We’ve been helping southwest Minnesota communities find what it means to thrive on their own terms for over 37 years. Responding to the increasing needs and requests from communities working to be places where all people feel welcome and like they belong, SWIF Vice President of Community Impact Nancy Fasching leads our work focused on rural equity, youth and family, and civic and community engagement. It’s ultimately about closing the opportunity gap for our kids by investing in the people and systems that surround them.
“Our goal is to deepen and build trusting relationships across differences by listening to, learning from, supporting, and advancing communities that have been excluded, to develop meaningful connections and real inclusion,” Nancy said.
Meet the new community impact team at Southwest Initiative Foundation
Laura provides day-to-day support and coordination for our grant program – the behind-the-scenes work to distribute grant dollars to communities. She joined the staff in 2020.
Laura processes grants for our 31 local community foundation affiliates, donor-advised and designated funds. Among those are hardship funds created by regional employers that support immediate needs and provide financial assistance to their team members and their families in the event of undue financial hardship as a result of certain crises and emergencies.
“Working on applications from our three crisis assistance funds has touched me the most,” Laura said. “These applications remind me how important it is to spend my time with the people I care about the most.”
Grants from the hardship funds have been used for unanticipated expenses that arise for things like funeral expenses, recovery from natural disasters, and personal tragedy. Last year, these hardship funds awarded $95,145 to help fill immediate needs during times of crisis.
Laura is exploring how this opportunity can be more accessible for employees who are not native English speakers or who don’t speak any English.
As a first-generation Hmong immigrant, Khou’s younger years were spent navigating systems and being the voice for her immigrant parents. Through these lived experiences, she realized her love for creating space for people to speak on behalf of themselves, in their truest form.
In her role at SWIF, Khou 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.
This spring, Khou launched Growing Local: Emerging Leaders, a new program that provides tools and resources for emerging leaders in partnership with University of Minnesota Extension.
“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 said.
By nurturing these leaders, Khou says communities will be able to invite new perspectives, have boards and commissions that reflect their residents and build belonging in a community space.
Amy is a resource to strengthen community connections and direct resources to opportunities that impact critical needs for the education and well-being of children birth-to-18 and families across the region. Her focus is on early childhood, youth mental health and holistic models of family care and support.
Recently Amy has been connecting with foundation grantees who are working on projects related to Grow Our Own, our strategy to ensure all southwest Minnesota kids can access what they need to succeed. As she learns more about their role, she’s looking for other resources that can elevate their work in addition to funding.
“Communities need tools, and they need people who are able to step outside of 9-5 work schedules, Medicaid rules, social silos and so on. I am very privileged to be able to run between these spaces and sometimes to be able to connect social and financial capital from source to destination,” said Amy, who has two decades of experience as a social worker.
Than Than Kyaw
Thanks to mentorship from his community’s leaders, Than Than is passionate about supporting people and believing in their success stories. In previous roles, he has worked in community organizing, corporate community engagement, student services
and community education. Than Than moved to Minnesota from a refugee camp in Thailand at age 11 and graduated from Worthington High School.
Than Than’s role is identifying strengths and challenges, building community-based skills and being a resource to the region through community led partnerships, especially with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
“I’m connecting to people, listening to communities’ stories to identify the challenges and strength each community has. I want to know the impact by the systems in their community like government, education, health care, economic development and more. May our work continue to support and help others access their own powers,” Than Than said.
We were recently accepted to Welcoming America’s Rural Welcoming Initiative along with 12 other rural communities. Than Than helps lead SWIF’s work promoting welcoming and belonging, and through Rural Welcoming, he’ll connect with and learn from our peers around the country as well as receive coaching and technical assistance on strategies to build belonging.
Based in his hometown of Worthington, Ivan is passionate about connecting to people, hearing their stories and taking steps to make sure those stories are validated and advocated for. He joined the foundation most recently, starting in December 2022. Ivan has experience in corporate community engagement and has been involved in local and electoral politics as well as various nonprofits and leadership projects including Be the Change and Voices for Racial Justice.
Day-to-day, Ivan is facilitating conversations and partnerships, offering guidance to community changemakers and creating new connections.
“Community members in southwest Minnesota come from all walks of life, and when we’re intentional about connecting with them in a way that makes sense to them, their schedules, their family life, their values and interests, that’s when we’re most effective at making our communities more welcoming,” Ivan said.
Along with others on the community impact team, he recently helped lead a series of focus groups with young people to broaden understanding of needs for training, professional development and talent retention in the area. Regional organizations involved in the partnership include Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council, SWIF, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, United Community Action Partnership, Southwest Adult Basic Education, Southwest Regional Development Commission and the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission.
This effort is part of a wider program for cross-sector community groups across the U.S. to apply local solutions to increase opportunity and strengthen local economies.
“The more people we’re able to get to the table, the clearer the picture is for making our communities healthy, vibrant, and thriving,” Ivan said.
3 Steps to Making a Difference In Your Community
- Contact us. Send us an email to tell us more about your project or idea that will help your community thrive.
- Let’s partner. Together, we’ll find which program works best to support your goals or connect you to other resources.
- Make a real impact. Apply the ideas in your community to see what can happen next!