Three moms in Litchfield are helping kids and their grown-ups make new friends through their nonprofit Rise + Roam indoor play space. Opened in 2020 by Katie Luoto, Kayla Swenson and Emily Allen, Rise + Roam makes room for play, movement and connection. It’s a creative endeavor committed to the development of young children and the adults in their lives, both vital parts of the larger community.
Grants from Southwest Initiative Foundation and our affiliate partner the Litchfield Area Community Foundation helped launch Rise + Roam, which opened in November 2020. The local business community has also generously supported the nonprofit.
“Rise and Roam is the perfect addition to the Litchfield community. It provides a place for play and learning, as well as exploring creative ways to play,” said Judy Hulterstrum, Director of the Litchfield Chamber.
Katie, Kayla and Emily each moved to Litchfield from a larger city, all with kids under the age of 9. They’d never met until they started searching for inside options to entertain their kids, and found each other.
“We all moved here without knowing people, so it’s really easy in small towns if you don’t know a lot of people to get really isolated. That’s not great for anyone, especially if you’re dealing with the stress of young kids,” Katie said.
They realized they could be the ones to create a space for community to gather and play. None of them had ever started a business or nonprofit, but they had lots of ideas.
“We decided to go the nonprofit route because it seemed the most successful for indoor play spaces in communities like ours and wanted to keep costs low so it’s accessible for families,” Katie said. “We applied for grants like crazy. We had a local community member who gave us a very generous donation that helped us tremendously. The Litchfield Area Community Foundation was the first grant we applied for and received money from. We were super excited when we got that first check and put it in our account.”
After a year and a half of fundraising – and surpassing their $50,000 goal by $10,000 – the space for Rise + Roam started to transform from an old eye clinic into someplace magical. Walls came down and were replaced with spots to snuggle, room to read, places for puppets and even an indoor slide.
“It’s crazy how different it looks!” Katie said.
“It’s great to see people enjoying the space. It’s what we wanted, to create the space for people in the community,” Katie said. “Not only to help the parent as an individual, but it also helps them be a better parent when they feel connected to the community. It’s fun to see families who’ve made this part of their routine where they come in every Monday when their older kid is at preschool. And it’s great to see people still coming in and saying, ‘This is my first time here, I didn’t know about this place.’”
Earlier this year, Rise + Roam received a Grow Our Own grant from Southwest Initiative Foundation to help install play structures geared toward developing physical motor skills of toddlers ages 1 to 3. The funding also provided free memberships for 15 families who are in the local Early Head Start program, which works with infants and toddlers up to the age of 3.
“We’ve always wanted the space to be accessible for everyone and have scholarships available for when cost is a factor. The Grow Our Own grant helps us reach even more families,” Katie said.
Grow Our Own is a cradle-to-career approach to ensure southwest Minnesota kids have what they need to succeed by supporting high-quality early care and education, K-12 engagement in and out of schools, vibrant and welcoming communities and career on-ramps and stable families and parenting.
“Part of what kids need to be successful in life is for their parents to be supported,” said SWIF Vice President of Community Impact Nancy Fasching. “Rise + Roam is a great example of addressing opportunities and needs of both children and the adults in their lives together.”
Find out more about grants from Southwest Initiative Foundation.