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Penny drops in for county dollars

Tim Penny zipped into the Mower County Board meeting yesterday to remind commissioners what a good deal the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation has become for Mower and 19 other counties in the region.

SMIF’s 2013 budget request was not music to their ears, but Penny was convincing and he was short about it.

"Your return on investment has been 549 percent over the past 25 years," he said, "even higher in more recent years."

The former Congressman said that local donations to SMIF are paying $6 back to communities for every dollar invested.

Penny honed in on the foundation’s emphasis on economic growth – it has supported more than 450 businesses with loans and technical assistance, totaling more than $24 million and securing more than 7,300 jobs


Investment in Mower County includes 19 loans totaling $723,050 and 94 grants totaling $638,512 for a total economic investment of $1,36,562.

And he gave equal time to the organization’s concern for early child education. "Being aware of early childhood needs helps families connect," he said. "One half of children are not connected; and they do not come to kindergarten prepared to learn.

"So we are trying to do more. The partnerships are good for the children, families and the community."

The theme, "More children ready to learn, leads to a skilled workforce," is the banner for a long list of the foundation’s Early Childhood Initiatives program.

SMIF awards grants up to $10,000 to enhance and increase existing home visitation services and it awards Incentive Grants up to $20,000 to support early childhood projects so children are ready to learn and succeed.

After his short visit, Penny was on his way to Spring Valley to help train another group of AmeriCorps LEAP members to help at-risk children with social and emotional development. LEAP stands for Learning Early Achieves Potential.

AmeriCorps was created under President Bill Clinton by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1998 and later expanded under President George W. Bush . The work done by AmeriCorps ranges from public education to environmental clean-up.

About half of the SMIF budget is spent on this year’s theme of "Investing in Children." One story that Penny left behind is about AmeriCorps LEAP member Nicolette Bryant-Wessling, who works with children at the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.


There are dozens of examples of SMIF support for businesses and early childhood programs in the county since the foundation’s beginning in 1984.

The Early Childhood Book Start Program benefited the Holy Cross Lutheran Preschool and Child Care Center in Austin with 50 books for their Read With Me program; Austin Head Start’s "Family Read-a-thon" was able to add 75 books.

The Austin Public School District received a $6,000 grant to strengthen and increase home visits to families.

The Young Explorer program awards computers to organizations through a partnership with IBM Corp. Riverland Community College got one for their Apple Lane Community Child Care Center as did Holy Cross Lutheran Preschool.

AmeriCorps LEAP supported early childhood efforts for Community Education at Austin Public Schools, at the Parenting Resource Center and SEMCAC Austin.

Penny didn’t tell the commissioners how much money he expected from Mower County.



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