COMMUNITY GRANT RECIPIENTS 2019

Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation is an organization that works to aid and assist the poor, sick and needy in the East Metro. For more than a century, Wilder has partnered with individuals, neighborhoods, corporations, civic leaders and other non-profits to provide direct services to support families and strengthen the overall community.

 

Grant funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support Wilder’s Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI). YLI serves youth of color in St. Paul who live at or near the poverty line, providing a safe and welcoming space for high school teens across the city to be their authentic selves, connect with others, and build their leadership capacity. YLI offers retreats facilitated by youth mentors; educational sessions that focus on cultural complexities and differences; and action teams that identify and support various community issues.

 

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota

The Boys & Girls Clubs across the country strive to help young people reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. They provide a fun, safe and constructive environment for kids and teens during out-of-school hours. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota operates three Club facilities and 15 KIDSTOP sites in four area school districts, dedicated to helping youth of all backgrounds develop the qualities needed to become responsible citizens and leaders.

 

Grant dollars from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support the organization’s “Money Matters” financial education program, which teaches money management skills, budgeting, saving, investing, planning for college and more. The Money Matters program is a five-unit, 11-session program teaching real-world financial literacy skills. Funding will support three full-time Academic Success Coordinators to run Money Matters each fall, winter and spring. Through the program, BGCCM hopes to arm teens with the tools they need to become financially-savvy adults.

 

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities

The Boys & Girls Clubs across the country strive to help young people reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. They provide a fun, safe and constructive environment for kids and teens during out-of-school hours. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities operates eight metro-area locations in St. Paul and Minneapolis where the need is greatest.

 

Grant dollars from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support the organization’s “Money Matters” financial education program, which teaches money management skills, budgeting, saving, investing, planning for college and more. The Money Matters program is a five-unit, 11-session program teaching real-world financial literacy skills, offered to 200+ teens (ages 13-18) at all eight club locations.

 

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud is the largest non-profit social services agency in Central Minnesota, offering 30+ programs in 16 counties. Catholic Charities has served this area for more than 120 years, focused on building communities and enhancing human dignity by through quality services that meet the physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals and families of all faiths and beliefs.

 

Grant funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support Catholic Charities’ Financial & Housing Counseling program, which assists individuals and families in taking control of their finances and planning for a secure financial future. The program works closely with clients in a safe, non-judgmental environment to discuss finances. In the past year, Catholic Charities helped more than 800 individuals through its Financial & Housing Counseling program.

 

Cookie Cart

Cookie Cart is a non-profit that provides entry-level, experiential-learning employment opportunities for youth in low-income neighborhoods on East Side of Saint Paul and in North Minneapolis. Cookie Cart operates urban bakeries which give teens and young adults the job readiness skills necessary for long-term success in both education and career – life skills to help them escape the cycle of poverty.

 

Through grant funding provided by the Affinity Plus Foundation, Cookie Cart will engage 300 teens who will complete 45,000 hours of hands-on work and classroom experience in 2019. Participants will gain employment experience, professional skills training, financial education, fundamentals in leadership and critical thinking, and preparation for future career opportunities.

 

Eagan Foundation

The Eagan Foundation has been in existence for 30 years, formed to create community connections through grant and scholarship programs. It has given more than $2 million to the Eagan community since its inception, with programs and funding directed by residents.

 

Affinity Plus Foundation grant funds will support the Eagan Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Initiative, which educates youth on community issues and provides training on a range of analysis and decision-making tools. This initiative engages youth to determine grant recipients, with future goals to expand the grant pool and deepen the program’s educational and training components.

