2014 Annual Letter

August 1, 2015

Dear Friends:

In 2014, Mardag Foundation’s board of directors remained committed to grantmaking in our traditional funding priority areas, and we found many interesting and important projects to support.

The board looked ahead to the year 2020, when the number of Minnesota adults over age 65 is expected to surpass the school-age population of 5-to-17 year olds. This demographic shift will have a profound effect on Minnesota’s economy, workforce, housing, health care system, social services and civic institutions.

Some of our 2014 grants will address quality of life issues for Minnesota’s retirement-age population in 2020 and beyond. These grants will create services and know-how to ease the stresses many baby boomers and their communities will face as that generation enters retirement.

The board also invested in projects and programs designed to create success for everyone ― Native Americans, immigrants, refugees and others ― who calls Minnesota home. In 2020, the state will need a skilled workforce to fill the jobs that retiring baby boomers leave behind, if we hope to maintain the state’s economic vitality. We also remain committed to aligning our grantmaking with other foundations ― whenever possible ― to create the broadest positive outcomes on important issues across Minnesota.

Armando Camacho joined the board in November. He is president and CEO of Opportunity Partners, a nonprofit that provides employment, residential and training programs to people with disabilities, and he brings a strong background in human services, education and special education to the board.

Agnes Ober created the Foundation to offer support to those in need across Minnesota. Our four priority funding areas continue to reflect her interest in improving the lives of at-risk families and children, helping seniors stay independent and her love of the arts and her commitment to her hometown of Saint Paul.

Following are examples of grants made in 2014 to address needs, to grow capacity and to help build communities. I would like to thank our board and staff for their work to advance new ideas that make our grantmaking meaningful and improve the quality of life for all.


Timothy M. Ober
President, Board of Directors

Grant Highlights

In 2014, the Mardag Foundation made 107 grants totaling $2.37 million across Minnesota in its four longtime priority funding areas and in accordance with grantmaking approaches revised in 2013. Following is a snapshot of our 2014 grantmaking by issue area:

Improving the lives of at-risk families, children, youth and young adults:

A $30,000 grant over three years to the Casa de Esperanza to help it enhance its capacity for resource development. With start-up funding to hire a director-level development professional, the nonprofit is building its development capacity and will secure at least $110,000 in unrestricted revenue from new funding sources, fundraising events and 100 new or upgraded donors. By enhancing its fundraising capacity, Casa de Esperanza will be better positioned to deliver services and training to carry out its mission to mobilize the Latino community to end domestic violence.

A $10,000 grant to the Karen Community of Minnesota to expand capacity to provide housing services to refugees from Myanmar (Burma) ― one of the fastest growing populations in the Twin Cities. With 800 to 1,000 new refugees arriving here each year ― many with little exposure to Western culture and ill-prepared to function in an urban society ― the Karen Community works to find stable housing for a population at risk of homelessness. It also provides services for employment, community health and youth empowerment. This grant supports turning a half-time housing coordinator position into a full-time position. By expanding its capacity, the nonprofit will help 50 households resolve housing issues and assist another 25 households facing homelessness to find secure housing. The grant also supports training for five bilingual volunteers to serve as community housing advocates.

A $14,000 grant to Minnesota African Women’s Association to include tutoring for 10 or more African girls in its successful AGILE program. MAWA serves more than 600 African women and girls with refugee and employment services and AGILE (African Girls Initiative for Leadership and Empowerment), a year-round cultural enrichment and community-building program. This grant supports a tutoring pilot program for African girls from grades 9 to 12 in math, science and English to advance their academic performance and career potential. Five African college students are being paid small stipends to serve as tutors with the expected outcome that each student will improve one grade level in math and science and two grade levels in English after participating in the 46-week tutoring project.

An $15,000 grant to the Peta Wakan Tipi to improve its Indigenous Food Network ― Indigenous Food Share Program, farmers markets and food shelf donations ― by building its capacity to grow and distribute healthy, organic traditional foods. Grant funding will cover the costs of additional staff time needed to expand farm outputs, including turning the farm manager position into a year-round, full-time position, adding a full-time seasonal farm position and engaging the services of a curriculum specialist, organic CSA consultant, social media consultant and cultural/traditional food expert. Increased farm capacity will provide employment training and jobs for unemployed young Native adults and improve the economic sustainability of the Dream of Wild Health farm by selling at least 30 Indigenous Food Share Program shares.

