OWATONNA, Minn., June 22, 2018 – Representatives from early childhood organizations gathered at the Owatonna Area Business Development Center yesterday to celebrate Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s (SMIF) Early Childhood Literacy program. This grant supports early literacy efforts that enhance school readiness for children birth to age five by providing children with books.

This year, SMIF awarded 18,275 books with a total value of $219,300 to 41 organizations in partnership with ABDO Publishing and Capstone, leading publishers of children’s books and digital products and services. SMIF has previously partnered with both publishing companies on collectively distributing more than one hundred thousand books across the 20-county region through grants and programming. The Literacy Program is a new collaborative effort to put more books in to the hands of children ages five and under.

Studies consistently show that reading at a young age drastically improves a child’s educational trajectory. Not only does reading aloud help children acquire early language skills, it fosters curiosity and memory and helps children develop positive associations with reading. 

We know literacy skill development is a key measure of future success in school and life. “Reading to and with children has tremendous power when it comes to fueling the development of all aspects of language ability; its importance to a child’s life in this day and age really can’t be overstated,” said Rae Jean Hansen, Vice President of Early Childhood at SMIF. “Our long-term partnerships with both ABDO Publishing and Capstone are critical to our efforts to provide parents and children in the region with support they need to prepare for school.”

Award recipients could choose from a selection of titles donated by the publishing companies, including bilingual and early childhood appropriate books. The organizations will incorporate the books into their programs and events where young children will receive books to take home and keep.

“Capstone believes that books not only open minds but doors for children,” said Christie Skilbred, Corporate Giving and Literacy Center Manager for Coughlan Companies, the holding company for Capstone. “We are grateful for our continued partnership with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation allowing us to reach more children together. We are excited for the positive lifelong effect the Literacy Grants will have on southern Minnesota’s youngest.”

The following organizations received Early Childhood Literacy Grants because they provide outstanding early literacy opportunities for young children and their families:

  • Allina Associated Foundation, Owatonna
  • Blooming Prairie Public Schools
  • Brown County Public Health
  • Butterfield Odin Public School
  • Byron Public Schools
  • Fairmont Area Schools
  • Faribault Public Schools
  • Fillmore Central Community Education, Harmony/Preston
  • Fillmore County Public Health
  • Freeborn County Public Health
  • Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools
  • Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties
  • Kasson-Mantorville Schools
  • Kenyon-Wanamingo Public Schools
  • Kingsland Public Schools, Spring Valley
  • Lanesboro Public Library
  • Leroy-Ostrander Public Schools
  • Le Sueur-Henderson Public Schools
  • Martin County West Schools
  • Kiwanis International – MN-DAK District, Albert Lea
  • New Prague Area Early Childhood Initiative
  • New Ulm Public Schools
  • New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Public Schools
  • Nicollet Public Schools
  • Northfield Public Schools
  • Parenting Resource Center Inc, Austin
  • Riverway Learning Community, Winona
  • Rochester Public Library
  • Rushford-Peterson Schools
  • St. Charles Public Schools
  • Stewartville Public Schools
  • The Reading Center – Dyslexia Institute of MN, Rochester
  • Three Rivers Community Action Incorporated, Northfield
  • Triton Public Schools, Dodge Center
  • Tri-City United Early Childhood Programs, Le Center/Lonsdale/Montgomery
  • Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Winnebago
  • Waseca County Public Health
  • Waseca Public Schools
  • Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Public Schools
  • Watonwan County Public Health
  • Wellcome Manor Family Services

As part of its strategy to invest in economic growth in southern Minnesota, SMIF has supported early childhood efforts to make certain all children enter school fully encouraged, prepared, and supported for learning success. SMIF invests $1.6 million annually for early childhood development initiatives and has established 25 community coalitions as part of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. Each coalition is developing their collective early childhood vision and implementing local projects to strengthen early care and education for young children and their families.

About ABDO Publishing 

A Mankato company, ABDO Publishing is a leading educational publisher of books and digital resources for today’s schools and libraries. Having served libraries since 1985, ABDO has earned a reputation as a publisher that delivers family-friendly educational-based titles. Consisting of four divisions including ABDO Publishing Company, specializing in quality nonfiction; Spotlight, featuring licensed fiction; Magic Wagon, picture books, chapter books, and graphic novels; and Abdo Digital, featuring thousands of eBooks, interactive books and databases for libraries. To learn more about ABDO please visit .

About Capstone 

Capstone is a leading publisher of children’s books in nonfiction and fiction, digital products and services and literacy programs. Capstone’s content comes in a variety of print and digital formats including board books, picture books, interactive books, apps, audio and databases. Imprints under Capstone include Capstone Press, Stone Arch Books, Picture Window Books, Heinemann Raintree and Compass Point Books. For more information, visit

About Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a donor-supported foundation, invests for economic growth in the 20 counties of south central and southeastern Minnesota. The Foundation has provided more than $106 million in grants, loans and programming within the region during the past 31 years. SMIF’s key interests include early childhood, community and economic development. To learn more about our work and mission, visit .