 

Exodus Lending

Exodus Lending is a non-profit dedicated solely to providing Minnesotan borrowers a pathway out of payday loan debt and toward financial stability. Many Minnesotans have small-dollar, short-term payday loans with triple-digit interest rates which they cannot repay, resulting in a spiral of debt that is difficult to escape. Nearly 49,000 Minnesotans borrowed an average of eight loans each in 2017, which shows that payday loans exacerbate indebtedness. Exodus Lending works to reverse this cycle through interest-free refinancing, focusing on those who have been stuck in the debt trap for at least 30 days, have a steady source of income, and have a bank account. Participants work to pay off predatory debt and receive additional support through financial counselors.

 

The Affinity Plus Foundation grant will help expand Exodus Lending’s interest-free payday loan refinancing program statewide. Outreach efforts will specifically focus on St. Cloud and Mankato. In addition, Exodus Lending is developing a process to report to credit bureaus, as a new member of the Credit Builders Alliance. This will allow participants in this program to build or bolster their credit history, thus improving access to affordable mainstream financing options.

 

Genesys Works Twin Cities

Genesys Works Twin Cities serves high school and college students from underprivileged communities in the Twin Cities by providing pathways to educational and career success. It utilizes STEM skills training, meaningful work experiences, and impactful relationships to help students receive the knowledge and skills to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Genesys Works collaborates with 40 Twin Cities-area high schools, more than 50 leading corporations, and post-secondary institutions throughout the state to leverage resources and maximize its impact in the community.

 

The Affinity Plus Foundation’s grant will support the Genesys Works “College & Career Connections” (CCC) program which focuses on high school seniors interested in pursuing STEM careers. The CCC program facilitates academic persistence and continued professional growth by providing students with training and education opportunities; an online social media community; transition interviews; financial aid application support; and parent resources. The CCC program also delivers a summer-bridge curriculum to increase post-secondary attendance after graduation and twice-monthly college counseling sessions.

 

Hearts & Hammers

Hearts & Hammers is an organization that provides free exterior home-improvement assistance for low-income seniors, disabled and veteran homeowners so that they may continue living independently in their own homes. A typical Hearts & Hammers home is “rehabbed” in just one day to restore the character, weatherproofing, security and accessibility. Materials and labor are donated from corporations, groups, professional associations and volunteers from across the Twin Cities.

 

The Affinity Plus Foundation grant will support the efforts of Hearts & Hammers to paint and caulk, and to repair or replace siding, windows, doors and retaining walls to ensure homes remain safe and livable. It also will construct stairs, walkways and accessibility ramps, depending on need. By fall 2019, Hearts & Hammers will recruit and assess exterior home maintenance needs for 60 homeowners to plan work for the upcoming season. It will also recruit and organize volunteer teams to support these projects.

 

Isanti County Triad and Minnesota Triad

Triad is a partnership of three organizations – law enforcement, senior citizens and community groups – organized for the sole purpose to promote senior safety and reduce the fear of crime that seniors often experience. A non-profit under the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, Triad facilitates 34 individual groups coordinated out of law enforcement agencies across the state. Through partnerships, this program educates seniors on topics relevant to them such as frauds and scams, veterans, slips trips and falls, funeral planning, severe weather awareness and more. For more than 30 years, Triad has relied on ongoing information exchanges and volunteer support to achieve its goals.

 

The Affinity Plus Foundation grant will support various initiatives underway with the Isanti County Triad. “File of Life” packets help seniors to be best prepared in the event of an emergency, ensuring complete contact information for families and doctors is available to first responders. Isanti County Triad will also host the Minnesota State Triad Conference in September, allowing representatives from Triad groups from across the state to learn from each other and strengthen their individual programs.

 

The Link

The Link is a Twin Cities organization, led by youth and adults, that works with individuals and families to overcome the impacts of poverty and social injustice. It offers 20 programs that focus on housing and homelessness; case management and academic support for juvenile students; and shelter and transitional support for individuals who are victims of trafficking.

