Last Monday we held our first board meeting of 2014 at the Department of Natural Resources offices in St. Paul. Joining us was Jarell Skinner-Roy, the High School Program Coordinator at College Possible, who discussed College Possible’s mission of reaching low-income, underserved high school students and providing them with a structured plan so that they can attend and graduate from College. Here’s a bit of information on College Possible and a link to their website:
College Possible is making college admission and success possible for low-income students through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support. College Possible started in 2000 in Minneapolis/St. Paul under the name Admission Possible. College Possible is a national organization with five locations in Milwaukee, Nebraska, Portland, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Students come into the program their junior year in high school starting with ACT preparatory assistance. College Possible serves students with families earning less than $25,000 a year in average income. By utilizing an Americorps model, College Possible is able to provide students with a near peer mentorship structure while providing the Americorps employees with a $12,000 living stipend. College Possible will work with Wild River Academy to provide programs for a Junior to Senior year summer enrichment program. For more information visit www.collegepossible.org
Natalie outlined the three main programs that Wild River Academy focuses on: experiential summer programming, our high school fellowship program, and the fall paddle forward expedition on the Illinois River this fall. Anna then discussed our programming capabilities on the Minnesota, Mississippi, St. Croix and more rivers. We coordinate with local experts in order to bring them out to our students on the river. In this way the students get a chance to learn from expert speakers in a variety of areas relating to the watershed they are experiencing. By bringing students into the environment and directly interacting with all of the material being presented by our speakers the students are able to learn more concretely. We opened up the discussion for suggestions on programming along the Minnesota or St. Croix, those being the two rivers our fellowship students chose for their trips. Ted Suss, who served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1974-1978, is on the board of the Minnesota Valley History and Learning Center and mentioned that the learning center could help us with finding water experts in the Southwestern Minnesota area. At this point, we were able to thank Ted Suss for connecting us with Floyd Palmer of Palmer Bus CO, which is donating a school bus to Wild River Academy this spring. Brad Cobb mentioned that there is an agricultural resource center off of highway 14 in Lamberton, MN which cultivates a remnant prairie and has a bison herd which resides on the land. This center is open to student groups and would be a perfect stop for our high school trips.
In order to work with College Possible, we realized that we cannot charge these students money that they don’t have to go on our canoe trips. We are running a capital campaign to raise $20,000 for sponsorships, specifically to sponsor the College Possible trips and our trip with River’s Edge Academy. Jarell mentioned that we should run our campaign through Give Minnesota which is a hosting site for raising money for non-profits. We are using River’s Edge Academy’s GiveMN capabilities to host our campaign; more information can be found on the homepage of our website, www.wildriveracademy.com. We are anxiously awaiting our individual 501(c)(3) application approval from the IRS in order to create our own GiveMN campaign independent of a fiscal sponsor.
Jay Krienitz, a program coordinator for the MN DNR, highlighted the importance of building a support structure through our board which should consist of mentors and others capable of providing assistance and direction. Jay also mentioned the importance of contacting a Certified Public Accountant which is great because we have been working with Mary Cleary: a CPA who focuses on non-profits. She has been a huge resource in helping us to do something which we have little knowledge of. The DNR has a new Parks and Trails Director in Erika Rivers, being another connection mentioned by Jay.
The importance of building a working board was a huge theme of our meeting and a goal of ours for 2014. Having a working board builds credibility through the combined networks of board members and allows us to bring board members to meetings with potential sponsors for legitimization. Informal boards would allow us to focus on our creative efforts and maintain the agility in our business plan which we cherish as a strength of ours. Contacting funders becomes easier with a working board. Ted Suss goes on to say that there are specific strategies we should employ when speaking with potential funders. Putting together a packet/proposal highlighting our capital campaign and a general financial breakdown describing what the specific amounts donated will go to: food, transportation, a student. David Minges reiterated the importance of including operational costs in our fundraising and mentioned that this is a legitimate strategy and not to shy away from it. Organizing a response in the form of a thank you from our students to our funders quarterly is something that Pat Ryan described as essential. Creating a dedicated database listing our supporters and donors was another excellent suggestion from Pat.
Our interns, Sonja and Paul, introduced themselves to our board and highlighted some of the projects they have been working on. Sonja has been researching how we can get proper insurance. Sonja and Nick visited with Irv Cohen, an insurance broker, to find a good fit for insuring Wild River Academy. Paul designed a brochure for our Paddle Forward Illinois River trip this fall. Paul is taking a leadership role in the organization of the trip this fall. Two of our high school fellowship students, Olivia and Izzi, joined us for the meeting as well. They discussed their roles in the fellowship program. Connecting our fellows with our board was an excellent way for the students to converse with knowledgeable and experienced people who we have found to be great friends and resources.
A huge thank you to everyone who attended our meeting and those who continue to support us in our journey.
-The Wild River Academy Team