Editor’s Note: This is the third in a three-part series of stories focused on the issue of workforce shortages facing rural Minnesota and the efforts that are being made to address them as it relates to students who will be taking over those jobs in the not-so-distant future.

More than 10,000 children ages zero to 18 who call southwest Minnesota their home live in poverty. That, according to the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) is one out of every six children in the 18-county region.

Deeming the childhood poverty issue a critical one, SWIF’s leadership began holding conversations on ways to address it, as statistics show a correlation between poverty and academic struggles. When children have to worry about where they will be sleeping at night, their focus is not on what is going on in the classroom.

“Not all of these kids will reach their full potential,” said Diana Anderson, SWIF president and CEO. Anderson and other SWIF staff were in Redwood Falls recently to talk about the childhood poverty issues with a group of 75 people representing several Redwood area communities. 

The event was also held to talk about how to resolve the issue in this area.

An initiative known as Grow Our Own has been established through SWIF, and its focus is on helping kids succeed and finding ways to close the opportunity and achievement gaps among kids in southwest Minnesota.

According to Briana Mumme, Redwood County EDA director, the event taking place in Redwood Falls was a follow-up to a larger summit SWIF hosted in November.

Mumme and Anne Johnson, director of Redwood Area Chamber and Tourism, invited various stakeholders from the community representing business, agriculture, government, education, faith, law enforcement and mental health to hold a conversation and begin taking steps toward helping them overcome the challenges they face.

“We want all of our children to do well,” said Anderson, adding that is so important, because they are going to be the ones who become the workforce, the homeowners, the taxpayers and community leaders in the future.

Successful children start with successful families, said Anderson, adding one of the challenges communities face is helping those families discover the programs and resources that are available for them.

Those attending the meeting, who broke up into small groups to brainstorm ideas about resolving the childhood poverty issue, all agreed the Redwood area has a lot of great assets from the schools to the agencies and organizations which are there to serve people in need.

The issue is that those who need those resources most either don’t know about them or if they do they don’t have the ability to access them. Those attending wondered if there was any way to develop a clearinghouse through which information could be disseminated to those in need, as well as a resource that could be offered that would help them find ways to gain that access which is so important to their success.

There is a strong sense of collaboration in the area, the group agreed, and that plays well in helping those who are in need, and building on that can help to take those families find a brighter future.

“Solutions are complicated,” said Anderson, adding SWIF is ready to assist communities through its Grow Our Own initiative.

While thinking about solving the issue of childhood poverty may seem daunting, the group was encouraged to not let it overwhelm them. Solutions start with action, and Mumme and Johnson have committed to ensuring the progress that began with the local event continues.

During the event, concerns were raised about the growing number of youth, especially at the high-school level, who are considered homeless. Finding a place for those kids to stay that is safe needs to become a priority for the community, the group agreed.

Anderson expressed her excitement about the number of people who attended the meeting and encouraged them all to continue to keep this issue in the spotlight.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Anderson, adding the conversation needs to continue.

Creating a vision for the region’s children for the next 10, 20 and even 30 years begins with the efforts taking place now, said Anderson.

To learn more about getting involved with the local efforts, contact Mumme. Her information is available online at www.co.redwood.mn.us.

Additional information about SWIF can be found on its Web site at www.swifoundation.org.