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Wal-Mart Foundation awards more than $40K in local grants

WILLMAR -- Just in time for the holidays, more than $40,000 in grant money for local nonprofit organizations and projects was announced Thursday by the Wal-Mart Foundation.

The grant awards will support projects ranging from a literacy initiative at the ACGC Schools to the Willmar Police Department's Shop with a Cop program and the West Central Tribune's Warm the Children holiday charity program.

Altogether, 16 community organizations and projects received $1,000 each through the Wal-Mart Foundation's community giving program.

A $25,000 grant also was issued to the Southern Minnesota Area Health Education Center to help with its mission of promoting health care careers and training in rural Minnesota.

The grant, the largest of the awards handed out during a special program Thursday at Super Wal-Mart in Willmar, comes from the Wal-Mart Foundation's new state giving program.

The state giving program was launched this year to address state and regional unmet needs.

Kathy Huntley, executive director of the Southern Minnesota Area Health Education Center, said the money will be used to continue outreach efforts to high school students in the region.

One of the Area Health Education Center's roles is to nurture an interest among young people in becoming doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physician assistants and so on, she said. "To do that, we need to visit the schools. We need to have career fairs and health fairs."

Last year the center reached 4,500 students in the region. But it covers 27 counties and 90 school districts in southern and southwestern Minnesota, and travel is expensive, Huntley said.

The center's staff manage to visit 25 to 30 schools a year, she said. "Even that costs a lot of money in travel, so this grant is going to be a huge help."

Part of the money also will help support the Area Health Education Center's annual "University on the Prairie," a three-day science education program held during the summer for selected students.

The Wal-Mart Foundation takes applications year-round for grant funding. Last year Wal-Mart gave $490 million in worldwide donations, including $296 million in the United States.