The Blandin Partnership is becoming a reality

The Blandin Community Investment Partnership brought a diverse group of community members together Wednesday night to basque in the 13 months of progress made on the Little Falls project, Footsteps to Our Future, and to update residents on the tasks that still lay ahead in order to complete the Blandin process.

Although Little Falls was already awarded a $150,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to help fund the goals laid out in Footsteps to Our Future, representatives from all different areas of the community came out to hear more about those next footsteps.

The focus of the Little Falls project will include three main areas of concern, the improvement of economic opportunities through technology, the improvement of recreational and cultural opportunities through a community center, and to improve the safety and security of the entire community.

Carol Spearman, Blandin Foundation representative, spoke to members of the Little Falls community and thanked everyone for their participation during the process. She reminded them that, “Blandin is just a catalyst that will be here for the next two or three years. Then, we’ll be gone and it will be up to the community to implement the lessons they’ve learned.”

Spearman also informed the gathering that the work done in Little Falls impressed people all over Minnesota and that the $150,000 grant can be just the start. “There is up to $1 million available as the community continues to develop the projects that have been laid out.”

“Now at stage seven of the Blandin process—implementation of the action plan—the real work begins,” she said.

The footsteps committee will begin this implementation by hiring a full-time director to map out the community’s goals. This project coordinator will take the reigns for one year with the possibility for growth in the position. According to Sandy Johnson of the Great River Arts Association (GRAA), “Applications for this position can already be accessed at either the Initiative Foundation or the GRAA office. We’re optimistic and hope to find the right person by June.”

In addition, the GRAA will serve as the fiscal agent for the Blandin grants coming to the Little Falls community. “We already had the system in place to handle this type of arrangement. These grants must be accepted by a non-profit organization such as the GRAA and this will help to facilitate the process,” said Johnson.

The Footsteps to Our Future committee is hoping that with a project coordinator in place, the community can begin the process of making the communty’s goals a reality.

Over the next year, establishing a technology business loan guarantee fund will be one of the priorities the group is anticipating getting underway. “This will attract hi-tech businesses to Little Falls and give them a sense of community backing. These companies bring with them better paying jobs, a reason for our young people to stay in our community and create a link that will connect us to other cities worldwide,” said Mark Gerbi, Footsteps committee member.

Another project in the planning stage is a community resource center that is all encompassing, a place where technology can be accessed by all the city’s residents. It would also include athletic and recreational facilities, it would accommodate the promotion of all the community’s artistic endeavors and it would be a multi-generational, multi-purpose center with endless possibilities. And, almost a certain reality in the next year would be a safe exchange center for families in need.

Although a $1 million grant from the Blandin Foundation will not cover all of these expenses, according to Chuck Stone, committee member, “The Blandin Foundation will assist us in gaining support and funding from additional sources.”

After a video presentation by Bill Angelos, who has spent the last year video taping the entire Blandin-community partnership, Elaine Westerdahl Delaney of the Chamber of Commerce reminded community members of “The best laid plans…and encouraged the community to stay involved.”

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