2017 Annual Letter

two people smile in their shop

Dear Friends,

As we look back on the accomplishments of 2017, we are struck by how much can be achieved when we create opportunities for collaboration and connection.

Thoughtful grantmaking is an essential component of how we create community connections. By investing in the diverse organizations that serve and strengthen Saint Paul and the East Metro, we create an environment that promotes racial and economic equity. Our competitive grantmaking is an opportunity to connect nonprofits led by and for the communities they serve with the resources they need to continue their life-changing work.

In 2017, we made 165 grants totaling $7,047,835 in our priority funding areas: support for the arts; community and economic development; education; expanding or improving health care; and improving access to human services. The breadth of our focus areas allows us to support all the ways a community creates connections. Below are some grantmaking highlights that speak to just a few of the ways we bring communities together. To view a complete list of our 2017 grants, click here

The Arts

Our support for the arts opens the door for authentic, unique connections. By creating a community around shared experiences and making space to tell stories, we discover that more unites us than separates us.

A $15,000 grant to Giving Voice Initiative supported the Giving Voice Chorus, a community choir for individuals on an Alzheimer’s path. Singers attend weekly rehearsals with a specially trained choral director and put on public performances. Funding from the Foundation supported program expansion and a partnership with HealthPartners’ Center of Memory and Aging that examined the social and emotional impacts of choral signing on participants.

Community and Economic Development

Small business development adds to the diversity and strength of our economy. The Foundation’s support in this area can connect business owners of color and entrepreneurs from immigrant communities with the resources needed to turn their vision into reality.

A $50,000 grant to African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) supported a new micro lending infrastructure. AEDS builds wealth within the African immigrant community by using business development and homeownership strategies. The Foundation’s funding helped AEDS expand its loan program through increased technological and staff capacity, explore Sharia-compliant loans, and develop its ability to offer technical assistance in accounting and marketing for business owners.


An investment in the future of young people is an investment in the future of our community. Whether young people are entering preschool or their senior year of college, connecting them with quality services and support is key.

A $19,480 grant went to Green Card Voices, a nonprofit that uses immigrant life-narrative storytelling to lift up immigrants’ dignity and breakdown bias and stereotypes. The Foundation’s funding supported Green Card Youth Voices, a project that collected and published the life stories of 30 immigrant students at LEAP High School in Saint Paul. Students worked one-on-one with writing coaches from Hamline University to capture their stories. This is the first book from Green Card Voices to feature stories specifically from youth in Saint Paul.

Health Care

Creating successful connections to health care means addressing the barriers that prevent many in our community from accessing necessary resources. The Foundation’s grantmaking in this area ensures everyone can find services to improve their health and quality of life.

A $15,000 grant to Community Dental Care supported the MN Cavity Kids Pilot Project. The project strives to create equitable oral health outcomes for some of the youngest and most vulnerable children in the community. Funding from the Foundation supported outreach and education events held in English, Spanish, Somali, Hmong or Karen languages for caregivers of infants and toddlers, as well as monthly parent and child group events to provide cleanings, fluoride treatments and oral health instruction.

Human Services

Creating a community where all of our neighbors can meet their basic needs is an important indicator of the vitality of a community. The Foundation’s funding in the area of human services connects individuals with the services they need to make ends meet.

A $50,000 grant to Keystone Community Services supported Family Navigator services. The Foundation’s funding supported Family Navigators at two of Keystone’s sites: West Seventh Community Center and the Rice Street food shelf. Family Navigators help families connect with local resources via referrals. They also act as short-term family case managers to help families identify their goals, create personalized action plans and achieve greater financial stability and resilience.

The F. R. Bigelow Foundation does immeasurable good through our community grantmaking. However, our greatest asset as a leader goes beyond our ability to grant dollars into communities – our true value lies in our ability to foster collaborations.

In 2017, we strengthened our commitment to ongoing partnerships and invested in new initiatives. One of these new initiatives was Solidarity MN, a collaboration of like-minded foundations aligned in their commitment to immigrants and refugees.

In our current political environment, immigrants and refugees are relying on the critical services provided by nonprofits more than ever before, which places a strain on available resources. Together, the members of Solidarity MN stepped in to increase organizational capacity and give individuals the tools to advocate for their continued employment, education and safety.

The Foundation also engaged in a new partnership to address the rapidly growing affordable housing challenges facing the East Metro. Through the innovative funding model of Program-Related Investments (PRIs), F. R. Bigelow Foundation collaborated with The Saint Paul Foundation to distribute $1 million each to CommonBond Communities and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

PRIs allow us to move beyond traditional grantmaking and can take the form of loans, equity investments, guarantees and other fiscal resources. CommonBond Communities is using their fund to purchase existing, unsubsidized affordable rental properties to market to families and individuals whose earnings exceed government subsidy housing qualifications, but are also priced out of many markets due to increasing rental costs.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity will use their funds for their affordable homeownership program and Home Loan Impact Fund – programs that allow Habitat to redevelop homes and purchase homes from the open market for rehabilitation. Habitat can then make these homes available to low-income homebuyers.

In addition to these PRI investments, the Foundation also made separate grants to each organization to support the additional capacity needed to manage a large influx of funds.

2017 also marked another year of progress with the Linking Leaders Task Force. When the Foundation embarked on Linking Leaders, our board committed to being a leader on equity among our peers in the philanthropic community through our focus on connecting leaders of color and indigenous populations.

We are now on the verge of seeing what this collaborative effort will bring to light. The four Linking Leaders organizations, African American Leadership Forum, Council of Asian American Leaders, Latino LEAD and Tiwahe Foundation, made incredible strides on their racial equity framework in 2017.

In addition to this framework, the network created a suite of tools. These tools will be piloted with institutions in the nonprofit, government and private sectors currently engaging in racial equity work to ensure they meaningfully include people of color and American Indian leaders in every stage of their processes.

Based on our strong commitment to equity and the progress of the four organizations thus far, the Foundation made an additional commitment of $100,000 for each organization and $175,000 to support the collaborative work and outcomes of the network in 2018.

Finally, we cannot reflect upon the power of collaboration without recognizing those who make our work possible. Our deepest gratitude goes out to our Board of Directors and the staff of The Saint Paul & Minnesota Community Foundations for their unwavering leadership and dedication to investing in positive outcomes for the East Metro region.


Gloria Perez

Chair, F. R. Bigelow Foundation