Years from now, when memories of our Minnesota Super Bowl have faded, kids in Mankato will be learning to bike safely.
Families in Willmar will be enjoying the state’s largest fully accessible playground.
Parents in north Minneapolis will be serving homemade meals with vegetables grown in their own neighborhood.
All those activities — and many more — will be made possible by more than $4.5 million in grants awarded across the state by the Super Bowl Host Committee’s Legacy Fund, an effort by organizers called “52 Weeks of Giving” to make sure the sporting extravaganza is more than a short-lived entertainment event.
“Right from the onset, we said we want to make a difference for communities across the state,” said Dana Nelson, vice president of legacy and community partnerships for the Host Committee. “We will do something really special for communities.
“We wanted to make sure the Super Bowl would reach our state and spread that excitement, getting kids and families involved.”
The legacy effort has focused mainly on capital grants — typically used for durable goods like vehicles, equipment and infrastructure — rather than operating grants, which help organizations pay rent, salaries and other costs of doing business.
The reason, Nelson said, is to make a lasting difference.
“What we are hoping to accomplish is investing in projects that will exist long, long after the game is played,” she said.
Each year, the Super Bowl Host Committee sponsors a charitable project. This year, the NFL Foundation put up $1 million, with other foundations and corporations pitching in the rest.
Organizers made an early decision to focus their giving on the promotion of health and wellness. The Legacy Fund partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health to identify “shovel-ready” projects throughout the state that could use a boost.
Those efforts resulted in grants for projects such as a new outdoor ice rink in Roseau, a student breakfast nook at Red Wing High School and a mobile teaching kitchen on the Leech Lake Reservation. Last week, the group awarded $300,000 to People’s Center Clinics & Services in Minneapolis, helping the organization transform an old gymnasium into a wellness hub to serve families and young people in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Organizers stepped gingerly at the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line, Nelson added.
“We’ve been careful not to cross into Packers territory,” she said with a chuckle.
Here are some other projects funded through the Legacy Fund.
Blue Earth County received a $51,000 grant to buy 60 bikes and two trailers to teach bike use and safety at schools in Mankato and Lake Crystal.
“We have avid pedestrian and bicycle advocates,” said Kristen Friedrichs, a program coordinator in the county’s Public Health Department. “I’m helping these groups put their dreams into reality.”
The district’s physical education teachers have already been trained in a special curriculum designed to encourage students to safely walk and bike for normal transportation. Now the bike fleet will visit every school in the district for a weeklong program.
“We will hit every kid at some point,” Friedrichs said. “We’re helping to create a culture that it’s OK to let our kids bike and walk, as opposed to always defaulting to a vehicle.”
Virginia received a $40,000 grant to replace antiquated playground equipment in the Midway neighborhood. What’s more, the money unlocked an additional $60,000 in matching grants from other sources, said Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr.
“Without their help we wouldn’t have been able to bring this project to fruition,” Cuffe said. “The residents are just tickled. It’s also going to give us the ability to add a little bit of a trail system and pathways so people with strollers and so forth can access it.
“It’s very fortunate that the rural areas of Minnesota have been included in this.”
The Bolder Options program, which promotes youth development and leadership, will buy a new van with its $50,000 grant. Its existing van, nearly 20 years old, “has had its time,” said Darrell Thompson, the group’s president.
“The No. 1 thing youth programs struggle with is transportation,” Thompson said. “So that’s a very big deal. Quite honestly, these are things [donors] don’t want to pay for — and a lot of times, they’re the most important things.
“So for the Super Bowl hosts to focus on capital programs is really great.”
Bolder Options will also use its grant to support nutrition programs by upgrading two of its kitchens and buying kitchen equipment and gardening implements.
Another Minneapolis group, Appetite for Change, is among the few organizations that will use its grant to build staff and programming.
“We’re investing in youth wages, programming staff and food supplies,” said Michelle Horovitz, executive director and co-founder.
Appetite for Change uses food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change. The group offers community cooking programs that bring people together around food to network and build support for social change. It also runs a restaurant, Breaking Bread, on West Broadway in north Minneapolis.
With its $50,000 grant, Twin Cities Native Lacrosse will be able to boost its efforts to promote healthy youth development through the ancient Native American game, said John Hunter, the group’s co-director.
“We want to make sure our youth are not at home playing video games — that they’re understanding they can have fun being in the community while also learning about other things, like how to eat right,” he said. “Nutrition, activity, community participation.”
The group used its grant to buy a team van, jerseys and equipment. It also has been able to pay tournament entry fees, allowing youth to play for free.
“We don’t want any barriers to participation,” Hunter said. “We want them to come to the field, be healthy, be part of a community.”