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Meet the Fellows

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2022-2023 Fellows represent Central, Northwest, Southwest and West Central Minnesota

Eight Chosen to advance their social enterprise ideas

From a community journalist with a goal to surface community-centered challenges and solutions to an entrepreneur creating felon-friendly employment to a grocery store owner creating food access, the field of eight fellows for the 2022-2023 Initiators Fellowship cohort promises to lead the way in building greater good in Greater Minnesota through entrepreneurship. Read their profiles in the spring 2022 edition of IQ Magazine.

Central Minnesota Fellows

Nora Hertel

St. Michael: Community Journalism

My husband, Ben, and I chose our home in St. Michael because of the back yard full of sugar maples and the stretch of Regal Creek that we can follow to the Crow River. We initially planned to keep a hobby farm in Sherburne or Wright counties and still hope to add chickens or bees to our garden.

We had been traveling around the Midwest for several years, following professional opportunities in Wisconsin and South Dakota. When we decided to have a child we turned back to Minnesota, where all my in-laws live. Ben had been convincing me over the course of a decade to settle down in Minnesota.

We chose to live outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area because we wanted more space and a tighter community. After four years working in Central Minnesota, I am attached to the landscape, range of cultures and the stories in Greater Minnesota.

I plan to provide useful and inspiring journalism to readers across Greater Minnesota to spur community engagement and cooperative problem-solving. My organization is called The Greater Minnesota Optimist, because we’re going to look at problems through the lens of ongoing solutions. We also are seeking to challenge the pessimism that pervades news and public discourse.

Good journalism is very powerful. It can bring people together. It can inspire people to take positive action. It can help people from different backgrounds understand the basics of shared problems.

The Greater Minnesota Optimist will work to inspire and inform people. It will help them solve environmental, social and business problems—not in a prescriptive way, but by providing useful facts and data and answers to curious questions.

The Optimist will work to build trust in journalism and media literacy. Those are public service goals. Journalism is a pillar of democracy, and we will work to shore up the foundation of that pillar in Greater Minnesota. People need good, engaging information to tackle community and regional problems.


The news landscape is changing. It has been painful to see traditional news outlets lose staff and reduce community coverage. But I see an opportunity.

I have heard readers lament problems with legacy newspapers, radio and television news, and I know firsthand of the vitriol and division that thrives on social media. But I know there are other ways to serve communities through journalism, and I have worked for two digital-only news providers using the nonprofit model.

There is so much innovation in digital journalism, and I am following the boom of digital and nonprofit news sites across the country and world. I want to be a part of that wave and create a new kind of newsroom that responds to reader problems in Greater Minnesota and works to unite our communities in a divisive time.

Fardowsa Iman

St. Cloud: Addiction Treatment

When my family relocated to St. Cloud, we created a community of Somali immigrant families that supported each other in navigating our new lives. I continue to stay in this community to work towards community inclusion and cohesion.

The social impact that I want to achieve with my clinic is for individuals struggling with addiction to have culturally competent clinicians to help navigate recovery. Culture and religion play a huge role in helping individuals obtain and sustain recovery. With this clinic, I want to help the Somali community by educating about treatment options and what recovery looks like. I also want to break down the stigma of addiction. By doing this, our community will be better equipped to help Somali individuals experiencing addiction.

The inspiration for this clinic came out of a need that I recognized while in college. My Somali peers were struggling with substance use and their parents didn’t know what to do. They would send their children to Africa in hopes that an environmental change would help them recover. However, they would come back traumatized and start using substances again. I went into the field of addiction because I wanted Somali individuals to have a clinician that understands the culture and how to incorporate it into treatment.

Seeing loved ones who have faced homelessness and the challenges that came with it inspired me to strive to create a safe and secure residential facility where individuals can heal and become productive citizens of our community.

Northwest Minnesota Fellows

Daniel Barrientez

Bemidji: Felon-Friendly Employment

It started when I was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We became homeless, so we moved to Bemidji to be with family. We soon fell in love with Bemidji and the people. It is a different pace and vibe from the inner-city life.

I want to provide quality food for the community of Bemidji at a competitive price. I will buy locally from the Beltrami County area. I want to hire people with felonies and those who are having a hard time due to incarceration. Through my food truck and food program, I intend to employ hundreds of members of the community with an emphasis on those who have been incarcerated and are having difficulty finding employment.

I believe my enterprise has a potential to provide quality, nutritious food to the city of Bemidji and employ people that struggle to find work due to felonies and incarceration. I also want to feed children and people who are struggling and experiencing homelessness in the Bemidji area.

I was incarcerated from 2005 to 2010. When I was released, it was next to impossible to find a job. I still struggle to this day because of my criminal record, no matter what I’ve accomplished since. My dream is to help people like me who struggle to find work because of past convictions. I would like to give them a chance like I was given.

Brenna Rollie

Fosston: Wellness & community-Building

My partner’s job as a teacher at Fosston High School is what officially brought us here. We have a 9-year-old and loved the idea of her riding bike to school and the sense of safety a smaller community can provide. Plus, we enjoy being near so many beautiful lakes, rivers and state parks.

I want to increase health and wellness for rural Minnesota communities by providing classes, community events and youth camps with an emphasis on healing, community-building and culture.

I want to benefit this community and region by building bridges between health and wellness and the land, water and each other. This community-building will pour regenerative resources into our region by fostering leadership and collaboration in the movement to create a more sustainable, equitable and just world.

I dream of a community where we live in greater harmony with the land, water and each other. I want my daughter to be able to tell a story of community healing and collaboration that arose from our history of genocide and extraction. This healing and harmony begins in the body.

Southwest Minnesota Fellows

Khalif Ahmed Bashir

Willmar: immigrant homeownership

I grew up in Kenya and now make my home in Willmar, where I serve immigrant communities through a nonprofit which I founded. I saw the need for community engagement in race-conscious homeownership policies, issues with racial wealth gaps and public policy processes. I am determined to be at the forefront of this change and be the leader that eliminates these disparities. I am passionate about opening KB Realtor in Willmar, where I plan to reduce the racial home ownership gap.

My goal is to increase access to sustainable and energy-efficient homeownership for immigrants and refugees from all financial backgrounds. I want to help all immigrants and refugees work towards the realization of the American dream. I will achieve this through changing the culture and improving skepticism surrounding homeownership while ensuring there is education, consulting and increased down-payment assistance for first-time buyers.

I envision a future where immigrant communities can make a transformational leap from renting to owning. This is possible through advocating for a race-conscious homeownership policy. Homeownership will help families find a path out of poverty. I believe there will be higher graduation rates for the children of homeowners, and most parents and guardians will pass these life-management skills to their children.

Willmar has many immigrants and marginalized residents, and there is no real estate company that serves them. The desire to bridge this gap has inspired me to start KB Realtor where I will provide increased down-payment assistance for first-time buyers and triple the number of loans available to immigrants each year with lower interest. I will connect immigrant home buyers with lenders who can explain mortgage terms and other hidden costs in their native language. I believe the new homeowners will become more civically engaged, have greater stability, better health and less dependency on public assistance.

Kristine Shelstad

Madison: community-Building

Madison is home. This community nurtured me when I was young and accepted me back when I needed solace. The people I love live here. I want to give back to the community and to the people that fill my heart and lift my soul.

We will build a home for art, innovation, creativity and community for the people of Madison and the surrounding region. Our organically grown community center includes space for art, music and entrepreneurial endeavors that will foster reflection, learning and growth for both individuals and for the community.

The community will benefit when local and regional citizens have an accessible, inclusive and intergenerational space in which to gather, work, learn and grow our community. Area nonprofits will find a home for their endeavors and will build their volunteer and service base. Our arts space will bring beauty and music to our underserved area. Entrepreneurs will find accommodating studio and office space to launch their dreams. The coworking space will facilitate remote work opportunities. And everyone needs good coffee!

My nieces and nephews inspire me to create a place that provides opportunity and excitement and fosters pride in their community. I am inspired by the people in my city and region who work hard to keep rural towns relevant and vibrant.

West Central Minnesota Fellows

Alex Ostenson

Evansville: food Access

When I was younger, I really valued being outside, helping on my grandparents’ farm and having a sense of community. As my wife and I started our family and looked to the future, we made the decision to move back home to be close to where I grew up. We really enjoy being able to raise our children in a country setting while also having the sense of community that a small town can provide.

My goal is to decrease food deserts and food-related insecurities in rural communities by providing a hybrid model grocery shopping experience that combines traditional shopping with 24-hour, 7-day-a-week accessibility.

Food deserts and food-related insecurities can cause major health concerns from obesity to poor nutrition to mental health challenges. We want to be a cornerstone in the community that helps to reduce these challenges related to food deserts. We also work hard to make sure we are selling local goods when possible.

I have been working in the field service industry for several years. This type of work is physically demanding and generally comes with uncertain and varied hours. I know that many other people living and working in rural Minnesota are in similar situations. It’s hard to find a traditional store that is open or available after normal retail hours, making it difficult for many people to access necessities like healthy foods. This challenge of availability is the driving factor in creating a unique grocery store, which mixes a traditional grocery shopping experience with a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week option for those who find difficulty in accessing groceries.

Noreen Thomas

Moorhead: Sustainable Farming

I married my husband, a farmer, some 30 years ago. I fell in love with the land and lakes.

I want to help provide cleaner waterways by ensuring there is less fossil fuel used for fertilizers. I want to make local, clean, sustainable fertilizer to reduce methane emissions from food waste rotting in our landfills and capture nutrients of food scraps to grow clean, nutritious food. I want to provide fertilizer resources in the area without importing from thousands of miles or several continents away. I will work to provide a point of community enrichment by instilling a “we can do it” attitude and independence from long supply chains.

This will provide cleaner waterways, sustainable fertilizer and nutritious food.

As a farm family member, I see how difficult it has become to source pure inputs for growing crops, fruits and vegetables. I also feel the need to do something about food waste. This project helps to solves some of these problems.