Meet the Fellows

2024-2025 Fellows represent Central, Northwest, Southwest and West Central Minnesota

NINE Chosen to advance their social enterprise ideas

From a farmer bringing native African greens to the marketplace to an entrepreneur creating custom headwear to conceal monitoring wires while building epilepsy awareness, the field of nine for the 2024-2025 Initiators Fellowship cohort has been selected.
Learn more about the Fellows in the spring 2024 edition of IQ Magazine
2024-2025 Fellow Map

Central Minnesota Fellows

Staci Allmaras

Staci Allmaras

Pelican Rapids: Youth Empowerment

Inclusion and belonging is the inspiration for my social enterprise. The heart’s greatest desire is to belong. When one has physical and emotional spaces of belonging, you feel valued, when you are valued, you invest, give back, and perpetuate a culture of belonging and community. This is especially important for young people navigating systems led by adults who aren’t always in tune with the perspectives of our young people. Including youth voices in decision-making spaces, ensuring youth perspectives are included in their community, creating spaces for young people, and sharing ownership in community development are all ways to support positive mental health. This is my inspiration, supporting young people in the systems that can support them. 

The long-term impact for this social enterprise is a physical and emotional space of belonging for young people in our community. And, as this space is developed, a culture where youth perspectives are valued, community activities represent its young people, and young people overwhelmingly say, “Adults in our community care about us, value our perspective, and include us in decision making” is created. Youth report improved mental health, sense of belonging, and hope as valued members of their community.  

Ben Cahill

Ben Cahill

Bemidji: LGBTQ2S+ Resources

Pride Support Network was inspired by the LGBTQ2S+ community. Working with the Bemidji Pride Festival planning team, we realized that community members had lots of questions about services for LGBTQ2S+ needs. From older LGBTQ2S+ folks wanting to find a welcoming assisted-living place to parents worried about how to help their LGBTQ2S+ kids, the needs kept piling up. Living in a rural area meant these services weren’t easily available or always accessible. Like everyone, LGBTQ2S+ people deserve services and support that respect their culture and identity. I felt a strong pull to connect people with the right resources. That’s where the role of a Community Health Worker comes in. This role allowed me to link people with the support they needed and to provide health education in a way that understands and respects who they are. In our rural community of Beltrami County, there’s still much work to do to make sure these resources are easy to reach. Pride Support Network is all about making sure LGBTQ2S+ individuals get the support they need. It’s about recognizing and actively responding to the different needs of LGBTQ2S+ people right here in our community.

My enterprise seeks to address critical issues faced by LGBTQ and Two Spirit individuals, including mental health disparities and discrimination. By providing community health worker services, I aim to break down barriers to healthcare and social services, advocate against discrimination and support individuals in meeting their fundamental goals for overall wellbeing. In addition, I hope to work toward creating community events that share valuable education and engage community. Though there is a LGBTQ2S+ population in the Beltrami area, we lack dedicated space and consistent events to create the feeling of community. By leveraging the role of community health workers, we can empower and connect LGBTQ2S+ people with culturally relevant and affirming resources, programs, and support groups, and create a better connected community. 

Northwest Minnesota Fellows

Lisa Finck

Lisa Finck

Verndale : Specialized Head Coverings for Epileptics 

The inspiration behind my venture, Rainbow Hair Hats, is our youngest daughter. After her first seizure and the long 72 hours it took us to process her diagnosis, I knew in my heart that this girl would change the world and that there was purpose for her and the struggles she was overcoming. I have said that her entire life. I just didn’t know how it would happen, where we would go, and just how big our dreams for helping others would grow. In trying to make things easier and more fun for her, a passion grew to help ALL families like ours. Now we are shooting for the stars and dreaming big! We want to bring positive change—no matter the size for acceptance, awareness, and in treatments—for those touched by epilepsy. Every change in the world starts somewhere, and this is our contribution.

