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BECF looks to citizens for support and new ideas

By Staff | Sep 7, 2014

It is often thought that transforming a city into a more beautiful place would require hours of planning, construction and huge sums of money. And, often times, adding structures or lavish gardens does cost a lot of money.

However, the Blue Earth Community Foundation has set out to beautify the city in a simpler, less expensive way.

“Right now we’re looking for small projects that will still meet our goal of beautification and not cost a lot,” Blue Earth Community Foundation president John Huisman says.

The BECF, was created in response to an issue the City Council faced when a large sum of money was donated to the city with intentions of building a public park what is now Steinberg Nature Park, located east of Blue Earth on County Road 16.

“We struggled with that as a City Council because we had no structure in place for her?(Vera Steinberg) to deposit those funds and then see that they would be used for the things that she wanted done,” Huisman says.

Citizens could give money for special projects directly to the City Council, but because the council has its own structure and uses its funds for many different projects throughout the city, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what donations were used for.

Wanting to build a strong, effective foundation, the newly developed city committee began looking for ideas from other communities who have similar foundations in place.

By examining foundations in surrounding communities, board members ran across the Souther Minnesota Initiative Foundation, or SMIF, headed by Tim Penny, president and CEO?of SMIF.

According to www.smifoundation.com, the mission of a SMIF?subgroup is to help local starter businesses expand and grow by connecting them with well-established businesses that can act as mentors.

Along with beautifying the city and encouraging entrepreneurial activity, subgroups of SMIF work closely with early childhood programs in order to prepare the children who will one day become the leaders of our community.

Pleased with SMIF’s mission, the BECF board members decided to join SMIF in April.

As a subgroup, BECF was given $2,000 in seed money to get the operation started and $500 to have brochures printed.

SMIF also offered another incentive that really got the fundraising ball rolling. If BECF could raise $10,000, SMIF would match a $5,000 grant.

“For our June 14th fundraiser, our goal was to reach $10,000 and we exceeded that,” Huisman says. “We went over $11,000 so we were able to get the $5,000 match from SMIF.”

The entire goal of the BECF is to reach $250,000 so they can begin working on larger projects.

With a donation total of $53,200 in the fund, the foundation has quite a way to go before reaching their goal.

“The next phase of our kick-off is to get brochures in the hands of about 2,000 homes and businesses here in Blue Earth,” Huisman says. “By next week, everyone who gets a bill from Blue Earth Light and Water will also get one of our fliers.”

Board members were busy?Thursday, Aug. 28, stuffing envelopes for Blue Earth Light and Water which now also contain a BECF brochure and donation form.

“There are different options for community members to donate,” Huisman says. “Any amount is appreciated, but the one we’re really pushing right now is to become a member of the Founders Club for $1,000. So far, we have about 15 Founding Members.”

Donations given to the foundation will be put into an endowment fund that is handled by SMIF. The organization invests the money into a variety of places where they think the money will generate a good portion of interest.

“They are investing the money into places they think will help us to flourish in the long run,” Huisman explains. “The money remains that of the Blue Earth Community Foundation, but we can only spend 5 percent of the total on our projects. That guarantees that the endowment fund will always be there.”

If the board decides on a special project to begin working on, or if money is donated to the foundation with a special purpose, the money to fund that project comes from the 5 percent they are allowed to spend from the endowment fund.

“Right now we have not approved any projects, but we may be looking at our first one soon,” Huisman says.

As a subgroup of SMIF, the foundation can take advantage of the partnerships that SMIF holds with various companies. Right now, the foundation is looking to team up with Valspar Paint.

“We’ve submitted a proposal to receive up to 100 gallons of Valspar paint,” Huisman says.

The idea is to create a large, colorful mural on what is now a blank wall on the side of a business in downtown Blue Earth.

If approved, there would still be some costs involved. Though the paint would be a donation and most of the work would be done by volunteers, some operating costs could begin to add up.

“We have partnered with the Blue Earth Kiwanis Club for that project, so if there even was some expense, we’d be sharing it,”?Huisman says.

The foundation aims to partner with other local businesses and service groups in order to pool ideas and resources.

“By partnering with other service groups or businesses, we can accomplish many things throughout our community without having to spend a lot of money on materials or service,” Huisman says.

The next step is to invite community members to an informal information session where they will be versed on the mission of BECF.

Two or three board members will each invite 10-15 guests to attend ‘Tuesdays on the Town,’ a short information session. Remaining board members will give a presentation about the foundation and then open the floor to questions and discussion.

“Getting the fliers out and into people’s homes is only the first step,” Huisman says. “We need to take the next step and be more personal about our mission.”

Huisman also stresses that the committee is always looking for new ideas for projects and fundraisers. They are also looking for new board members who can bring fresh ideas to the table.

“We need more ideas. We’re also looking to expand our board. This is the group that got things started and it’s a good group, but like any group, we’d like to see a few new people come on board,” Huisman says.