Community engagement is core to Southwest Initiative Foundation’s mission, and it’s a place where collaborative partnerships shine.
From developing a teacher pipeline in Worthington, to piloting a local government learning cohort, to promoting mental health in schools, to supporting age-friendly community projects – we bring people together with innovative approaches to build vibrant and welcoming communities, one of the pillars that our kids need to succeed.
Community engagement work includes relationship building, grantmaking, facilitated conversations, partnerships, research, education, training, proactive programming, advocacy and local community-led belonging work. Find out more about our current programs on this page.
Youth and Families
Each person in our region — whether a parent, grandparent, employer, educator, elected official or community member — has a role to play in ensuring a strong future for southwest Minnesota by supporting our kids, the next generation of leaders.
Families and their communities have the desire and the power to help our kids thrive. We provide the tools by creating community connections and directing resources to opportunities that impact critical needs for the education and well-being of children birth-to-18 and families across the region. Our work focuses on early childhood, youth mental health and holistic models of family care and support, centering on single mothers.
The Moms Advisory Panel is a newly forming collective of parents and caregivers from throughout southwest Minnesota who will occasionally volunteer their insight and ideas to support our youth and families work. If you’re interested in being part of this group, email Amy Brustuen.
Growing Local: Emerging Leaders
If you have big ideas and a passion for your community but could use some guidance, Growing Local: Emerging Leaders is a great place to start. This leadership education program supports emerging leaders in southwest Minnesota. In partnership with University of Minnesota Extension, we provide tools and resources to build your confidence and empower you to shape the future in places that matter most to you.
This cohort of 14 participants from around the region gathers for a combination of in-person and virtual meetings where UMN Extension educators share tips and tools to grow their skills, and local speakers offer inspiration from their leadership journeys.
Through Welcoming Week, organizations and communities bring together neighbors of all backgrounds to build strong connections and affirm the importance of welcoming and inclusive places in achieving collective prosperity. Southwest Initiative Foundation provides funding and support for Welcoming Week celebrations in communities across our region as part of our membership in Welcoming America, the national organization behind Welcoming Week.
If your community is interested in hosting a Welcoming Week event in southwest Minnesota, we want to know! Email Than Than Kyaw to find out how SWIF can support you.
Welcoming Communities Project
Welcoming Communities Project helps community members build relationships and learn inclusive community practices while growing their local network of “welcomers” who are passionate about including everyone. Communities apply to be part of the project and then participate in monthly cohort meetings hosted in partnership with University of Minnesota Extension Educators to share tools, skills and strategies for welcoming and inclusion.
If your community is interested in a future Welcoming Communities Project cohort, email Ivan Parga to learn more.
Our communities are vibrant and welcoming when people of all ages belong and contribute. Southwest Minnesota leads the state in percentage of population age 85 or better, according to data from Minnesota Compass. Our Paul and Alma Schwan Aging Trust Fund maximizes the social and economic contributions of elders throughout southwest Minnesota by keeping them well and engaged in community life.
One of our key partnerships in aging is with the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, which delivers the Age Friendly Community program. Through the program, we’ve provided funding for MNRAAA staff to work with our rural communities that have a population under 3,000 to complete a community-wide survey and create a Community Leadership Team.
Read about local Age Friendly Communities projects in our region
When our communities have what they need to support older adults in healthy and successful aging, we’re one step closer to seeing everyone in southwest Minnesota thrive. Age Friendly Communities is a program that engages local community members in identifying age friendly assets as well as improvements that could have a positive impact on livability for all ages.Read about local Age Friendly Communities projects
Nonprofit Capacity Building
Local nonprofits grow quality of life for community members and help fill gaps. We’re a resource for nonprofits across the region, while helping build and strengthen local Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizations in southwest Minnesota.
Southwest Initiative Foundation has committed to removing barriers that prevent full participation in southwest Minnesota’s abundant opportunities for the people who call this region home. Our team works to identify and reinforce social capital; diversify the regional nonprofit sector; and create more connected, resilient, and inclusive communities where all people have the support and resources to thrive.
If you’re looking for local support in nonprofit capacity building, email Khou Lor.
Our communities sometimes face accidents or violence that cause loss, suffering, pain, grief and hardship. Research tells us social support is a significant contributor to emotional health in the face of trauma. There are steps we can all take to be more aware and supportive of the people around us. And there are resources for when we ourselves need help and support.
Amy Brustuen, Southwest Initiative Foundation Youth & Community Program Officer, has 30 years of human services experience, including supporting communities going through trauma. By working together, we can meet immediate needs, promote healthy community responses, and begin healing.
If your community is facing a crisis and looking for resources and support, email Amy Brustuen.
Natural Disaster Response
Often when an unexpected crisis arises, all kinds of fundraising efforts pop up, including crowd-funding sites like Go Fund Me or Kickstarter. It’s often difficult or impossible to verify the authenticity of these fundraising campaigns, or ensure they have a responsible process in place for distributing funds. Community foundations, on the other hand, operate under well-established guidelines, have local accountability and have already created relationships with community members.
We can partner with our community foundation affiliates in creating a fund to assist with community needs. Using an established infrastructure, donors can contribute to help their neighbors. And the local community foundation can direct these dollars to individuals, businesses or community groups with a demonstrated need. This could be a single-day event such as a tornado or a natural disaster spread over a period of weeks, such as flooding.
If your community is facing a natural disaster, SWIF has access to resources through a partnership with the Midwest Early Recovery Fund to support early recovery services, education and outreach or programs that address the needs of marginalized populations. This response helps to make disaster recovery more efficient and effective by supporting local leadership, equity, and a holistic approach.
For information about the Midwest Early Recovery Fund, email Nancy Fasching.
Help for Helpers
Whether you’re a child care provider, teacher, health care worker, have an important place on an assembly line, or are another type of helper, Southwest Initiative Foundation provides an approach to offer you some relief, to help release your spirit and increase your capacity to take on the world with Help For Helpers.
Grounded in Biocognitive Science, this resource has three sections. The techniques are a series of guided meditations that build your knowledge and practice of self-care as you listen to each episode. The tools to nourish your passion and care for yourself are described in short blogs that are quick and easy to read. And, we have linked to resources on other sites.