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Investing In Our Youngest Generation

We believe that investing in our youngest generation is the smartest long-term investment in the future of our region. SMIF invests over $1.5 million annually to support a variety of early childhood development projects and programs. We clearly see the connection between investing in our youngest children—to prepare them to be the workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders of tomorrow—to our vision of economic prosperity and community vitality in this region.

AmeriCorps LEAP (Learning Early Achieves Potential) Initiative members serve in preschool classrooms and nonprofit organizations focused on the social and emotional development of young children in our region. We recruit, connect, and match members to site service partner positions to help work one-on-one with children who are at-risk of falling behind. Members begin the LEAP service term in August and serve through the following July.

AmeriCorps spotlight: Peggy Decker and Hilary Kelly

Contact Barbara Gunderson, AmeriCorps Director, at 507-455-3215 or for more information.

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Up to $15,000

Our Building Blocks Loans support the business of family child care by providing financial resources and technical assistance to help expand or enhance licensed child care businesses. All Building Blocks Loan recipients are eligible for free technical assistance.

Contact Marcia Haley, SBA Lending Director at or 507-214-7021 for more information.

Child care is an economic driver for communities in greater Minnesota, and child care shortages have a dramatic impact on families and the local economy. When families can’t find child care, they are unable to fully participate in the work-force and may eventually leave the area in pursuit of other opportunities. SMIF works with many partners to address the shortage through a variety of programming, including the Quality Child Care Program, Early Childhood Care Conference and Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage Grant Program.

To learn more about SMIF’s approaches to the child care shortage click the button below.

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SMIF’s annual Early Childhood Care Conference makes sure our region’s child care providers are getting the tools they need to provide quality care. Attendees have the opportunity to earn Parent Aware and licensing credit as well as meet 40+ early childhood organizations at our Exhibitor Hall. Nearly 500 early childhood professionals from throughout the region gather at this fall event to learn best practices, receive continuing education and network.

Contact Rona Holcomb, Early Childhood Coordinator, at or 507-214-7017 for more information.

Early Childhood Initiatives (ECIs) started as a program among all six Minnesota Initiative Foundations in 2003 with the goal of ensuring that every young child in Greater Minnesota has the best possible start toward a healthy life of learning, achieving and succeeding. SMIF facilitates community visioning sessions to ECIs in its region, then provides funding for project implementation. ECI communities are selected through an invitation-only application process. SMIF currently supports 25 ECIs.

ECI spotlight: Austin

Interested communities may contact Rae Jean Hansen, Vice President of Early Childhood, at or 507-455-3215.

A variety of grants are offered throughout the year that support SMIF’s Early Childhood focus.

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PreK-Grade 3 Alignment is a process that communities undertake to refine their education system. It is an initiative to transform how children, ages birth to eight, learn and build on their early life experiences. SMIF and the other Minnesota Initiative Foundations, in partnership with Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), McKnight Foundation and other partners, are working to make sure Minnesota kids, parents, care providers and educators are on the same page. 

Regional Pre-K – 3 workshops are held at various times throughout the year. Check back here or sign up for our Early Childhood Newsletter to be notified.

We know that the future of our next generation depends on the strength of our region’s early care providers. That is why each Spring and Fall SMIF offers this results-oriented training to all area family child care providers. Providers receive two credit hours of approved training through Develop, Minnesota’s quality rating and improvement tool. 

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