2024-2025 Initiators Fellowship Cohort

Nine Selected for 2024-2025 Initiators Fellowship Cohort

LITTLE FALLS, MN—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.

“We’re beyond inspired by the work and visions of these amazing Fellows and can’t wait to support and celebrate them during these next two years as they seek to transform their communities and regions,” said Brian Voerding, Initiative Foundation vice president for inclusive entrepreneurship.

Nearly 90 enterprising individuals applied for the 2024-2025 Initiators Fellowship. “We had a challenging decision to move from 16 finalists to the nine who were selected,” said Christine Metzo, Initiators Fellowship program manager for the Initiative Foundation. “We want to thank each and every applicant for the energy and change they’re leading, and we can confidently say we have a truly diverse cohort in place that will make Greater Minnesota even greater.”

The nine Fellows selected for the 2024-2025 cohort represent 53 counties and six Native nations in Central, Northwest, Southwest and West Central Minnesota. They will experience comprehensive programming, executive-level mentoring and leadership training, ongoing education, and support from dedicated staff members to advance their mission-driven business or nonprofit endeavors. Each Fellow also will receive a $30,000 stipend for each year of the two-year program.

The following individuals have been selected to represent the four participating Minnesota Initiative Foundation regions:

Staci Allmaras | Pelican Rapids | Youth Empowerment

Staci Allmaras loves to quote Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.” To advance her community unity mindset, Allmaras wants to use her experience working in schools to build up The Youths_PR, a Pelican Rapids youth organization, to offer communal space and income-generating opportunities. Allmaras is supported by West Central Initiative and will use her Fellowship time to pursue nonprofit status and expand the organization’s work to connect and open up opportunities for young people in her region.

Ben Cahill | Bemidji | LGBTQ2S+ Resources

As a community health worker, Ben Cahill has learned a lot about the health barriers facing those in the LGBTQ2S+ community. In Native cultures, two-spirit people (2S+) are male, female, and sometimes intersexed individuals who combine activities of both men and women with traits unique to their status as two-spirit people. In many tribes, they occupy a distinct, alternative gender status. His social enterprise, supported by Northwest Minnesota Foundation, will offer community health services, events, advocacy and more to those in the LGBTQ2S+ community. Learn more at pridesupportnetwork.org.

Lisa Finck | Verndale | Specialized Head Coverings for Epileptics

Lisa Finck launched Rainbow Hair Hats in late 2022 to make life less scary for her daughter and others who have tuberous sclerosis complex, the leading genetic cause of epilepsy. Those with epilepsy often are hooked up to a monitor with wires that can appear scary to an onlooker. During her time in the Fellowship, with support from the Initiative Foundation, Finck wants to build upon Rainbow Hair Hats to make life better for those with epilepsy while raising awareness of the disorder.

Dawn Finn | Pelican Rapids | Mental Health Services

Dawn Finn believes in serving others and breaking barriers. Through Community & Life Services, a nonprofit she launched to serve Otter Tail and Becker County residents, Finn and her staff are working to address addiction and mental health challenges while offering education on parenting, personal finances and much more. Her goal for the social enterprise venture is to help people achieve long-term positive change. Finn is supported in the Fellowship by West Central Initiative.

Jill Greendeer | St. Michael | Tribal Data Sovereignty

Jill Greendeer wants to give voice to Indigenous people by advocating for sovereign authority to administer the collection, ownership, and application of their own data. Greendeer’s social enterprise would guide the constraints of research on tribal lands through independent review boards for Native research that includes training, protocols, and ethical and diverse community considerations. Greendeer’s term in the Fellowship is supported by the Initiative Foundation.

Shannon Murray | Bemidji | Youth Development

Shannon Murray wants all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to find meaningful, inclusive employment. Their aspiration is to launch a social enterprise that helps young leaders with intellectual and developmental disabilities access continuing education, advocacy support, professional development, job-skills training, and community-building activities. Murray’s term in the Fellowship is supported by Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

Suree Sompamitwong | Worthington | Art and Healing Space

Creative Healing Space in Worthington is a place for people to create and spend time together. Suree Sompamitwong built this nonprofit after being inspired by her own healing journey. She wants to continue to grow Creative Healing Space to engage more local people and to provide opportunities for people to create and connect. Sompamitwong’s term in the Fellowship is supported by Southwest Initiative Foundation.

Wanetta Thompson | Hinckley | Cultural Arts Programming

Wanetta Thompson wants to use Bear Paws Cultural Arts to reclaim cultural identity and build understanding with her friends and neighbors, both native and non-native, through art. The organization offers contemporary and traditional Native American art classes free of charge and aspires to create cultural and educational programming that provides benefits to the entire community. Thompson’s time in the Fellowship is supported by the Initiative Foundation.

Funwi Tita | Buffalo | African Vegetable Farm

Better Greens, LLC, became a business for Funwi Tita when necessity met passion. Today, the small-scale agri-business supplies fresh and frozen African greens and vegetables to support the dietary needs and wants of African communities in Minnesota and around the country. Tita’s vision for his social enterprise is to introduce more people to traditional African vegetables and to help people make meals like they had growing up. Tita Fellowship term is supported by the Initiative Foundation. Visit bettergreensllc.com to learn more.

About the Initiators Fellowship

The Initiators Fellowship is a collaborative program of the Initiative Foundation, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, and West Central Initiative. The Fellowship is made possible by generous funders, including Granite Partners, an original founding funder and partner, along with the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation and Sourcewell.