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Early Childhood Initiative celebrates 10 years

Early Childhood Initiative coordinators Terri Darco and Fran Rethwisch helped bring the Minneapolis Children’s Museum’s Storyland exhibit to White Earth and Detroit Lakes. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Ten years ago, West Central Initiative, along with its five sister Minnesota Initiative Foundations, formed the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative (ECI).

Thanks to a generous grant from The McKnight Foundation, the MIFs helped establish 90 community and county coalitions throughout Greater Minnesota, including 10 in west central Minnesota.

Together, the MIFs and the coalitions are working to ensure that every young child has the best possible start toward a healthy life of learning, achieving and succeeding.

The ECI is based on groundbreaking studies that show how strengthening early care and education for young children and their families is the most important investment communities can make for the future. 

“Think about it: our young children are our future employers, workers, government officials, medical staff, engineers, parents, taxpayers, homeowners ... the list goes on. If we start now to make sure they grow into strong, healthy, community-minded adults, we build the foundation for a strong, healthy society and workforce,” said Nancy Jost, WCI’s early childhood coordinator.

Thriving children

The ECI works by bringing together people and organizations to form community teams that support the well-being of our youngest children. West Central Initiative assists with coalition building in 10 countywide sites throughout west central Minnesota, including Becker County and White Earth Reservation.

These coalitions seek the involvement of parents, senior citizens, educators, business and community leaders, the faith community, policy makers and all citizens interested in making their community a nurturing environment for young children and their families.

Each ECI team is lead by a coordinator who facilitates the process of identifying, planning and implementing strategies specific to helping their communities become more nurturing places for young children and their families.

Becker County’s coordinator is Fran Rethwisch. White Earth Reservation’s coordinator is Terri Darco.

Regional projects

In the past 10 years, the west central Minnesota ECI coalitions have taken on several regional projects, including: developing an Early Childhood Dental Network to increase oral health education and access to families with young children; holding school readiness forums and working with school districts to coordinate learning for children from preschool to third grade; early childhood mental health initiatives to provide resources and advocacy on the social/emotional development of young children;  child care provider groups and resources, and much more.

For more information about the west central Minnesota ECI, visit

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy.

Learn more at