 

Affinity Plus Foundation grant funding will support The Link’s programs focused on housing, supportive services, and outreach to youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Dakota County. Its Suburban Housing programs provide housing for youth experiencing homelessness in the suburban metro and support, with the goal of expanding from 35 units to 52 in 2019. Funds will also support The Link’s C.O.R.E Drop-In Center in Apple Valley, which provides basic needs (overnight shelter, food, clothes, shower, laundry, etc.) and connections to case management resources. In 2018, C.O.R.E served 144 youth and young families and conducted 619 case management sessions and 121 assessments in Dakota County alone.

 

Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers

MCCD is an association of 46 community development non-profits engaged in affordable housing, commercial corridor revitalization, and small business development in the Twin Cities area. It works to build strong, stable communities by leveraging resources for the development of people and places.

 

Through this grant, MCCD will make enhancements to its Credit Building Loan (CBL) program, which provides participants with very small no-interest loans (< $300) to be repaid over a 12-month period, allowing them to increase or establish credit scores. This program targets residents in the seven-county metro area who have significant credit deficiencies or lower incomes that prevent them from accessing traditional products to build their credit.

 

The Open Door

The Open Door is an organization supporting Dakota County working to end local hunger through access to healthy food. It provides fresh, nutritious food to 6,000 low-income residents each month.

 

The grant from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support The Open Door’s Eagan Pantry program, which – in addition to offering food to individuals and families in need – meets with food shelf clients to connect them with other social service and resource organizations. More than 60% of food options are fresh, perishable items. In 2018, the Eagan Pantry provided more than 886,000 pounds of food to more than 44,000 individuals in 14,000 households in Eagan and beyond throughout Dakota County.

 

Prepare + Prosper

Prepare + Prosper is a non-profit organization that works to build financial health and provide access to quality tax and financial services. It works with low- to moderate-income people to build financial well-being through free tax preparation, financial coaching, providing access to financial products, and by changing systems to create economic opportunity. Each year, P+P provides free tax preparation services to more than 12,300 low- and moderate-income individuals in the Twin Cities metro area, returning more than $24 million in tax refunds to the households who need them the most. P+P then integrates financial services – such as savings accounts, credit reports, and referrals to financial counseling – into the free tax preparation process to help customers maximize the positive impacts of their tax refunds. In 2018, P+P helped 1,300+ customers to put $1.9 million of their refunds into savings.

 

Grant funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation would support P+P’s financial coaching program, Money Mentors. Money Mentors participants work one-on-one with financial coaches and alongside a group of their peers to set personalized financial goals, such as decreasing student loan debt or saving for a house. P+P tracks five key financial areas for its participants over the course of the program, including debt, savings, credit score, the CFPB’s Financial Well-Being Score and monthly income. It also tracks changes in participants’ stress levels related to finances over the course of the program and their confidence in navigating the financial marketplace.

 

The Yes Network

The Yes Network is an organization in St. Cloud focused on child health and wellness that has provided summer meals in the St. Cloud area for kids in low-income apartment complexes, public housing units, and mobile home parks. It focuses on resilience in adversity and the importance of neighborhoods in the development of healthy children, loving families, and social well-being. Established in 2011, The Yes Network has grown from an all-volunteer group of faith community members who made 4,000 sandwiches during that first year to serving over 87,000 hot meals for 23 neighborhoods and providing 14 education programs – placing it among the top five Minnesota non-profits in the number of summer meals served.

 

Through this grant from the Affinity Plus Foundation, The Yes Network will expand its youth leadership development program. In 2019 it will hire 45 high school students as youth assistants within the 14 largest neighborhoods. Through training, mentoring and evaluation, participants will gain leadership and work readiness skills as they help to serve meals and organize activities.

 

Cultivator Grant Recipients 2019

Timothy Bjorge, Little Falls Community High School (Little Falls, Minn.)

