2015 Annual Letter

Mardag Foundation Board of Directors

May 18, 2016

Dear Friends:

Last year, Mardag Foundation’s board of directors recommitted to supporting projects in our four priority areas: improving the lives of at-risk-families, children, youth and young adults; supporting seniors to live independently; building the capacity of arts and humanities organizations to benefit their communities, and supporting community development throughout Saint Paul.

In 2015, early childhood education and its effect on improving the lives of at-risk families and children was a key focus of our grantmaking. Of the more than $2.4 million* in total grants approved, just over $1.45 million went to projects designed to increase access to and the quality of early childhood education across the state. 

This extends the work we began in 2013, when we made two of the largest program grants in the Foundation’s history to support Parent Aware training in the Duluth area and across West Central Minnesota. In 2015, grants for at-risk families and early childhood education, included:

A $30,000 grant to Parent Aware for School Readiness to increase understanding of the Parent Aware rating system among all Minnesota parents and caregivers ― and to increase the number of Parent Aware–rated programs to 3,600 across the state to make it easier for families to find high quality early child care.

A $20,000 grant to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Owatonna to facilitate training and increase the number of Parent Aware-rated early-childhood care providers to more than 30 in the region.

A 15,000 grant to Initiative Foundation in Little Falls to work with nonprofit partners in the Pine River-Backus and Wadena-Deer Creek areas to create programming to help 70 at-risk families prepare their children for success in kindergarten.

A $15,000 grant to Churches United in Ministry to create an early childhood support system for families living in 44 units of permanent supportive housing in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood. In late 2014, 47 children from infants to age five lived in the development ― 77 percent in single-parent households and 100 percent in poverty. The project will provide early childhood support and learning opportunities for all 47 children.

A $12,000 grant to the University of Minnesota Foundation to launch NumbersPlus+ ― a project that offers professional development to early math educators across the state. By the end of 2016, the project will train 10 coaches to “teach the teacher” how to help children acquire early math skills; and it also will train 48 early childhood educators in early math teaching skills. Together, those teachers serve more than 850 children who will benefit from teaching techniques that enhance math literacy.

A $40,000 grant to Think Small in Maplewood to address the number of at-risk children being expelled from early childhood programs for behavior issues. Over two years, Think Small will provide training to child care providers in Saint Paul, North Saint Paul, Maplewood and Oakdale to enhance their skills to provide quality child care programming for those at-risk children. The goal is to help the children improve their social skills and remain enrolled in quality child care programs.

As many of you know, studies show that at least 70 percent of all jobs in the state will soon require training after high school. We believe our grants will give at-risk children a strong start in school so they can gain the knowledge and skills for the jobs of the future. These grants align perfectly with our priority to “improve the health and welfare” of children in need.

To make the most of our giving across the state, Mardag Foundation often aligns its grantmaking with other foundations. In 2015, we joined The Saint Paul Foundation and F. R. Bigelow Foundation ― also affiliates of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners ― in making grants to several community projects, including Dorothy Day Center in Saint Paul to help people in crisis find dignified shelter and other services to rebuild their lives; Senior Services Consortium of Ramsey County to build a streamlined, collaborative Meals on Wheels model and a “one-stop shop” that offers easy access to community-based services for older adults, and SafeZone Drop-In Center to open a larger space to better serve homeless and at-risk teenagers and young adults.

You will find some grantmaking highlights on the following pages and a complete list of 2015 grants on mardag.org.

Finally, on behalf of the board, I want to extend our appreciation to Richard Ober, who left the board after 25 years of service. Richard served as treasurer of the board and represented Mardag on several community committees. His willingness to take the long view has been an asset to the board. We welcome Kelsey Ober LaValle, a great-granddaughter of Agnes Ober, whose vision created the Foundation, as our newest board member. I also want to thank the board and staff for their dedication and thoughtful work for our state and community.


