Community Partnerships Are Helping Rural Families

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 at 11:49 am

(Editorial from Matt Mathiasen of Mora, MN)

People who have lived for any length of time in rural Minnesota will tell you that very few things worth doing are accomplished alone – that partnerships are the essence of “neighbors helping neighbors.”

One of the best examples of how our communities, businesses, social service agencies, and individuals get things done is the partnership between Communities Investing in Families (CIF) and the Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. Beginning in 2005, Affinity Plus and CIF began partnering to provide an affordable car loan program for low-income working families called Ways to Work. In addition, the Cambridge credit union developed and began presenting financial literacy classes, giving people information to help make the most of their incomes.

In 2008 and 2009, the Affinity Plus Foundation awarded grants allowing CIF to expand and replicate their loan and financial literacy programs across a 5-county service area. Today, financial literacy sessions are held at multiple locations in Pine, Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec, and Mille Lacs Counties, Now in Phase 2, More Money-More Sense has presented 75 two-hour financial literacy sessions with 575 area residents attending during 2008. Four additional banks and credit unions are providing financial literacy sessions, volunteering their staff time for public presentations (Community Pride Bank-Isanti; Greater Minnesota Credit Union; Lake State Federal Credit Union; Woodlands National Bank-Hinckley). Three more banks are partnering to provide Ways to Work car loans across the five county region (Community Pride Bank-Isanti; 1st National Bank-Milaca; Horizon Bank-Pine City). Over 80 affordable car loans have been provided that helped working adults find and get to jobs. A partnership with county social services agencies now provides emergency auto repairs for working families temporarily on public assistance.

Local auto repair businesses, dealerships, and churches are assisting CIF’s program participants by finding and inspecting reliable vehicles, and making repairs as needed. A new partnership with the Sandstone Federal Prison provides auto repair labor for CIF’s Car Donation Program, while training their inmates for employment in the auto industry upon their release. Many area residents are donating their vehicles to CIF, knowing their donations will stay local, will help the neediest families, and provide donors with a full/fair market value tax deduction for their donated vehicles.  Fourteen area newspapers and two radio stations are helping get the word out with ongoing press releases and news articles.

This rural partnership network, now over 1,500 strong, has attracted the attention and support of other local businesses and foundations, including East Central Energy Operation RoundUp, ECM Publishers Foundation, Initiative Foundation, Lake State Federal Credit Union, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, United Way (Greater Twin Cities and Central Mille Lacs). Many townships and their residents, seeing the value of supporting neighbors in need, now include CIF in their health and welfare support annual budgets.

This is how it works in rural East Central Minnesota – needs arise, partnerships begin, expand, and become even more effective over time. Area residents, seeing the value of supportive services, contribute to these efforts, making true “neighbor helping neighbor” collaborations. And this is why living in rural Minnesota is so wonderful. It’s all about the partnerships.

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