OWATONNA, Minn., February 5, 2024 – Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), in partnership with publishing companies Capstone and ABDO, is accepting applications for its Early Literacy Grant program. This grant is designed to support early literacy efforts that enhance school readiness for children birth to age eight by providing children with books. Nonprofit organizations working with these children and their families in SMIF’s 20-county region are encouraged to apply.

Priority in funding will be given to projects that target diverse and at-risk populations that may not be receiving books through any other avenues in the community, strengthen parental awareness of early literacy needs including communication and language development, include a parent education component, offer new and creative ways to reach diverse and at-risk families and/or collaborate with other organizations to provide literacy enhancements.

“At SMIF, we want to set up our region’s youngest generation for success,” said Rae Jean Hansen, SMIF’s vice president of early childhood. “We are grateful to Capstone and ABDO for their continued partnership in this program to provide families with the tools for early literacy.”

“Capstone’s southern Minnesota roots run deep. This community is truly something special, and we’re proud to enter into our 22nd year of partnership with Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to support children’s literacy,” said Gail Beer, Capstone vice president of customer relations and operations. “Research shows that access to books is critically important in a child’s development. SMIF is making a difference for the children in our community and Capstone remains honored to be a part of it.”

“This partnership with SMIF supports ABDO’s mission of getting more books into the hands of young readers,” said DeMar Borth, COO for ABDO. “We are excited to be donating books through the Early Literacy Grant program again this year.”

In 2002, Capstone helped launch the BookStart program, working with SMIF to distribute thousands of books to children in the region over a period of fifteen years. In 2018, the Early Literacy Grant was formed as a new collaborative effort between SMIF and the two Mankato-based publishing companies to put even more books into the hands of young children. SMIF has also previously partnered with both Capstone and ABDO on collectively distributing more than one hundred thousand books across the region through grants and programming. 

Applications are due to SMIF by March 5, 2024 at 3 p.m. The book pickup dates for awarded organizations will be held on June 12 and 13, 2024 in Owatonna. For more information or to apply, visit www.smifoundation.org. For questions about what SMIF might fund contact Heidi Coulter, early childhood project manager, at 507-214-7016 or heidic@smifoundation.org.