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MN Innovation Alive and Well - And Helping the Poor

February 15, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Programs from across the state which are improving their communities with a bit of ingenuity are being honored today by Minnesota Community Action Partnership.

Community Action Duluth is among eight honorees set to receive an award. Its executive director, Angie Miller, says its Financial Opportunity Center bundles services so clients can get help with employment, finances and support programs.

"Since we launched this in April (2011), we've enrolled 240 people and we are already seeing the benefits with people increasing their income, increasing their credit score, reducing debt."

Miller says the program focuses on coaching its clients to succeed.

"It's very much putting the person in the driver's seat with determining the goals and setting up a plan, and building in accountability. It really transformed our agency into providing much more coordinated, comprehensive and holistic services."

Also being honored today is the Just-In-Time Weatherization Process by Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington counties. Denise Stahura, the group's senior director of planning, says they streamlined their process and cut the average time to complete a weatherization project from nearly five months to less than two.

"It used to be that that process, soup to nuts, was an average of 149 days. Then, using Just-In-Time practices, we cut the timeframe to 47 days."

Federal recovery funds helped them weatherize more than 2,100 homes, Stahura says, compared with the normal 300 homes a year.

Programs being honored for best practices were judged by a panel at the University of Minnesota. Associate professor Catherine Solheim says the university gets involved to see what's happening at the grassroots level.

"So that when we're back in our classrooms, I know I bring in examples of things that I see in these applications that we can then use as we're training the next generation of human-service providers. That's really an important part for us, as faculty."
Other Community Action agencies being honored today include those from Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead and Elbow Lake.

Advocates say creativity and innovation is vital in these times, as more people seek help - with less funding to provide it.

More information is online at mncaa.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN