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Community foundation gets big boost

Executive Director Michele Hermansen speaks to a capacity crowd at the New Richmond Area Community Foundation's celebration event last Wednesday.

Positive financial news is pretty rare these days, but officials with the New Richmond Area Community Foundation were the grateful recipients of one such recent announcement.

The Foundation, along with partner Front Porch Project of New Richmond, was awarded a substantial grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation to help continue their unique work in community building.

The local foundation will receive $50,000 per year for three years.

The $150,000 sum is considerably higher than the Otto Bremer Foundation's average grant award of about $37,000.

The announcement of the grant came at the New Richmond Area Community Foundation's April 29 celebratory gathering at The SPACE.

The event was titled "Celebrating the past, embracing the present, leading into the future."

NRACF Executive Director Michele Hermansen told a capacity crowd the good news. The organization learned about the $150,000 grant in February but kept it a secret until they could report the news to all of its supporters at the same time.

"It really is a fabulous thing," she said. "They (the Otto Bremer Foundation) believe so much in what we're trying to do."

One of the Otto Bremer Foundation's missions is helping small, rural communities become sustainable, Hermansen said. The Bremer organization recognized that the New Richmond grant request fit perfectly with that mission.

Patrick Overton, the facilitator for the local Front Porch Project, said he thought the New Richmond project had a good chance of securing some funding from the Bremer Foundation.

"But I never dreamed they would step up with this kind of commitment," he said.

In the worst possible economic times, Overton said the area community has been given a shot in the arm to help train future leaders and to promote civil discourse among municipalities, the school district and regional officials.

The bulk of the announced funding will help to fund the Leadership Trust Initiative, a new program being promoted by the NRACF to train the next generation for leadership positions in the community. Potential leaders have been identified and invited to participate in the year-long training program.

Hermansen said the goal is to offer the leadership training on an annual basis for many years to come.

In announcing the future plans for the NRACF, Hermansen acknowledged that founders of the organization had the foresight to establish the foundation in 1980 and it has grown ever since.

A $50,000 donation from the Nordson Corporation helped to kick off the organization. Today, the foundation touts nearly $1 million in managed assets.

During its history, Hermansen said, the NRACF has been instrumental in helping establish the New Richmond Heritage Center, YOUth and Families Initiative, city trails and pathways efforts and the Front Porch Project.

The Front Porch effort is the one that's caused quite a stir locally and internationally.

New Richmond's effort to promote cooperation and civil discussion has been recognized as a unique approach to community building by national and international groups, according to NRACF Chairman Jim Counter.

In the past year, the NRACF has also hired its first director and moved into its own office space.

"It was time for us to grow up and go out on our own," Hermansen said.

In recent years, the local foundation's board also decided to become more involved in community building, not just endowment fund management. That commitment has led to the partnership with the Front Porch Project and the Leadership Trust Initiative.

"What we're doing isn't normal for community foundations," Counter said. "Our team has worked tirelessly to make this community a better place to live."

In closing last Wednesday's event, NRACF Vice Chairman Bill Buell used several quotes to inspire the crowd.

Among them was one from Winston Churchill: "We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."

He encouraged those in attendance to commit to the work of community building in the coming years.

Buell read a story about a man who determined at age 55 that he would likely live another 20 years or so. When he realized that he had about 1,000 weeks left on the earth, he went out to buy a thousand marbles which he placed in a jar.

Every Saturday, the man would remove a marble and throw it away.

By watching time slip away, Buell said, the man was motivated to do something with the time he had left. He was able to accomplish much.

Buell said local leaders should have a similar mindset -- to do the most with the time they have.