Timothy M. Ober
President, Board of Directors

* Unaudited numbers

Mardag Foundation Grant Highlights for 2015

In 2015, Mardag Foundation made 112 grants across Minnesota in its four longtime priority funding areas. Following is a snapshot of some grant highlights by issue area:

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

A $30,000 grant to Ampersand Families to help expand its post-adoption support services. As Minnesota’s only private adoption agency dedicated to finding permanent homes for the oldest, most at-risk youth in foster care, Ampersand is building a stronger support network for adoptive families. With this grant it will train caring adults to provide informal respite for adoptive families and to organize weekend family retreats. It also will connect adoptive families to organizations using proven mind-body approaches to healing from trauma. Ampersand anticipates that with access to the expanded services 80 percent of adoptive parents will be more satisfied with post-adoption services and that 80 percent of parents and 70 percent of adopted youth will report that the adoptee has increased his or her capacity to manage intense emotions.

A $15,000 grant to Reach Out and Read to expand and strengthen Read Minnesota across the southern part of the state. Since 1997, Read Minnesota has trained primary health care providers to use books during routine checkups to observe children’s developmental skills and to detect problems. It also places children’s books in clinic waiting areas and exam rooms and provides a new, developmentally- and culturally-appropriate book for each child to take home. In early 2016, Read Minnesota anticipates reaching more than 100,000 Minnesota children between the ages of six months and five years. This grant will help bring the Read program to scale throughout the Mayo Clinic system, expand it to eight more clinics in southern Minnesota and reach 2,000 more children.

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

A $10,000 grant to Lakes Area Music Festival to attract new sustaining members with a matching gift offer. Over six seasons, the Festival has grown from a volunteer-run summer concert series to an organization that operates year-round with paid staff and music programming, education and events across the Brainerd region. As a result of the grant, the Festival gained 31 new sustaining supporters and raised $13,000 to gain the matching funds from the grant. In doing so, the Festival improved its year-round cash flow and will continue to grow and expand music programming for its region.

A $100,000 grant over three years to the Minnesota Children’s Museum for its Room to Play Renovation and Expansion Project. Mardag Foundation made a $100,000 grant in 2011 for the capital campaign to expand the Museum ― dependent on the Museum gaining state support for the project. In 2014, the Museum’s $14 million request was included in the state bonding bill and the project moved ahead. During the wait for state funding, Museum staff and education experts improved the project design to better serve the developmental needs of children. This second grant helps complete the Museum’s capital campaign. When complete in early 2017, the renovated Museum will provide new learning opportunities for up to 6,000 daily visitors. It also will generate 32 percent more earned revenue from admission, membership, groups, events and exhibit rentals.

Supporting Community Development throughout Saint Paul

A $20,000 grant to Model Cities of Saint Paul, Inc., to continue its Sustainable Spaces project to create a shared sense of place near transit-oriented development. Each year, Model Cities delivers services to nearly 1,000 individuals through youth development, family support, supportive housing and community development. This grant follows a 2013 Mardag grant for redeveloping the BROWNstone building on University Avenue as a mixed-use property. The grant was used for planning and to create a Reading Room in the BROWNstone that includes exhibits highlighting the role of African Americans in the rail industry and other public art installations. This grant will build on that work by supporting the fabrication and installation of murals, an outdoor interpretive arts exhibit and additional interior work on the Reading Room. The art installation will integrate public art, pocket parks and other design elements into the community.

Supporting seniors to live independently

A $30,000 grant to Senior Leech Lakers, Inc., to renovate its facility ― the May Creek Center in Walker ― to better provide activities that support senior citizens in living well and independently. With support from Mardag Foundation, the group moved into a new building in 2010, where it rents space to three social service providers, and where it provides services, including a food program, a noon meal, foot clinics, computer access and social activities. By 2015, the building needed repair and renovation to continue serving a growing population of older adults in the community. This grant will be used to replace flooring, upgrade the commercial kitchen with new equipment, purchase new chairs and paint the building exterior.


View full list of 2015 grants.

Linked Resource

View 2015 financial summary.

PDF File