nonprofit

Local Social Club Weirdcards Aims to Enhance Community and Charitable Giving through Games

Image courtesy of Weirdcards.

Image courtesy of Weirdcards.

Rochester group Weirdcards is a charitable club seeking to increase social interaction and enhance giving by uniting people through a love of game playing.

Weirdcards began as an informal gathering of people who liked to play cards and tabletop games around a break room table at Mayo Clinic. This small meeting over lunch eventually got so big, the gathering was moved into founding member Jason Egginton’s basement to play Magic: The Gathering, a trading card game modelled after fantasy role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. The group used these first larger gatherings as fundraisers for both national and local nonprofits.

“But the catch was once we did it, people wanted to keep doing it and we quickly outgrew my basement,” Egginton explained.

After several repeated basement successes, the group hoped to challenge people to perform acts of charity more frequently, not just once a year. They wondered, if they set up a website that was always “on” and hosted more frequent fundraising events, would people buy into the idea?

To pursue this question, the group formed a 501(c)7 social club called Weirdcards in the fall of 2016 to bring like-minded people together monthly to raise money for a local cause. Since that time, the group has also spun out a 501(c)3 educational nonprofit called MagiKids to teach children how to play Magic: The Gathering through donated cards and other gaming items.

Egginton says the social club now runs itself through an extensive svolunteer network and gets 25-30K hits per week on their website. Weirdcards and MagiKids have come at a vital time, Egginton explained, when people want to get themselves and their kids away from screen time and cell phones and interacting more with others. MagiKids is engrained in the curriculum at Kellogg Middle School and is part of the local Boys & Girls Club.

The entrenchment of game playing in these organizations, Egginton says, has felt really good.

“It has felt really meaningful and it has felt really impactful. We’re doing what we love to do,” he explained.

Weirdcards is 100% volunteer led.

“We have been very fortunate to pick up club members who have skill sets that come in just at the right time,” Egginton explained.

The organization has about forty core volunteers who are very diverse in terms of age, gender, race, and skill set. Egginton says the biggest success of Weirdcards has been the cohesion and flexibility of this team of volunteers.  These dedicated members have been key to managing the rapid rate of growth the club is currently experiencing. 

“The appetite for whatever it is that we’re doing here is formidable,” he explained. 

In less than three years, the group went from meeting around a lunch table to attending thirty person events to now having website traffic of over 100K people from around the world each month.

Weirdcards has also established their own format to play Magic: The Gathering, which they call Oathbreaker. This style of play, Weirdcards believes, enhances the creativity of game players to enable a fun, casual interaction and values the comradery of the game over winning.

With 30 million Magic: The Gathering players across the globe, Egginton says it’s a major win to see Oathbreaker succeed and not be crowded out by other game playing formats.

“Embedded in the speed of growth is this idea that Weirdcards isn’t just a bunch of do-gooders. We’ve actually developed a format for a very complex game. And we are thought leaders, which is crazy cool,” he explained. 

Weirdcards and MagiKids are currently part of the Rochester Area Foundation, an incubator space for nonprofits.

Weirdcard’s success thus far has enabled the group to raise “a lot of money for local causes, which is obviously a great feeling,” Egginton explained.

Some members in the group, Egginton explained, work close to full time on Weirdcards. He wants to remain open to ideas that will help to facilitate growth, including potential hiring of staff to help run operations of the nonprofit and social club.

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Statewide Initiative "Ignite Minnesota" Launches Today to Keep Greater Minnesota Competitive

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Ignite Minnesota, a new, statewide initiative, launches today out of Red Wing. This regional partnership works to convene, elevate, and promote the work of innovative businesses, entrepreneurs, and technologies in Minnesota to keep the region connected and globally competitive in an ever-evolving digital space. Ignite Minnesota aims to support students, businesses, and entrepreneurs throughout Greater Minnesota.

The program officially takes off this evening from the Red Wing Ignite coworking space; Red Wing Ignite is a non-profit that provides a work space, gigabit internet access, business programming, connections, and more to help entrepreneurs turn their innovations into reality.

The steering committee for Ignite Minnesota includes 3M, Xcel Energy, Winona State University, Minnesota State College SE, the City of Red Wing, Collider Coworking, Rainsource Capital, Goodhue Country, and multiple entrepreneurs.

