LITTLE FALLS - With the nation in a deep recession, the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation announced it was focusing efforts at economic recovery with more than $3.1 million earmarked for jobs, workers and families.
"We felt that this situation called for a quick and decisive response," said Kathy Gaalswyk, Initiative Foundation president, in a news release. "The Initiative Foundation is not abandoning its core programs, but we are tightening our focus."
The foundation announced the plans for nonprofit grants and business financing. Private businesses and individuals are not eligible for Initiative Foundation grants.
The foundation will dedicate $662,500 - nearly 60 percent - of its 2009 grants to help distressed families, workers and small businesses. It is now accepting grant applications from nonprofits, schools and local governments that advance the following priorities:
• Help communities plan for and address barriers to economic development, including transportation, childcare, affordable housing and sustainable energy.
• Build effectiveness of organizations and coalitions that serve children and families in economic distress, especially through planning and partnerships.
• Support training programs for at-risk and displaced workers that lead to employment or advancement in growing industries.
• Help small businesses survive and grow despite economic challenges, by supporting nonprofit consulting services, mentorship and education efforts.
The foundation also will invest $2.4 million in business financing in partnership with other lenders. Its goal is to start or expand locally owned businesses that secure quality jobs in technology, manufacturing and green ventures. The foundation defines "quality jobs" as those that pay an average of $18 per hour including benefits - the living wage for a family of four.
Since 1986, $34.2 million in foundation business loans have created or secured more than 9,600 quality jobs.
"Now more than ever, we need optimism and leadership," Gaalswyk said. "In the 1980s, the Minnesota Initiative Foundations were created as a counter punch to economic hardship. Two decades later, we don't plan to watch from the sidelines."
Board Chair Gene Waldorf said the tumbling stock market affected all U.S. foundations. Although its assets have declined, he said the foundation's board of trustees chose to stay its course by approving a healthy budget of grants and business loans to help the regional economy.
"We've had many great investment years to counterbalance the challenging ones," Waldorf said. "We see opportunities here among the many challenges. By moving forward instead of pulling back, we're trying to continue the positive momentum and reverse a self-fulfilling prophecy of economic failure."
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