SMIF helping make the early years learning years

Tim Penny

SMIF President/CEO

Spring is a busy time for us here at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), especially in our early childhood program. We invest in this area to prepare the youngest citizens of our region to be the workers, leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. We invite you to celebrate with us the Week of the Young Child, April 6-12. This year’s theme is “Early Years Are Learning Years.” For more information about the Week of the Young Child, visit

One way we’re marking this annual event is by bringing attention to the ways SMIF is investing in early childhood. In this month’s column, I’d like to share briefly some of our current early childhood efforts.

A few years ago we launched Parenting Matters – a workplace education program. We know that many working families find it difficult to participate in the traditional parenting classes due to conflicting work schedules, time commitments and cost. To help remove these barriers, SMIF engages parents where they spend a majority of their time – the workplace. We’re excited about the number of businesses that have already taken advantage of this program as a way to help their employees become better parents, and we anticipate that this program will continue to grow.

Research shows that employees who believe they are good parents are also more productive workers. For us, our Parenting Matters class translates into a win-win for everyone-the business, the community and the families.

Another unique way we invest in early childhood is by providing free books to organizations through our BookStart grant program. For more than a decade, we have partnered with Capstone and together we seek to place a book into the hands and homes of pre-school children across southern Minnesota. Through this program, we are pleased to offer awardees the option to select from a limited number of board books and bilingual (Spanish and English) books, as well as a wide variety of other early childhood books. (Applications for BookStart are due April 15.)

Presently, we are also recruiting new AmeriCorps LEAP members for our 2014-15 year of service. LEAP participants are placed in early learning centers (typically Head Start sites) and they help classroom teachers address the area of social and emotional skills in children ages 0-5. These efforts lead to skill-building and result in improved school readiness, which is critical to a successful transition into kindergarten. Those interested in becoming an AmeriCorps LEAP member should contact Barb Gunderson at [email protected] or 507-455-3215.

In addition to these early-childhood efforts, we’ll also soon be announcing the recipients of our bi-annual Incentive Grants. Some of these grant recipients will be early childhood organizations. Grantees will receive up to $20,000 for efforts focused on enhancing or expanding early childhood development.

If you would like more information on SMIF’s early childhood resources or other ways you can partner with us, you can contact me at [email protected] or 507-455-3215 or visit to our website at


Tim Penny is the president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Inititave Foundation.