The mission of the Ann Bancroft Foundation, based in Minneapolis, "inspires and encourages girls to imagine something bigger."

One of the foundation’s funding opportunities is the "Dare to Dream" grant, which provides financial support for girls in grades 4 through 12. The grant recipients may use their funding for "art, cultural, leadership, educational, and outdoors/wilderness experiences."

While grants are available to all Minnesota girls, over 80 percent of the money is awarded to girls in the greater Twin Cities’ area. However, two young women from our region were awarded grants this past year.

Fourteen-year-old Sydney Pluto,of Dodge Center, used her "Dare to Dream" money to participate in an educational trip and travel to Washington, D.C.

Sydney said her application stressed "my enthusiasm to explore," and explore is exactly what she did. First stop along the way was Chicago with a trip to the top of the Willis Tower. The students continued on to Gettysburg, where Sydney was selected to read aloud the Gettysburg Address to her travel group.

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She explored Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area. Her personal highlights were the Capitol, the Smithsonian museums, and Mount Vernon.

Sydney is a student-athlete at Triton High School. She plays basketball, softball, and volleyball. In addition to seeing many significant sites in American history during her trip, she felt the experience encouraged her to "explore opportunities for leadership."

In fact, this year she has "stepped up to lead my teammates." Outside of sports, she is seeking more opportunities to be a leader at school.

High school senior Kjersten Peterson,of Fountain, participated in Minnesota Ambassadors of Music and was able to travel to Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland with her "Dare to Dream" grant money.

Peterson, who plays in both the Lanesboro High School concert and jazz bands, learned about the music program from students who had previously participated. Kjersten’s band director nominated her, and she had her "heart set on going." On her application, she stressed her "commitment" and desire to participate.

After traveling and playing music, Kjersten gained tremendous insight into herself.

"Building confidence is something that I have struggled with for a long time. I was able to learn more about myself by doing something I love: playing music. With each performance, I found myself reflecting on why I enjoy music and sharing it with others. By reflecting, I suddenly found myself becoming more and more at peace with who I am."

This fall, Peterson will attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. While she doesn’t plan to study music, she intends to continue playing and participating in music.

One unique aspect of the grant procedure with the Ann Bancroft Foundation is that applicants are required to have an adult mentor to guide them through the process from start to finish. Sydney’s mentor was family friend, Deborah Zilland Kjersten’s was Sarah Peterson. Both girls felt encouraged and supported by their mentors.

The "Dare to Dream" program not only helped them see the world but also connected the girls with people both near and far.