Community service is at the heart of Little Falls Community High School. As school principal, Mr. Bjorge leads the charge in the largest community service project in Morrison County through the school’s Day of Caring. Since 2011 students, staff and community members have participated in the Little Falls Day of Caring Community Service project on the first Wednesday in May. In eight years, more than 1,100 volunteers have provided a combined 3,300 hours of community service to the elderly and disabled population in the area. Students rake yards, wash windows and perform other spring clean-up. It teaches students and adult volunteers the importance of giving back to our community, and it connects our students with a segment of the population that needs help.

 

“Teaching students to volunteer increases students’ self-esteem and help them feel good about helping others,” Mr. Bjorge said. “Volunteering engages students with the community, creates special bonds with the population being served, and increases social awareness and responsibility.”

 

Greg Campbell, Grand Rapids High School (Grand Rapids, Minn.)

Mr. Campbell strongly believes in the importance of vocational education and hands-on learning to engage students. Through his courses – Auto Mechanics and Introduction to the Automobile for Women – at Grand Rapids High School, he has the opportunity to teach students about a subject that many perceive to be complex and intimidating. In Mr. Campbell’s class, students can explore a new niche, strive for excellence, and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment that frequently leads to the pursuit of post-secondary education and on-the-job training.

 

“Students enrolled in this type of coursework learn numerous life skills that teach them how to become life-long learners, which in turn, allows them to become better citizens or community members,” Mr. Campbell said. “It is a win-win for education, students, society and the ultimately the community they will reside in.”

 

Erin Cunningham, Harvest Preparatory School (Minneapolis, Minn.)

Even as early as first grade, students at Harvest Prep are learning the importance of community and being good citizens. Ms. Cunningham uses hands-on experiences to engrain concepts that are challenging for young minds, such as planting trees on Earth Day and making cards for hospital patients. In the school year ahead, Ms. Cunningham will implement an environmental education program with her students. She will work with her class to identify ways that Harvest Prep can be more environmentally-friendly in its everyday practices, including using less paper, energy-efficient lighting and enhanced recycling. Students can reduce, reuse and recycle at any age, and field trips to recycling centers can help to cement these topics.

 

“First-hand experience shows how they can improve their own community, no matter how young they are. A field trip to where our trash and recycling goes [will allow students] to see how the whole process works, and how it starts with us at our school,” Ms. Cunningham said. “When students get involved with their community, they expand their world view of issues we are facing and also start to developed empathy.”

 

Eva Johnson, Hastings High School-Students of Transition Age Acquiring Relevant Skills (Hastings, Minn.)

The STAARS program at Hastings High School provides transition education for high school students with special needs. Students qualifying for special education after their 12th grade year learn in three main focus areas: daily living skills, employment and post-secondary education. As part of this education, students volunteer at a variety of sites in the community, including the Hastings Veterans Home and Salvation Army. These efforts also establish connections with possible places for future employment, and moreover lead to happier lives and better outcomes for citizens with unique abilities and special needs.

 

“We know that acts of kindness benefit both the recipient and the provider,” Ms. Johnson said. “Bringing community members together in a positive environment will have long lasting impacts. The program will provide external motivation intended to ignite internal motivation.”

 

Joleen Koopman, Sauk Rapids Rice Public Schools (Sauk Rapids, Minn.)

As a special education teacher for teenagers at Sauk Rapids Rice Public Schools, Ms. Koopman feels that community engagement and outreach is a meaningful life lesson. Through hands-on activities, she will use grant funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation to engage her students in community projects by making blankets, helping the elderly rake lawns or performing various city clean-up activities.

 

“By having students involved in the community, they can look at our community from a different perspective and hopefully gain some compassion for those they are helping,” Ms. Koopman said. “Students will feel a very big sense of accomplishment and will hopefully continue to help others in whatever way they are able in the future.”

 

Kathryn Lyerly, McKinley Area Learning Center (St. Cloud, Minn.)

