The Women’s Foundation invests in listening and research to understand and share the lived experiences and solutions of communities through data and stories. Every two years, Women’s Foundation staff take a road tour to visit partners and community-based organizations throughout greater Minnesota. Our goal is to deepen community connections, share research and updates, and learn more about the perspectives, challenges, and solutions of partners in greater and rural Minnesota. See the visualization of our virtual Summer of Convening series with partners across all areas.
What we hear and see in Greater Minnesota helps inform our annual grantmaking and policy agenda, narrative change priorities, and future research and convenings.
In June, members of the Community Impact and Communications team visited partners and organizations in Northwest Minnesota working to support safety and build community power and leadership. On this visit, we asked partners to tell us about their big audacious goals, especially ones that feel impossible to accomplish alone. Our destination was Fargo-Moorhead, but we stopped to visit Terebinth Refuge along the way.
Terebinth Refuge Supports Hope & Healing
Terebinth Refuge is a shelter and safe home in Waite Park that brings hope, healing services, and freedom to sexually exploited and trafficked women. Since 2020, Terebinth has been a partner through the Fund for Safety to support the strengths-based, trauma-informed holistic services for trafficked and sexually exploited women through Terebinth’s shelter program, transitional housing program, and employment readiness program.
With a staff of 20, Terebinth is situated in a serene home setting that feels close to the tranquility of the country, but accessible to the “little big town” of St. Cloud nearby. Executive Director CeCe Terlouw and the team took us on a tour of their transitional home, social enterprise space, and temporary housing. We broke bread after the tour and were given some amazing samples from their Hope and Healing social enterprise store.
Residents of Terebinth Refuge help build life skills to practice independence with residents, including cooking and getting their own groceries, and employment readiness for next steps that include employment in their chosen career fields and continued schooling. Residents make, package, and sell personal body care products like soaps, shampoo bars, shower steamers, and deodorant online and at local shops including farmer’s markets. All proceeds benefit survivors living in Terebinth’s safe homes.
We discussed the importance of supporting the mental health needs of staff in addition to residents. A therapist is able to meet with residents and staff three times a week, and CeCe credits that role with increasing the stay of residents from two months to six months. Residents also can see a nurse trained in trauma-informed practices twice a week.
Cece is grateful for a strong network of support locally, including with the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center in St. Cloud. While she has worked for the Safe Harbor for All legislation supported by the Women’s Foundation, she has had to take a step back from policy work in recent years to focus on expanding the organization. While we were visiting, a volunteer group from Michigan was landscaping and gardening —a truly serendipitous connection that came about from her time at Heartland Girls Ranch, also a grantee-partner of the Women’s Foundation.
We learned about the challenge they’re seeing for women, especially those fleeing trafficking, who need to change their identity change, including their social security numbers, to stay safe. This complex legal challenge has been difficult to navigate as their residents prepare for independent living after shelter.
Building Power, Advocating for Marginalized Voices
On day two, we enjoyed breakfast at Boppa’s Bagels in Fargo, a local Black-owned bagelry serving the community for 20 years. Then we met with YWCA Cass Clay, the largest provider of shelter for women and children in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
CEO Erin Prochnow and Tami Rust told us in depth about their growth as an organization, recent stability, and expansion. They’re acquiring new buildings to continue meeting the demand of their local population, which currently houses more than 300 women and children on any given day. Cass Clay has refined their mission to focus exclusively on sheltering women and children. As a powerhouse CEO for the last 15 years, Erin is bulldozing barriers for her community.
For lunch, we met with an amazing group that included Cani Aden of the Afro American Development Association, Fowzia Adde of the Immigrant Development Center, Ahmed Makaraan of Eshara, and Matuor Alier of Moorhead Public Schools and the South Sudan Foundation. Our lunch of Somali food at Rugsan Cuisine was delicious, informative, and energizing.
Each of these leaders is wearing multiple hats in public and private service, while advocating for their African immigrant communities. They have found solidarity in organizing collectively and sharing resources within the Somali, African immigrant, and across other communities of New Americans. We learned about recent incidents of injustice locally, and the ways in which their communities are excluded politically and socially, including in initiatives for economic growth in the area. In addition, they frequently see their communities misrepresented in local media and in the courts, while facing challenges in finding funders to support them.
After lunch we met with the leadership team at BIO Girls (beautiful inside and out). They’re focused on developing self-esteem and confidence in young girls in 4-7th grade and are piloting 8-11th grade programming. They’ve recently had success in adapting their curriculum to a youth program that works with young Muslim girls, substituting biblical texts for Qur’anic ones, and they’re looking to continue expanding their ability to reach non-dominant cultures with positive messaging, mentorship, fitness, and more.
For dinner, we met Fowzia with her friend Vivian at a place called Lovely Grille. We ate jollof, grilled fish, plantain, cassava, and more, and heard informally about the struggles experienced by the local Somali, Liberian, African immigrant, refugee, and other new American communities in the area. They weren’t shy to tell us the hard facts, but also shared that there are some positive encounters, including our visit, as she works to build equity and generational wealth for communities of the African diaspora. Our time with Fowzia underscored the importance of co-creating programming and opportunities, supporting leadership that reflects the diverse communities in Greater and rural Minesota, and creating investments with marginalized communities who have the solutions to the challenges they are facing. “If you want to learn about us,” Fowzia said, “come and sit with us.”
Building the Pipeline for Young Women in STEM
On day 3, we went back to Boppa’s for another wonderful bagel breakfast, before meeting with Bethlehem Gronneberg of uCodeGirl in Moorhead, a grantee-partner since 2017 through girlsBEST (girls Building Economic Success Together) that builds a support system for teen girls to be nurtured for STEM academic success and to support students’ pursuit of their academic and career aspirations. uCodeGirl also co-led the Young Women’s Initiative’s Dream STEM Lead program, a six-week virtual and tech-centered entrepreneurial experience for young women of color, ages 16 to 24. Bethlehem, who just returned from a trip to Ethiopia, reflected on some of the same messages we heard at Rugsan.
Bethlehem shared some of the challenges for women entering schooling for software engineering, including retention over time and culture. She’s had to be creative about findings ways to create space for BIPOC women in engineering and to keep them in training programs over the long-term. From her years of experience in the field – as a scientist and as an organizational leader – Bethlehem has researched institutional solutions for supporting a strong pipeline for women in STEM, a field with strong potential for building generational wealth. She sees how schools, departments, and professions can help create a culture that supports the success of women in their classes and STEM majors by making the work relevant, real-world, and human-centered, matching students with mentors who share their identities and experiences, and building networks of support like clubs. Without a marketing budget, Bethlehem uses media interviews to help change the narrative about women in coding, build awareness, and increase investment in uCodeGirl.
After we met, we hit the road for the return trip to the Twin Cities, fortified by listening to partners and organizations working on the frontlines at the intersections of safety, well-being, and community power. The challenges and solutions we heard from these partners reflect their specific experiences in rural and Greater Minnesota, and will be joined by additional research and listening we are conducting to resource their needs with flexible and accessible funding. As a community foundation, their concerns are our concerns, and we will continue to listening, adapting, and amplifying their voices as we change narratives and advocate for policy changes with big impact.
Next, Women’s Foundation staff travel to southwest Minnesota to meet with partners in Mankato, Worthington, and the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton, Minnesota. Stay tuned for that update!