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Murray County Early Childhood Initiative launches series of fund-raisers

SLAYTON -- When the Murray County Early Childhood Initiative (MCECI) began in 2003, coalition members knew the funding they would receive from the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) was for three years.

SLAYTON -- When the Murray County Early Childhood Initiative (MCECI) began in 2003, coalition members knew the funding they would receive from the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) was for three years.

Now, that three years is up, and MCECI has launched a series of fund-raisers, hoping to create an endowment fund of between $40,000 and $50,000 and still maintain its programs. They are calling the campaign "Give Murray County Kids a Hand."

The coalition, one of the first 12 of its kind in Minnesota, is composed of community members focused on positively impacting the county's youngest citizens -- those from infant to age 5.

The SWIF funding provided $15,000 a year for the first three years. With that, MCECI has sponsored events such as Child ID, a program to fingerprint and DNA-type children.

"The information goes into their school files," said Dodi Haugen, coordinator. "It is kept in their school records until they graduate."

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To accomplish this, MCECI stations RSVP volunteers at the Murray County Central West Elementary and Fulda Elementary during conferences. The volunteers were taught how to swab inside the cheek of the child being typed and how to fingerprint the children.

"We also do a lot of collaborative things," Haugen said.

Working with the public health department and law enforcement, MCECI sponsored a car seat safety clinic in April with good participation, Haugen said.

"We had to have car seats available, because we couldn't let them leave if their car seat was unsafe," Haugen said. "There were 17 adults and about 25 kids."

MCECI also sponsors the Family Fair, which will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 3 in the MCC High School gym.

"It's a huge event," Haugen said. "Last year, we had about 20 booths, and every preschool in the county gave a performance."

One of MCECI's first major fund-raising events this year was the Jail and Bail, in which citizens of Murray County were "arrested" and had to get at least $100 worth of pledges before they could "bail" out of jail.

"The committee had a goal of $2,500," Haugen said. "If all the pledges come in, we will have made about $7,500."

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Haugen was pleased to say she had raised $1,425 in pledges during her jail time.

"People that have heard about our programs come up and ask how they could help financially," she said. "I knew this funding issue would come up, so I made a list of names. I had a whole list to go back to."

Earlier this month, Haugen was able to secure a $3,000 pledge from the county, but the money will go toward a program and not the endowment fund. Haugen said after thinking about fund raising so much, she is ready to spend some time working on programming.

Coalition members come from all walks of life in Murray County, and they meet every fourth Tuesday at noon at the Pizza Ranch in Slayton.

"It is always open to anyone who cares about Murray County's children," Haugen said. "Everyone is welcome."

Haugen said she knows the endowment fund won't be built up to the level they would like to see in a year, or even five years, but there are plans to continue fund-raising efforts.

"We have received donations from individuals and organizations, but we haven't really done an outright appeal to organizations," she explained.

A business party breakfast is in the works, with Mark Scally, the CEO of Mulcahy Inc. and a member of the Minnesota Businesses for Early Learning, to be the featured speaker.

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"He will speak about the importance of businesses being involved in early learning," Haugen said. "He's very good."

Haugen said she is pleased with the fund-raising efforts so far and feels good about what the coalition has accomplished.

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