Rainbow Hair Hats are a small first step in helping make testing more fun, less scary, less embarrassing. We want those who have epilepsy to feel confident in who they are, not feel defined by their diagnosis, or feel less because of it. We want to create the sense that, when they are doing testing, they aren’t lost behind the medical equipment and supplies. They are still the focus. We want them to feel their value and worth, despite living with epilepsy. By making this less about epilepsy and more about the people, we hope to promote acceptance and awareness while offering education to community members. We’ll also offer support for families as they go through the stages of testing/diagnosis, helping them to process all the many thoughts and emotions that come with it, and offer a safe space where all can feel included.

Dawn Finn

Dawn Finn

Pelican Rapids: Mental Health Services

The inspiration for Community & Life Services stems from a deeply personal and community-driven ethos. Having witnessed the transformative power of recovery and wellness in individuals’ lives, our organization was conceived as a beacon of hope and guidance. Our mission is rooted in the philosophy of self-growth and the universal laws of positive change, recognizing that recovery is not just a personal journey but a communal triumph. Our approach integrates life-coaching principles, fostering a supportive environment where individuals can discover their potential and rebuild their lives with dignity and purpose.

Our primary objective is to create a profound and lasting impact for people on their journey of recovery and wellness. By offering a range of services, from self-pay to medical coverage, we aim to make recovery accessible to everyone in our community. Our goal is to assist individuals in overcoming their challenges and to empower them to become advocates of their wellbeing. Through our workshops and programs, we strive to nurture a culture of resilience and growth while aspiring to be leaders in the field. Our vision is to see a community where recovery is embraced as a journey of empowerment and wellness is a shared responsibility.

Southwest Minnesota Fellow

Jill Greendeer

Jill Greendeer

St. Michael: Tribal Data Sovereignty

The inspiration and foundation for my social enterprise is tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and self-governance. As Native people, we are sovereign nations and we hold sovereign rights to govern our communities, and these sovereign rights include Indigenous data sovereignty and data governance. The idea for my social enterprise was brought to the forefront by my experience in my doctoral program and an “almost” post-doc experience. I encountered severe discrimination, racism, cultural appropriation, and misappropriation. I saw non-Indigenous scholars and health practitioners receive recognition, funding, publication, and achievements that perpetuated discrimination and bias that have ongoing adverse effects on Indigenous communities, scholars, and students. No one was holding anyone accountable. Non-Indigenous scholars were just taking what they needed for their advancement with little to no benefit to Native/Indigenous people and communities. Comparatively, these events led to the continued exclusion of Indigenous scholars. Like many of my Indigenous scholar colleagues, I was offered little to no support, funding, publication, or achievement opportunities as an Indigenous scholar trying to give voice and visibility to Indigenous research and ways of knowing. My social enterprise will elevate Indigenous scholars, research protocols, and narratives.  

My social justice enterprise will focus on healing and empowerment through Indigenous data sovereignty and governance. Tribal communities and nations can invoke their sovereignty and develop unique collaborative institutional review boards (IRBs) that are guided by protocols, ethical and diverse community considerations/approvals, training, and support networks to establish and empower community collaboration. These sovereign protective protocols and research community councils will govern who comes into our communities, what and who are published, ensuring tribal members will get opportunities to receive research training, publication, and collective funding to continue to benefit Native/Indigenous communities.

For non-Indigenous entities, this enterprise would create opportunities to expand cultural and historical knowledge to minimize present-day research inequities and injustices. The long-term impact is to establish protocols that are upheld by tribal nations, communities and partners to protect, heal, and empower Indigenous nations to elevate Indigenous narratives, visibility, and sovereignty.

West Central Minnesota Fellows

Shannon Murray

Shannon Murray

Bemidji: Youth Development

The power of inclusion inspired my idea. We have amazing young leaders in the Bemidji area who are successfully transforming their schools into communities of belonging where students of all abilities are true collaborators, advocates and friends. However, as these students graduate and transition into the larger community, there is opportunity for their work to continue beyond school. My cousin Will is one of those student leaders, and his teammate and friend, Austin, have been a big inspiration. I was honored to serve as their mentor, and they taught me so much in our time together. They truly showed me what young people of all abilities can do to affect social change when provided with the right support and opportunities.

