Aug 15, 2013 • By

A legacy of support

Reflecting a partnership with General Mills dating back more than a century, Washburn Center for Children broke ground on a new mental health facility Tuesday in Minneapolis.

“The new facility will allow us to grow and enhance the work we do to serve children,” says Linda Smith, Development and External Relations director. “The need is great. Last year we served 2,700 kids and their families. That’s double the number from six years earlier.”

Washburn Center

Major donors participated in the ceremonial ground-breaking Tuesday. Ellen Luger, executive director of The General Mills Foundation, is in orange, third from the right. Kim Nelson, senior vice president of External Relations, is next to her.

General Mills gave the organization its start when company founder Cadwallader Washburn – following the mill explosion that killed 18 workers in 1878 – funded an orphanage that opened as Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum in 1883.

Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum

Washburn’s concern for employees, families and the community was significant in two ways. It set the organization on a solid path serving society’s most vulnerable, and it also served as an early step in the General Mills journey of Nourishing Lives through community support.

The organization has evolved and gone through five name changes, but through it all, General Mills has been there, helping it fulfill its mission of improving the lives of children.

Washburn Center

Most recently, the General Mills Foundation provided a $1 million grant to kick off the capital campaign needed to raise funds for the new building. The financial support gave the campaign credibility and momentum, Smith says, noting that Washburn now is 90 percent of the way toward its $24.5 million fundraising goal.

The new building, expected to open in north Minneapolis in late 2014, also will include a training institute for mental health clinicians and interns.

In addition to financial support, General Mills has a legacy of hands-on support, in the form of both event volunteers and board leadership.

“We’ve had a General Mills representative as a trustee since the beginning of time,” Smith says, noting the strong leadership of alumni trustee Skip Lieser, who is the current Capital Campaign Committee Volunteer.

“Representing my company with a premier agency that was founded by our founder has been an honor for me,” says Lieser, a General Mills retiree who joined the board in 1995. “Washburn is recognized nationally for its evaluation and clinical therapy techniques, and early intervention with a child in need has been shown time and time again to reduce or eliminate future issues in school, the community and later in life.”

It’s estimated that one in five children experience mental health challenges, yet only 20 percent receive professional help.

Ann Renckens is the current General Mill retiree who is representing General Mills on Washburn’s board of directors. She is leading the strategic planning process to help guide the future of Washburn and its new facility.

Reflecting on the longstanding partnership, Renckens notes that Washburn Center for Children would not be the agency it has become without the support of General Mills.

“The relationship is something that employees around the world can take pride in.”

Editor’s note: The Star Tribune wrote about Washburn Center for Children in “Washburn children’s center will get new home in north Minneapolis.”