Blandin Foundation awards $3.6 million in grants

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – During their summer meeting June 20 and 21, Blandin Foundation trustees approved 67 grants totaling $3.6 million that strengthen rural Minnesota communities. 

Among the summer awards are work in lifelong learning, economic development and accessibility in the Grand Rapids and Itasca areas, including:

Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency was awarded $391,185 to continue the Adult Scholarship Program for Itasca area adult learners. The program provides up to $4,500 for people ages 25 and older to cover costs related to education after high school. Currently 71 Itasca area residents are enrolled in the program; last year, 34 of 77 participants had no income when they enrolled.  Blandin Foundation has provided nearly $1.6 million in support for this program since 2003.

Independent School District 318 was awarded $88,500 for Children First! activities, across the county. Children First! programs include Invest Early, Baby Steps Boutique, Project Read, events to promote the Week of the Young Child, New Year’s Eve celebrations and the annual Children’s Fair.  These activities bring together Itasca area communities to celebrate and teach children ages birth-18 and their families.  In 2015 and 2016, 56 partner organizations held 72 events attended by more than 7,500 individuals — 2,500 adults and 5,000 children. More than 200 volunteers of all ages were involved from groups such as Kiwanis, Key Club, district student councils, sports teams, nonprofits and businesses.

Invest Early, which provides wrap-around services for the region’s earliest learners, was awarded $2.1 million to continue their programming.  In recognition of the significant impact of Invest Early in narrowing educational achievement gaps, Blandin Foundation trustees have committed to continue its long-standing support of Invest Early, it’s largest commitment ever.

Itasca area youth, families and communities also will benefit from a $60,000 grant to Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation for staffing support of the Spark initiative, which is advancing the Pathway to Student Success in 30 Itasca area communities.  

Area Partnership for Economic Expansion (APEX) was awarded $45,000 to continue research, education and strategy development to drive sustainable job growth and economic activity in the Itasca area and throughout northeast Minnesota.  APEX leverages existing strengths of the region and works proactively with public, private and philanthropic partners to advance education and research on next-generation forest products such as biofuels and green chemicals; value-added manufacturing, including foundries/castings, plating, and heat treating; IT/data storage to utilize the region’s broadband infrastructure; and workforce and talent recruiting.  APEX works closely with Grand Rapids’ local economic development community, especially Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), supporting organizations and individual leaders to broaden and strengthen the local economy.  The Foundation has provided research and education support of $150,000 since 2006.

Attracting visitors for events and tourism is another key facet of the area’s economic development activity.  Large venues such as the IRA Civic Center are an important resource in this sector of the economy.  A 2015 economic impact study concluded that Grand Rapids and the Itasca area see $2.2 million each year in direct non-visitor spending by people attending events at the Civic Center.  A $200,000 grant to the City of Grand Rapids will support construction of a multi-use outdoor recreation facility to help increase the amount of time the center’s indoor space is available for events.

Dozens of other grants awarded range from $5,000 to the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation to support Mobility Mania, $10,000 to the Northland Family Service Center to implement an evaluation process for the early childhood program in the Northland Early Childhood Collaborative, and $500 to the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center for its environmental education and naturalist programs.

All foundation grants, since its first in 1943, are listed at www.blandinfoundation.org.

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