My social enterprise will create pathways for meaningful, authentic, and inclusive employment and social opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We will do this work by empowering young leaders of all abilities in the co-creation of communities of caring through education and advocacy, professional development and job skills training, and through community-building activities. The ultimate goal is for inclusion to become the norm for everyone, everywhere in my community.

Suree Sompamitwong

Sureeporn Sompamitwong

Worthington: Art and Healing Space

My social enterprise idea is inspired by my own healing journey through art after moving back home from Los Angeles and discovering my mental illness. I was grieving and found solace in art. I find painting and sculpting to be a therapeutic way to process and release my emotions, and I wanted to offer that to my community. My inspiration came from how comfortable and safe I felt in the art room at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, where I went to school at the time. I wanted to create a safe space for my community to gather, connect and heal through art. I knew that if art was healing to me, then it could also be a safe space for others to express their emotions and ideas. Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes it takes more than talking to be able to process and feel your feelings. Creative Healing Space goes beyond just visual arts. From spoken word, drum circles, mask-making and more, we value all things creative that can also bring healing. 

The impact that I am trying to achieve with Creative Healing Space is to strengthen and empower the people in my community to be more healed and vibrant. I want to be able to provide options for people to choose their own healing path—whether they benefit most from writing or dancing it out. I envision Creative Healing Space to be a place where people feel safe and supported. I want to lift the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to seek support and talk about it. Too many people suffer alone, and I want to encourage them to connect with others and realize there are opportunities to be exposed to coping tools they might not have discovered on their own.

Wanetta Thompson

Wanetta Thompson

Hinckley: Cultural Arts Programming

Bear Paws Cultural Art was inspired by my family! The name is a compilation of ideas: My husband, Anton, is from the Bear Clan, and Paws represents my daughters Laikora, Kyrah and Tourrie. 

What started out as a small crafting coalition evolved into Bear Paws Cultural Art. We wanted to help alleviate the effects of historical and generational trauma cycles through cultural art education. We cultivated Bear Paws Cultural Art to educate on the history, culture, and resiliency of our Native American communities through artistry. Our goal is to eliminate prejudice and discrimination by bringing communities together to learn and better understand Native American history and artwork.

We believe Bear Paws Cultural Art will help to provide a sense of identity for future generations within the culture. It will build community involvement and foster relationships through art that build understanding with our neighbors.

Funwi Tita

Funwi Tita

Buffalo: African Vegetable Farm

The idea behind Better Greens as a social enterprise resonates deeply with my personal experiences and passions. Growing up with a rich connection to African cuisine, I’ve witnessed the cultural significance of ethnic vegetables within my community. This sparked a personal commitment to empower African immigrant communities like mine by ensuring consistent access to fresh and culturally relevant produce, addressing the very real issue of food security. The inspiration extends from my own cultural pride, recognizing the transformative power of these vegetables in preserving traditions. Beyond commerce, Better Greens is a personal mission to sustainably contribute to the well-being of my community, celebrate diversity, and foster a resilient and culturally vibrant space that reflects my personal values and experiences.

Better Greens aims to make a profound impact by providing fresh, culturally significant vegetables to African immigrant communities in the United States. The enterprise seeks to enhance community well-being by addressing food security issues and ensuring consistent access to essential produce. By specializing in ethnic African vegetables, Better Greens contributes to cultural preservation by fostering a sense of identity and pride. The emphasis on sustainability minimizes environmental impact while also supporting long-term agricultural practices. Beyond mere commerce, Better Greens aspires to be a catalyst for positive social change. We aspire to promote health, cultural diversity, and economic empowerment within the communities we serves. Ultimately, the impact envisioned encompasses improved nutrition, strengthened cultural connections, and a more sustainable and resilient community.