketing, business planning, business succession, retaining a workforce and more.
  • $10,000 to Dodge County Environmental Services to offer trainings for child care providers.
  • $10,000 to Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools Community Education to provide the community and students with an outdoor learning space.

The next grant round will open in the summer of 2024.

For more information about the Small Town Grant Program, CLICK HERE.