For the past 25 years, McKinley Area Learning Center has coordinated a youth service project that pairs at-risk high school students with area veterans at the St. Cloud Veterans Medical Center. It not only provides students with personal insight into our country’s history, but it teaches the concepts of empathy and compassion to supplement other classroom teaching. Students help to decorate the VA facility for major holidays, serve treats and play games at different times throughout the school year. At the conclusion of the program, students conduct an interview with one of the veterans and share their stories.

 

“This program provides students the opportunity to, not only give back to our community and to see what a resource our local VA is, but an opportunity to provide students a history lesson that they could never get out a textbook,” Ms. Lyerly said. “All students can benefit from learning compassion and empathy.”

 

Dawn Plath, North Star Academy-Duluth Edison Charter Schools (Duluth, Minn.)

Ms. Plath is hoping to leverage the students in the Life Skills program to make North Star Academy a bit more refreshing. Working with the school’s 5-8th grade special education students, they will establish and sustain a profitable business in the form of a coffee cart, selling beverages and snacks to teachers and support staff. Students will benefit from skills practice and reinforcement, as well as field trips to visit local small businesses to learn more about how they operate. This cart will give students an opportunity to learn and practice a variety of skills – such as functional mathematics, functional communication, fine and gross motor skills, executive functioning skills, social skills, and project management skills. Students will select a local charity to donate a portion of their profits.

 

“Daily practice of these functional life skills will give students valuable practice for future employment within our community and will help them build a resume,” Ms. Plath said. “This programming provides intensive instruction and practice in the skills necessary for students with unique learning challenges and special abilities to be successful in future employment, independent living, and community involvement.”

 

Mary Swanson, Richmond Elementary (Richmond, Minn.)

Students at Richmond Elementary have a mission: “Making a difference to create a better tomorrow.” With grant funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation, Ms. Swanson will create a “makerspace” that incorporates all areas of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). This space will allow students to have a unique, collaborative workspace that encourages learning and sharing. Through various challenges, students will construct items in the makerspace and utilize collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication. In the future, Ms. Swanson hopes to be able to expand this space into an after-school area for community members and their children.

“At Richmond, we are hoping by giving students more exposure to this type of learning there are able to think more creatively and have more confidence to become future innovators, entrepreneurs and community experts,” Ms. Swanson said. 

 

Alison Tisdell, Gene Dillon Elementary School (Bemidji, Minn.)

Ms. Tisdell wants to dispel the sense of entitlement, so prevalent in today’s society, from her 5th grade class. Through a unique education program at Gene Dillon Elementary, she will use activities and demonstrations to show what it means to work hard, take care of each other, and be a productive citizen. Grand funding from the Affinity Plus Foundation will help to create a school garden to grow vegetables that will be shared with the community. Through volunteering at the community food shelf and other venues, students will gain a better understanding of life challenges and the importance of community outreach. They will learn empathy, compassion, perseverance, and positive role model skills.

 

“When students get engaged in community outreach, volunteering or citizenship activities, it opens up their worldview, helps develop leadership skills and gain knowledge on how to show empathy toward others,” Ms. Tisdell said. “It shows them how their actions can have a positive impact on the community they are serving.”

 

Kimberly Yuretich, Chisholm High School (Chisholm, Minn.)

Last year, Chisholm High School began offering a voluntary, in-school program designed to assist students who may need support academically, socially and/or emotionally. Known as the REACH program, the goal is to help students experience success by learning new life skills to overcome barriers or challenges present in their lives. In Ms. Yuretich’s REACH classroom, students participate in activities and lessons on teamwork, character education, mindfulness and personal growth. This program also supports social-emotional learning through building positive relationships with peers and adults, and community volunteer activities two to three times per month. The Cultivator Grant from the Affinity Plus Foundation will support the activities of the REACH program.

 

“I believe it is important for students to participate in volunteering and outreach activities, to reinforce how important it is to support and help one another, and to find their place and be part of something larger than themselves.” Ms. Yuretich said. “Students who volunteer learn valuable lessons in teamwork, as well as seeing the world from another's perspective.”