Fourteen emerging leaders from communities across southwest Minnesota will participate in the first cohort of Growing Local: Emerging Leaders. This new program is a partnership between Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) and University of Minnesota Extension. Through a series of six sessions, these leaders will gain tools and resources to build their confidence and empower them to shape the future in places that matter most to them. Sessions start in April.
Khou Lor coordinates Growing Local: Emerging Leaders as part of her role at SWIF, where she serves as the foundation’s Rural Equity Specialist.
“By participating in this program, my hope is that emerging leaders will be given that opportunity to shine and by shining, their communities will get to say, ‘That leader came from my community!’ I hope a new wave of leaders will bring energy to their communities.”Khou Lor
Keep reading to learn more about the emerging leaders participating in the 2023 cohort.
Marissa Brown, Lamberton
My name is Marissa Brown. I am a public health educator for Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS). Additionally, I work with the State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant with SWHHS. At SWHHS, I co-chair our agency’s DEI committee, as well participate and facilitate in some of our DEI subgroup committees. I am an active member of several local committees. I have been an EMT for five years and currently volunteer on my local ambulance in Lamberton. I am a mother of three kids and live on a farm just outside of Lamberton with them and my significant other. In my free time, I enjoy singing, reading, and playing darts. I believe this cohort will help me to gain confidence in my leadership skills in both professional and personal aspects of my life. Leadership to me is about getting things done and helping others grow into their own skills. I am inspired by past leaders and aspire to someday be a leader that encourages others.
Ben Dempcy, Granite Falls
Hi, I’m Ben Dempcy! I grew up in rural Minnesota and have been fortunate enough to work for Pioneer PBS, which has provided me with some exciting opportunities. My wife of 11 years is my biggest inspiration, and my amazing daughter, who is 5 years old, teaches me something new every day. I’m thrilled to be a part of this professional community and am eager to learn new ways to become a more efficient leader. For me, the most inspiring aspect of leadership is the potential to make a positive impact in my community.
Laura Estudillo Craviotto, Windom
I’m Laura Estudillo. I started my journey to the USA with two suitcases and the eagerness to learn, get experience and shine in the industry. I’m a biotechnology engineer with major experience in the beverage and food industry. I’m very honored and excited to be a part of this program, as it will offer exciting opportunities to exchange different points of view, listen to different backgrounds and get the skills to be a greater leader in the future. Leadership inspires me to become a passionate, intelligent, energetic individual and share these emotions and passion with the rest.
Than Than Kyaw, Worthington
As the Community Engagement Specialist at Southwest Initiative Foundation, my work is to identify community strengths and challenges, build community-based skills and be a resource to the region through community-led partnerships especially with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The ability to be a leader from the front, middle, or back is what truly inspires me, and I know Grow Local will give us the opportunity to transform our leadership to that next level.
Khrystyna Lupkes, Round Lake
My name is Khrystyna Lupkes. I enjoy spending time with my husband, family and my two dogs. I am excited to learn new skills from the Growing Local cohort that can be used in my current position, as well as in other aspects of my life. I believe that leadership is the key to success in many aspects of our day to day lives. I am personally trying to grow and develop each and every day, to be a better leader for my current staff at the Worthington Area YMCA. I would like to inspire others to have passion and to take the initiative to be better leaders themselves.
Olivia Maertens, Spicer
My name is Olivia Maertens, and I’m 18 years old. I will be graduating from Ridgewater College with my associate of arts degree in liberal arts and sciences in May 2023. At the same time, I will be graduating from high school with my diploma. I work as a part-time public librarian and participate in dance and martial arts for sports. I’m excited about this program because I’ll be becoming more of a leader at my martial arts gym and would like to learn better how to manage and communicate with the children and adults who attend the school. Leadership inspires me in the way that it makes me want to take control of things more effectively and organize in a way so that I can help something, or someone, reach their full potential and operate as best as possible.
Maria Peters, Worthington
My name is Maria. I am the Youth Program Manager with Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council. Growing Local is a great opportunity, and I look forward to learning and growing as a leader. I am inspired when I see diversity in those with leadership roles.
Hsa Mu, Marshall
My name is Hsa Mu. I’m a Parent Student Connector at Marshall Public Schools. I live in Marshall with my wife Kyi and three children, Kevin (8), Harry (2 1/2), and Hazel (9 months). I like spending time with my family and enjoying outdoors activities like fishing, hiking, going to parks and playing volleyball. I’m excited about this leadership program because I believe it will give me opportunities to learn many skills, build confidence, connect with people and enhance my leadership skills. Leadership is very important to me, and it’s about being a good role model, taking responsibility and serving others.
Maria Munoz, Willmar
Hello, my name is Maria. I’m a registered nurse in Willmar. I started working as a registered nurse three years ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. I have taken on many projects and roles in my career so far and am currently in a supervisory position. I am a mother to a 1-year-old boy and am excited to build on my leadership skills through Growing Local. Having a strong leader is key to any group. I aspire to be a strong, motivating leader in whatever role I take on in life.
John Salgado Maldonado, Willmar
I am a social activist, percussionist and photographer interested in using these artistic expressions to contribute to social realities and to provide community awareness. I have a background in occupational therapy applied to empowering Indigenous and tribal communities through social projects, and a master’s degree in strategic consulting. I have experience as an international lecturer in social topics and Occupational Therapy. I’m a member of the Human Rights Commission in the City of Willmar and co-founder of Purpose Artisans, a nonprofit with a social development mission. What makes me excited about Growing Local is to develop and grow my leadership skills to promote sustainable change to improve our communities, with a recognized organization such as the Southwest Initiative Foundation.
Suree Sompamitwong, Worthington
My name is Suree Sompamitwong. I was born in Thailand and moved to the U.S. when I was 7 years old. I am a youth employment specialist at the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council. My passion projects are Creative Healing Space — a nonprofit that promotes mental health, healing and all things creative — and Art Invasionz — a clothing line that promotes meaningful artwork with a message. I am also a performance-visual artist.
KaZoua Thao, Tracy
My name is KaZoua Thao and I’m from Tracy. I graduated cosmetology school in January 2023. I am currently employed with Great Clips. I am excited about Growing Local because it will help me learn new skills to further my involvement in the community and collaborations with other inspiring leaders. Leadership inspires me stay accountable to myself and those around me, and to make a positive change in someone’s life.
Joyce Tofte, Marshall
I am a transplant to the southwest Minnesota area, earning my bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology and master’s in industrial-organizational psychology. I currently am the community outreach and services program coordinator at New Horizons Crisis Center, a crime victim services organization supporting those who are victim-survivors of sexual assault and general crime, and the Co-Founder of The MORE Network, an anti-racism nonprofit in Southwest Minnesota. I am also involved with Marshall’s DEI Commission, Minnesota’s Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative (FREC), Southwest Minnesota PRIDE and the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). I am passionate about community power-building and passionately growing the southwest Minnesota region, believing in the City of Marshall’s motto of “cultivating the best in us.” Any opportunity to assemble, exchange ideas and learn alongside the people who are integral in forming the future of our great state and region excites me. I enjoy the opportunity to empower people to reach their full potential while I am being challenged to grow alongside them.
Ambar Travino, Tracy
I am a strong Latina woman determined to continue fulfilling my life mission and passion of advocating and inspiring others. I believe in the power of words, and how it can educate this generation for a better future. Growing Local inspires me to start important work with the local community. It’s the ability to connect with others that inspires me to continue my leadership journey. No matter how you fall, get up, dress up, show up and never give up!