Foundation Kicks Off Third Decade with $1.7 Million in Grants

The Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children is launching its third decade by awarding $1,705,000 in funding to improve the lives and education of Minnesota students. The foundation today announced $1,344,000 in grants to 19 Minnesota schools, advocacy groups and nonprofits for work in the coming year. It also launched a new scholarship program with an initial gift of $361,000 in 2018.

The foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary this fall with a reception attended by more than 350 thought leaders and supporters and a roundtable discussion about how Minnesota can close opportunity and achievement gaps for children of color. The foundation, formerly known as the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, also changed its name in 2018 in recognition of attorneys Michael V. Ciresi and Roberta B. Walburn, who spearheaded the Minnesota Tobacco Litigation, the settlement of which led to the foundation’s creation.


The foundation, which has made more than $24 million in grants since 1998, is guided by two fundamental truths, said Ciresi, its board chairman: “All children can learn, and all children are our children.” With that in mind, he said, “We have a collective responsibility to educate all of our children regardless of their race, religion or family income. Unless we fully engage, today, to do just that, we will not serve the common good of this state and this nation.”


The foundation also marked its anniversary by establishing a college scholarship and leadership program that supports African American men during their junior and senior years with financial aid, mentoring and career experiences. The board of trustees approved the new Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children Scholarship program with an initial gift of $361,000 over two years. The first cohort of scholars was selected in 2018 at two local universities, the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg University. The scholars will participate in a 12-week leadership class and national leadership conference, paid summer internships, a writing course, and networking sessions with African American businessmen. The Minnesota Private College Fund administers the program.

The grants announced today are targeted to:

  • Create a sense of urgency to address the extreme disparities that exist in educational outcomes between students of color and white students in the Twin Cities.

  • Expand high-performing schools and school networks; and

  • Increase parent demand for schools that provide excellent educational outcomes for all students.

  • Minnesota Private College Fund: $40,000

  • Montessori Center of Minnesota: $50,000

  • Northside Achievement Zone: $100,000

  • Risen Christ Catholic School: $50,000

  • Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood: $75,000

  • Summit Academy OIC: $100,000

  • Think Small: $75,000

  • Way to Grow: $125,000

  • YWCA of Minneapolis: $75,000

The 19 grants are as follows:

  • Ascension Catholic School: $100,000

  • Children’s Theatre Company: $50,000

  • Close Gaps by 5 : $50,000

  • Cristo Rey Jesuit High School: $50,000

  • Ed Allies: $100,000

  • Groves Academy: $40,000

  • Hiawatha Academies: $100,000

  • Hope Academy: $44,000

  • One 2 One Mentoring: $20,000

  • MN Comeback / Great Minnesota Schools: $100,000


One2One, which provides school-based mentoring to middle school students in Brooklyn Park, is one of the organizations to receive a grant. This is the first time One2One has received funding from the Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children. The program, which serves about 180 students at North View Middle School and Brooklyn Middle STEAM School, pairs students with mentors at a local community college who meet with them weekly throughout the school year. Both middle schools are in the Osseo Area School District, where students of color make up more than half of the enrollment. Osseo Area schools struggle with opportunity and achievement gaps like those found in Minneapolis and St. Paul. One2One works with administrators, teachers, and parents to support students and volunteer mentors.

“What we’re trying to do is strengthen the entire relational world around the kids we serve,” said Stefan Van Voorst, One2One’s founder and executive director. That means not only fostering new relationships between students and their mentors, he said, but also reinforcing existing ties between students and their teachers, principals, families, counselors and coaches. “The more we strengthen those relationships, the more connected the students are going to be to their classrooms, and the more successful they’re going to be in school.”

The Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children, a private independent foundation that partners closely with The Minneapolis Foundation, was established in 1998 with a $30 million commitment from the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP. That initial gift was a result of fees earned from the settlement of the Minnesota tobacco lawsuit. Since then, the foundation has made more than $24 million in grants, including those announced today. The majority have gone to education-related causes, and public health and social justice.

Sarah Lemagie