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Letter From the President

Steady and strong toward the horizon

I grabbed my phone the other day, talked with one of my kids, checked texts and emails, and looked up the route to my next meeting.

It struck me how deeply my phone has changed my life.

It also got me to thinking – maybe it has you, too – how much change we have weathered since 2007, when smartphones started being ever-present. Demographics. Economics. Social media. Hybrid-work, cultural shifts in the working class. College enrollment down 30 percent statewide. Food banks have grown and inflation leaves a hollowness in the spirit as we work to make ends meet. Fear and mistrust have spread like the virus of 2020.

Leadership transitions have begun. Baby Boomers tend to stay in one career their whole working life, Generation X and Millennials change careers every seven to 10 years; younger generations are projected to change employment every three to five years. Communities, government and civic organizations are welcoming new members and fresh approaches.

Energy transition is another key rural opportunity and challenge. In Minnesota, 98 percent of the landmass is nonurban. Statewide energy generation requires rural water, land and workers to meet the demands of a greener economy. Yet rural communities and Native nations are too often sidelined in the conversations that directly impact us. That is why I called on the Governor to convene an independent after-action review of the Huber project withdrawal in Cohasset, with the goal of supporting sustainable energy models and resilient workforce structures.

There’s a lot on the horizon.

Charles Blandin’s life, career and philanthropic investments embodied a commitment to resilience, resourcefulness and long-term sustainability, and his success as a leader was intrinsically tied to his ability to look ahead – to the horizon.

Like Mr. Blandin, we have looked ahead toward the horizon of the Grand Rapids area, our home giving area, where we have a perpetual and primary responsibility. Challenges and opportunities we are adapting to close to home build knowledge and approaches to be shared with others across rural Minnesota. We listen, learn and respond as we collaborate in this work.

That cycle builds understandings and relationships that move us from information to action. From neighbors to cocreators of community. Together, we move from change to transformation.

For me, the difference between change and transformation is belief. Rural people have can-do belief in spades. It’s core and cornerstone of our culture and communities.

Transformation also takes action. Our grantees took bold steps last year to build capacity for success and to collaborate across the systems that support our families and communities. The YMCA began strengthening its services to meet growing demand for affordable childcare, safe places for youth and positive social networks. Minnesota North College’s AspireNORTH initiative is shifting models of local postsecondary learning to be student-centric and focused on high-demand learning needs that build strong local workforce. New partnerships developed between housing agencies across our area, including Tribal Nations and the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. These collaborations aim to improve both the quantity and types of housing options available, as well as the systems required to facilitate these developments. Grace House and the Northeast Continuum of Care housing coalition secured $750,000 in federal housing funds from a modest grant that provided consulting and grant writing support.

Actions like these, and dozens of others, move our area toward a horizon where organizations are steady, strong and ready for the long haul.

Leading the Blandin Foundation has offered me a unique perspective. Traveling across the state, I witness the vulnerabilities, aspirations and dreams of diverse rural communities. Young people share their visions, people often overlooked on the sidelines of our economy make their voices known, and leaders bubble with ideas and energy.

My travels have made one thing clear.

Change is inevitable. Transformation is a decision. It is not always graceful nor it is not an enchanted fairytale of wishes and wands. I believe in a vision of our area’s future fueled by today’s ideas, energy and excitement. That vision calls us to hone wise, creative, confident solutions. To advocate for and with people who are not always heard, and build toward communities where respect, harmony and integrity flourish.

Tuleah S. Palmer
CEO and President, Blandin Foundation

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