The Initiative Foundation recently announced a new partnership with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and First Children's Finance to find solutions to the shortage of quality, affordable child care in central Minnesota.

First Children's Finance estimates nearly 14,000 central Minnesota children and their families lack child care opportunities, which inhibits development and school readiness. Equally important, said Don Hickman, vice president for community and workforce development at the Initiative Foundation, "is that many families are disengaged from the workforce because they can't find quality, affordable care at a time when most employers in the region are urgently looking for skilled workers."

Through $150,000 in grant support from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and its partnership with First Children's Finance, the Initiative Foundation is launching a pilot program for up to four central Minnesota communities that will focus on child care solutions:

• Guided by First Children's Finance, each pilot community will explore their unique barriers to quality, affordable care and identify opportunities to create additional child care slots to narrow the gap.

• Upon completion of a strategic plan, each community will be awarded a challenge grant of $10,000 to implement their action plan.

"The goal of the challenge grant is to gain financial commitments from public and private sources so that effective solutions can be gained and sustained," Hickman said in a news release. "Each matched contribution will be made available to help child care providers add quality slots in the host community."

Potential uses include the exploration of alternative business models for child care delivery; succession planning and/or professional development to retain new or mid-career providers; or physical or programmatic investments that result in additional child care slots and/or improvements in quality.

Communities selected to participate in the pilot program will help direct, in total, a minimum of $20,000 in local investments to advance financially sustainable initiatives.

Community members who would like to learn more can register to participate in a webinar during late winter/early spring. Send an email to Jessy Beto, Initiative Foundation program assistant, at to be notified when registration opens for the webinar. The webinar will be recorded for later viewing so communities unable to participate can learn about the application process and benefit from questions asked by participants.

The Initiative Foundation anticipates selecting four communities this spring. Strategic planning with First Children's Finance for one community is planned for April or May. The remaining three communities would start their strategic planning efforts this summer.

Community members are encouraged to share this opportunity with elected officials, chambers of commerce and other business leaders, child care providers, educational partners, and any other stakeholders interested in securing the grant funds, technical assistance, training, and financing available through this program.