Supporting seniors to live independently:

A $20,000 grant to Senior Services Consortium of Ramsey County to create a sustainable model for home-delivered meals in Ramsey County for any resident who needs the service. The grant allowed the agency to work with consultants to develop and operationalize a comprehensive plan to expand and maintain its customer base, while reducing operating costs through centralized functions, expanded use of volunteers and staff realignment. The new model is expected to reduce operating costs for nine Meals on Wheels programs to a $0.20 cent/meal shortfall from a $2.16/meal shortfall for the more than 200,000 meals it serves each year. The Consortium is also establishing a partnership with the Somali community to begin serving culturally appropriate meals to Somali elders.

A $15,000 grant to Faith in Action located in Becker to expand its Living Well at Home program to meet the growing needs of seniors in Wright and Mille Lacs counties, where the senior population is expected to grow from 13 percent of the population today to almost 20 percent by 2030. With the number of elders living alone expected to double by 2030, efforts to help seniors live independently are critically important to reduce demand for long-term care. This grant will support hiring an additional full-time elder-coach to screen and assist at least 150 seniors in Wright and Mille Lacs counties to find the services they need to continue to live independently. Of those who receive assistance, 97 percent are expected to be able to continue to live independently.

A 15,000 grant to the Lutheran Home Association in Belle Plaine for Phase II of its Health Monitoring Technology Program to help at least 60 low-income, rural adults access health monitoring technology and information to reduce the need for more costly health care services. In Phase 1 of the project, Lutheran Home found that a combination of technology and support services can be successful as a preventative model for chronic health care. In Phase II, it has set a goal of reducing by 75 percent the need for more costly care by program participants and to reduce by 25 percent hospital admissions and readmissions for participants. The program also combines technology with outreach and training, online resources and public awareness efforts to increase community knowledge about health technology options.

Building the capacity of arts and humanities organizations to benefit their communities:

A $10,000 first-time grant to expand the Ka Joog’s Invisible Art-Fanka Program into Saint Paul to help Somali youth better understand and appreciate the culture and artistic heritage of the Somali people. The program explores visual arts, music, poetry and storytelling with weekly workshops, peer mentoring and opportunities to work with Somali artists. The goal is to have the program reach 100 Somali youth and to have 85 percent of participants affirm that their knowledge of Somali art forms increased because of the program and inspired them to create their own works of art.

A $60,000 grant over three years to Penumbra Theatre Company to implement its new business plan for sustainability. As the only African American theater in Minnesota, Penumbra believes it has a responsibility to address issues of racism. It reaches 30,000 people each year and provides 2,000 free or subsidized tickets, free study guides, classroom workshops and post-play discussions. Over three years, the theater will reorganize around new artistic leadership and begin to implement a long-term plan to invest in marketing and development. Three positions eliminated in 2012 will be filled including a marketing director, development director and a grants manager. The goal over 36 months is to have the marketing and development team secure $875,000 in multiyear pledges, raise $135,000 in new funding and attract 4,630 new donors. Ticket sales over the three-year grant period are expected to reach nearly $1.1 million.

Supporting community development throughout Saint Paul:

A $25,000 grant to Asian Economic Development Association to support its Little Mekong Summer Arts Initiative to use arts, culture and entertainment to promote the economic growth of the Little Mekong business district. The grant supported hiring a part-time, temporary artist in residence in 2014 to work with the Little Mekong Artists Committee and local artists to plan and execute arts programming from the launch of the Green Line on June 14, 2014 through the end of September 2014. The goal was to engage 5,000 neighborhood residents in and draw 5,000 visitors to arts and culture activities along University Avenue and in Frogtown.

A $12,500 grant to Nexus Community Partners to support its Strengthening Economic Opportunities on the East Side Project. The group’s overarching goal is to identify three to five workforce development and job creation models that have succeeded in closing the equity gap elsewhere that could be replicated in two of Saint Paul’s lowest-income East Side neighborhoods: Dayton’s Bluff and Payne-Phalen. By weaving together the core components of job creation models that have worked in other places, the project will conclude with a report and recommendations on how to increase prosperity in the targeted neighborhoods. Nexus then will work to attract interest and funders to strategically invest in job creation and workforce development in those neighborhoods.


View full list of 2014 grants.

Linked Resource

View 2014 financial summary.

PDF File