Minnesota Idea Open: And the winner is …


What do a blue-collar worker, an executive director and an immigration attorney all have in common? They are all finalists in the inaugural round of the MN Idea Open, an open competition initiated by the Minnesota Community Foundation to find the best solution towards one social issue yearly. The winner will be announced on May 18. 

With major funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the online contest began on March 18, with the first challenge to the public: How could your community use $15,000 to help people eat smart and be active?


Congratulations to Christine Tubbs of Stillwater and her champion idea, Kids Lead the Way!
Minnesotans voted from May 4 through May 14, 2010, to tell us which idea should receive $15,000 to become a reality.
Kids Lead the Way is a youth-led program that puts kids in the decision-making chair when it comes to making healthy food choices and developing life-long habits for active living. Imagine a summer filled with fun and inexpensive pick-up games like Kick-the-Can, which kids can then replay in their own neighborhoods and backyards. Local personal trainers have volunteered to meet weekly with individual groups and help coach the kids to success!

Minnesotans submitted their ideas for the challenge by the hundreds, ranging from a town counting the number of steps they collectively walked in a month to kids being rewarded for eating new, healthy foods.

Delighted by the substantial response from the public, Kari Ruth, Interactive Media Strategist for Minnesota Community Foundation, explained that the ideas “came from all over Minnesota, which was really wonderful to see,” and continued, “because at the heart of this, the MN Idea Open really is a grass-roots public education campaign.”

Reviewers narrowed the field of 415 ideas down to 21 semi-finalists. Then, a panel of 9 judges from diverse backgrounds and professions assessed the semi-finalists’ proposals, selecting 3 finalists based on criteria such as innovation, impact and sustainability.

MN Idea Open judge and fitness expert Chris Freytag explained that for her “sustainability beyond the $15,000 investment was most important.” Freytag stated, “It was important to me that a project done successfully in Community A could be replicated in Community B.”

From May 4 to May 14, the online voting portion of the competition began and the public had an opportunity to vote for one of the 3 finalists’ ideas. The winner will be announced on May 18.

Let’s meet the finalists and their ideas.

Erik Warner’s submission, “Take The Soul Patch Statewide”, was first initiated through a college class assignment instructing students to take a leadership role in a community activity. And Warner did just that. He noticed a plot of land adjacent to the newly built Morrison County Food Shelf that he thought would be ideal for producing fresh fruits and vegetables for the food shelf’s clients.

The church that owned the land contributed it for the use of the garden. With donated seeds, starter plants and community effort, the garden produced two tons of fresh produce for the Morrison County Food Shelf last year. Warner said, “Basically what I’m hoping for, even if I don’t win, is that people will adopt the idea and do it in their own community.”

Christine Tubbs, a mother of two college-aged children, entered into the competition “Kids Lead the Way.” In working with Stillwater Area Public Schools, Tubbs observed that kids in the school district loved “Field Day” – a special, once a year outing for students and led by students. She thought to capitalize on the school activity by expanding the frequency and scope to the rest of the community.

Adults and community partners will facilitate “Kids Lead the Way”, while students dictate which activities are included for their peers. Additionally, kids will be encouraged to bring nutritious snacks and recipes to share with the other participants. Tubbs said, “Not only is the goal of ‘Kids Lead the Way’ to get youth physically active, but also, they will learn lifelong positive eating and exercising skills.”

Amy Schroeder Ireland’s bright idea is “Library Wellness Challenge” – an initiative to provide new and innovative ways to use neighborhood libraries as a gathering place and resource center to address the health needs of the community. The project, together with neighborhood libraries, will include regular health and wellness events to assess and record the community’s health goals and progress.

Ireland, a member of the Hamline-Midway Library Association and a mother taking advantage of the healthy cookbooks and other wellness related information at the local library, naturally saw all of the benefits the library could contribute to the neighborhood’s well-being. She stated, ” We just hope to get the neighborhood kids, their parents and elders to see that there are [health] resources and activities available that are free.”

Beyond the competition.

After the public casts their votes and the winner is announced on May 18, the Minnesota Community Foundation, with the help of the Citizens League, a St. Paul based organization that studies social issues and develops policy solutions, will connect the winner with a community partner, figure out the logistics and implement the program for up to one year.

Because of the success of this first round, the Minnesota Community Foundation plans to follow up the effort with another contest next year. Ruth explains that because of the flexibility of the platform that the MN Idea Open has been built on, there are plans to have similar community challenges in the future that could be on a smaller scale rather than a statewide competition. “This first challenge has been a learning opportunity, and we’ll take what we have learned from it and use that [information] to influence the next one,” said Ruth.

Regardless of which idea garners the most votes in this first round of the MN Idea Open, the true winners will be the neighborhoods and community members across MN.