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'AUSTIN EDITION Rules for Apex Austin changed

Give us some idea what we might look at'

By Nikki Merfeld

*merfeld@postbulletin.com

While the process has changed a bit, the Hormel Foundation remains committed to projects that help Austin's doormat say "welcome" in a variety of languages, said Jerry Anfinson.

A dearth of funding requests coupled with the ravaging effects of the stock market compelled the foundation to change the way it responds to requests from Apex Austin.

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Apex was formed three years ago to develop initiatives to make Austin a welcoming community for immigrants and others who were new to town.

The group had a direct line to the foundation and could submit requests at monthly meetings of the foundation's finance committee. Other agencies the foundation supports, such as the Mower County United Way, are allowed to annually submit grant requests. Now Apex, too, can submit requests only once a year.

The foundation originally made a five-year pledge of up to $5 million in matching grants for projects that helped immigrants and citizens settle locally and work toward the American dream. Eight committees were formed to tackle issues such as affordable housing, child care, education and transportation.

Several visible projects, such as the Welcome Center, the Catherwood Home Child Care, and Murphy's Creek townhomes and single family houses, have been established through the efforts of Apex and other agencies.

The foundation also has provided funding for less visible projects, such as Mower County Transit work routes.

Grants were awarded based on support from other entities and with the understanding that funds were for setup and not for ongoing operations, Anfinson said. About $3 million in such projects have been funded.

Anfinson said Apex projects have been more successful than expected in helping young families make Austin home. The evidence can be seen throughout town.

"The parks have never been used so much -- ever -- as since we've had a major influx of Hispanics," said Anfinson. "I'm just so …; proud of it and I talk to Dick (Knowlton) about it and he's proud of it."

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Dick Knowlton, former president and chief executive officer of Hormel Foods Corp., is chairman of the foundation.

Then the requests dried up. Anfinson said he was particularly disappointed nothing was submitted from Apex's education committee, formerly led by Jim Hess and Gary Rhodes, who've both left town for new jobs.

"The foundation is kind of sitting here saying, 'hmm,' " said Anfinson. "We can't respond to unknown wishes or abstract requests, but give us some idea what we might look at and I think the foundation's contributions committee is probably going to look at it and say, 'This is reasonable,' and fund it."

The foundation has to protect its assets, especially in light of the stock market's condition, he said.

"We've never thrown money away in the past. I can't imagine we're going to throw money away in the future," Anfinson said.

Apex met last week to discuss the change, and at next month's meeting will finalize its process for prioritizing future requests, said Mayor Bonnie Rietz.

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