Representatives from early childhood organizations gathered at the office of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) in Owatonna last week for a special day of early childhood celebration.

SMIF awarded 10,000 books with a total value of $171,040 in partnership with Capstone. BookStart, now in its 12th year, has put approximately 70,000 books into the homes of children across southern Minnesota. The goal is that every child has a book of his or her own at home to read or be read to by family members, which promotes a life-long love for reading. Bill Coughlan and Maryellen Coughlan were on hand for the BookStart Celebration.

Kingsland and Rushford-Peterson schools were two of the 29 organizations that received BookStart books because they provide outstanding early literacy opportunities for young children and their families. The organizations will incorporate the books into their programs and events where young children will receive one of the books to take home and keep.

SMIF also awarded 20 Young Explorer Computer Learning Centers with a total value of $52,000 in partnership with IBM. The Young Explorers offer a fun and engaging platform from which teachers and child care providers can challenge young minds and make classroom connections through the use of technology allowing children to explore at their own pace. Grant recipients received training on the system and software during the celebration.

Spring Grove Friends of the Library was one of the 20 organizations to receive Young Explorer Computers because of its commitment to provide a trained adult and easy access for young children and their families to the learning systems/computers.

"We are pleased to have these long-term partnerships with Capstone and IBM," notes SMIF's president and CEO Tim Penny. "Through their generous donations, we have been able to put books into the homes of children and computers into their classrooms."

As part of its strategy to invest in economic growth in southern Minnesota, SMIF has supported early childhood efforts to make certain all children enter school fully encouraged, prepared, and supported for learning success. Over the past nine years, SMIF has invested $1.5 million annually for early childhood development initiatives. SMIF has also established 21 community coalitions as part of the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative. Each coalition is developing their collective early childhood vision and implementing local projects to strengthen early care and education for young children and their families.

About Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), a donor-supported foundation, invests for economic growth in 20 Minnesota counties. The Foundation has provided more than $50 million in grants and loans within the region during the past 28 years. SMIF's key interests include early childhood and entrepreneur development. To learn more about our work and mission, visit www.smifoundation.org.

About Capstone

Capstone is a leading publisher of children's books in nonfiction and fiction, digital products and services and literacy programs. Capstone's content comes in a variety of print and digital formats including board books, picture books, interactive books, apps, audio and databases. Imprints under Capstone include Capstone Press, Stone Arch Books, Picture Window Books, Heinemann Raintree and Compass Point Books. For more information, visit www.CapstonePub.com.

About IBM KidSmart

The IBM KidSmart Early Learning Program integrates interactive teaching and learning activities using the latest technology into the pre-kindergarten curriculum. The program is now being implemented in 60 countries internationally, serving more than 2 million children. The centerpiece of the program is the Young Explorer. Parents and teachers can find early childhood and technology resources through IBM's KidSmart Web site at www.kidsmartearlylearning.org.