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Tiwahe: Birth of a foundation

Despite the bleak financial conditions of the past year, up pops a new foundation called the Tiwahe Foundation. It’s starting with a modest $1 million endowment and plans to raise a total of $6 million in the next eight to 10 years.

The Tiwahe Foundation (Tiwahe means “family” in the Dakota language) will give out microgrants to help Native American individuals and families with such things as education, business start-up and community service.

On one hand, Tiwahe isn’t really new, but a spin-off. It will continue the work and mission of the American Indian Family Empowerment Program (AIFEP), a collaboration of the Marbrook, Westcliff and Grotto foundations with members of the American Indian community. On the other hand, instead of having an advisory role with AIFEP, American Indians will run the Tiwahe Foundation. And that kind of autonomy is “a big deal,” said Lavon Lee, Grotto Foundation program officer and Tiwahe Foundation administrator.

Nationally, Tiwahe joins approximately 36 other foundations directed by American Indians, according to Tiwahe’s media release. Its founding board includes Chair Carrie Day Aspinwall and Vice Chair Kelly Drummer.

The Marbrook Foundation started the American Indian Family Empowerment Program 16 years ago with the goal of helping American Indian leaders bring their knowledge, expertise and answers to community problems, Lee said.

‘It has always been a tough time’
She acknowledges this is a challenging economic time to raise money for a new foundation. “In our community, it has always been a tough time, whether foundation dollars are up or down,” she said. “With less than 0.5 percent of national institutional grant making dollars coming to our community, we have always struggled.”

According to the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF), the number of Minnesota foundations has grown in the past decade. While much of the growth came during the 1990s economic boom, every year from 1997 to 2007 has had an increase. In 1997, there were 863 Minnesota foundations (including private, corporate and community/public foundations); in 2007 there were 1,429. The number of new foundations each year has ranged from a low of 22 in 2003 to a high of 100 in 1997.

Lavon Lee
LIN PR Associates
Lavon Lee

Bill King, MCF president, said affinity groups account for part of the growth in the number of foundations. For instance, in recent decades, new foundations have included The Women’s Foundation and PFund, a foundation dedicated to social justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. Groups support self-determination by creating their own foundations, he said.

AIFEP and its successor, the Tiwahe Foundation, are somewhat unique in giving money directly to individuals. The microgrants run between $500 and $2,500. Examples include a grant that helped parents with child care while they pursued graduate school, a grant that paid for home remodeling for home-based child care for American Indian families and a grant that helped a man become a traditional dancer and apprentice carpenter.

The program has given $800,000 in grants over 13 years. Lee said. Though grants are small, they are aimed “to come at a time when they are most needed.”

The microgrant program doesn’t ask recipients for a 10-page evaluation on a $1,000 grant. But it does ask people to answer the questions: “Did you accomplish your goal and how do you know if you accomplished your goal?” Lee said.
Tiwahe is getting seed money and program support from the Marbrook, Grotto and Westcliff foundations, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, The St. Paul Foundation and The Minneapolis Foundation. If Tiwahe hits its $6 million endowment target, it would generate an operating budget of approximately $300,000 a year.

Binger Awards announced
For the past 25 years, Ken Porwoll of Roseville has given free haircuts to clients at the Listening House, a homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul. Tonight, Porwoll is one of six recipients of the Virginia Binger Human Service Awards. They will receive $10,000 and acknowledgement of their service at a private ceremony.

For 25 years, the McKnight Foundation has given these annual awards to recognize Minnesotans who demonstrate the difference one person can make in helping others.

Ken Porwoll
Ken Porwoll

Julie Borgerding, program director at Listening House, nominated Porwoll for the award. Porwoll, 87, still volunteers a couple of hours a week, she said. He first came to Listening House when it opened in the mid-1980s. He offered to donate a pair of hair clippers and the director talked him into being a volunteer barber, she said.

Porwoll was a POW in World War II and was part of the Bataan Death March, Borgerding said. “He has dealt with a lot of personal stuff that helps him be very present to others … who feel abandoned,” she said. And he can give barberly advice. “He is back there alone with them for 15 or 20 minutes and can listen to them and maybe say, ‘Have you thought of doing this?’ or ‘I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity in my life, too.'”

McKnight provided the following background on the other winners.

• Nancy Guenette, Minneapolis, has worked for nearly 20 years as a mentor to Minneapolis high school and college students, both through the Page Foundation and the Wallin Scholarship Program. Guenette recently retired from the Minneapolis Community and Technical College where she worked as an advisor.

• Mohamed Osman, Columbia Heights, co-founded the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, the Dugsi Academy, a charter school, and the Somali American Education Program. These organizations offer employment programs, social services and educational support — and have given hundreds of Somali youth and adults the help they needed for lifelong success.

• John Poupart, West St. Paul, has worked to preserve Native languages. He overcame chemical dependency and homelessness to receive a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University. Poupart facilitated the Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance, bringing together American Indian elders, linguists, young people, public school staff and others to develop one of the few statewide indigenous language revitalization efforts in the United States.

• Linda Riddle, Duluth, fled an abusive marriage in 1987 and has advocated women and children’s safety ever since. After a stint volunteering, Linda worked 15 years as director of Houston County Women’s Resources. She moved to Duluth in 2007 to lead the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, an organization internationally known for its domestic violence response model.

• Renee Tomatz, Hibbing, devotes herself to educating and motivating others, often through storytelling. Tomatz founded and served as the director of Hibbing’s Family Investment Center, and she helped launch the Hibbing Soup Kitchen, the Hibbing Food Shelf, the Clothes Closet, and other programs.

PubTalk: Nonprofit marketing plans cause indigestion
Last week I wrote about an idea being floated that nonprofit organizations involved in entrepreneurial fee-for-service work could band together for a joint on-line marketing effort. The idea apparently made Kim Borton’s stomach lurch.

Borton is the associate director of the Humphrey Institute’s Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center. She commented on the story Monday Aug. 24 in pubTalk, a blog produced by the center.

So what is it about the nonprofit marketing plan that makes Borton queasy?

“Maybe it’s because these “hybrid” models of business call on nonprofit leaders to be expert in everything — astute with cutting edge business practices while balancing grassroots organizing campaigns,” she writes. “Wow, that’s a diverse skill set with competing cultural values.” She closed by saying: “If I were a client or community member receiving nonprofit services I’d want the staff at that organization to be skilled in providing me those services, not marketing services.”

Check out pubTalk if you haven’t yet. It’s an effort by the Humphrey Institute to bridge academic research and the on-the-ground practice in the nonprofit and public sectors.

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