REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. – Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Growing Local: Emerging Leaders program recently graduated its first cohort of 14 participants. This leadership education program supports emerging leaders in southwest Minnesota and is a partnership with University of Minnesota Extension. Graduates include:
- Marissa Brown, Lamberton
- Ben Dempcy, Granite Falls
- Laura Estudillo Craviotto, Windom
- Than Than Kyaw, Worthington
- Khrystyna Lupkes, Round Lake
- Olivia Maertens, Spicer
- Maria Peters, Worthington
- Hsa Mu, Marshall
- Maria Munoz, Willmar
- John Salgado Maldonado, Willmar
- Suree Sompamitwong, Worthington
- KaZoua Thao, Tracy
- Joyce Tofte, Marshall
- Ambar Travino, Tracy
Growing Local: Emerging Leaders provides tools and resources for participants to build their confidence and empowers them to shape the future in southwest Minnesota communities. The cohort met monthly from April through September and discussed leadership development topics. University of Minnesota Extension educators Kimberly Guenther and Jennifer Aranda led conversations on self-awareness, strengths, teamwork, board governance, community readiness, cultural insights, committee effectiveness, conflict resolution and inclusion.
“One of the biggest ways to impact a community is to focus on leadership development. There is great potential in this group of energetic up-and-coming leaders. I was very proud to work with this cohort, and I look forward to watching them continue to learn, grow, and lead in southwest Minnesota,” Guenther said.
Khou Lor coordinates Growing Local: Emerging Leaders as part of her role at SWIF. Lor serves as the foundation’s Rural Equity Specialist and is a resource for communities across the region, while helping build and strengthen local Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizations in southwest Minnesota.
“We were able to build great relationships in this group. I’m happy we could connect and create a space that brought value to these emerging leaders,” Lor said.
Lor added that her goal in nurturing these leaders is for communities to be able to invite fresh perspectives, have boards and commissions that reflect the make-up of their communities and invite the intention of belonging in a community space.
The final Growing Local: Emerging Leaders group gathering at the Redwood Falls Community Center focused on celebrating and encouraging the cohort participants. John Salgado Maldonado, who participated in the program, led a drum circle with the group. His nonprofit Purpose Artisans uses this activity often in community engagement to help build healthy communities, where the group’s diversity finds a welcoming place among all its members and a way to express itself through rhythms.
Keynote speaker Pablo Obregón, Director of Community Growth (Equity and Inclusion) for the City of Willmar, shared insights from his own leadership journey with the cohort.
Obregón was born and raised in Lima, Peru, where his parents gave him a great education and encouraged him to try soccer, guitar and carpentry. He moved to Minnesota to attend Lutheran Bible Institute in California. He told the group his life became an adventure as he learned to speak English and navigate a new culture, not to mention cooking his own meals and doing his own laundry.
Obregón went on to obtain his Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul and spent several years in ministry, then in community engagement and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“You don’t become a leader from one day to the next; it takes a lot of steps. You have taken one of those steps by being in this cohort. Once you start, you’re not going to want to stop,” he said. “We are a group of people who have these gifts, who have this passion inside of us. When you have a passion, when you have a vision, you’re going to meet the people who want to do what you’re doing.”
About Southwest Initiative Foundation
Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) is a nonprofit community foundation connecting people, investing in ideas and building communities to create a southwest Minnesota where all people thrive. Since its founding in 1986, SWIF has distributed more than $115 million through its grantmaking and business finance programs.