The goal is to create a connection point for people, ideas, and resources in Minnesota to foster innovation and develop technology in clean energy, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, education, and agtech.

“Our work will help rural America and Greater Minnesota stay competitive,” explained Neela Mollgaard, Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite.

The ground work for Ignite Minnesota began in 2013 when Red Wing Ignite became an original member of the brand-new non-profit, US Ignite. This program was launched to help communities and entrepreneurs develop new technology to influence the way people “work, learn, and live.”

After linking up with other US Ignite communities, Mollgaard said that Red Wing Ignite “really started focusing on entrepreneurs and startups and trying to give them the resources that they need to succeed.” In 2015, US Ignite, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, launched a Smart Gigabite Communities (SGC) Program to develop and deploy these newly developed technologies in the real world. Red Wing Ignite became the very first rural community to be designated as an SGC by the program and the only SGC focused on agtech.

Now, Red Wing Ignite is looking to expand its mission to fuel innovation in Greater Minnesota, connect entrepreneurs and institutions, and further support and elevate the innovation already occurring in this region with Ignite Minnesota.

While the program officially opens today, the work is far from over to implement Ignite Minnesota across the state. A number of tech ambassadors have been hired in outreach positions for the program. These ambassadors will link up with meetup groups, developers, students, stakeholders, and other entrepreneurs across the state to provide education about Ignite Minnesota and to discover needs and gaps in these communities.

“Throughout the whole year, we will also be planning events to gather these key stakeholders to continue to work together to help foster new innovations,” explained Mollgaard.

Red Wing Ignite serves as the community piece in this puzzle, forming a tech hub for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs and reaching out to other Ignite communities to share best practices.

Learn more about this new initiative by attending the Ignite Minnesota launch this evening in Red Wing.

Ignite Minnesota is also interested in connecting with entrepreneurs in need of resources, potential business mentors, and any individuals interested in hosting or co-hosting events with the program.

Lotus Health Foundation Promotes Hope of Self-Care to Transform Rochester into a Healthier City

“Sixty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents are overweight or obese. …And twenty-eight percent of Olmsted County residents have two or more chronic conditions. And we’re considered one of the healthiest counties in Minnesota,” explained Dr. Jengyu Lai, Chief Manager of the Rochester Clinic.

Treatment of chronic disease in the United States accounts for eighty-six percent of healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perhaps instead of prescribing more medications to relieve American’s health symptoms, we should take a step back and examine the root cause of these problems. Could a portion of these costs be eliminated by simple lifestyle changes?

Meiping Liu believes this is possible.

Liu- Founder of Lotus Health Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Rochester Clinic - thinks that each person has a responsibility to maintain their own health, which she says can help decrease dependency on medications and remove some pressure on today’s bloated healthcare system.

Lai, Lui, and the team of health care providers at Rochester Clinic aim to perpetuate this “hope of self-care” in their seven-year-old, community-based medical practice. Clinic staff believe in lifestyle medicine, a holistic approach with an emphasis on prevention wellness.

The best way to fulfill this mission for self-care, Lai explained, was to provide lifestyle medicine education within the community. Just last year, Lotus Health Foundation emerged to promote healthy living, collaborate with like-minded organizations, and receive funds to educate the community about lifestyle medicine.

The Complete Health Improvement Program, or CHIP, is one significant educational push made by Lotus Health Foundation to promote wellness in Rochester.

This evidence-based, comprehensive wellness improvement program was developed by Dr. Hans Diehl in 1988 and is one of the few community-focused lifestyle medicine programs with a strong history of success. The 30-year initiative has helped 80,000 people and is the focus of more than twenty-nine scientific review papers.

Healthy behaviors, Liu explained, are not learned in a single day. Instead, CHIP teaches lifestyle habits- such as exercise and stress management- in a twelve-week program that heavily relies on peer support. Guest speakers, like local dieticians or physicians, are also invited to select classes.

“[CHIP participants] always learn something at each session. And we have fun,” said Liu.

Healthy meal prep is a major focus of CHIP. “We believe in the meal. The food, really is the key part. Because a lot of people want to make changes, but they don’t know how to cook!” explained Liu. She said people often have no idea how to begin preparing their own wholesome meals and have been overwhelmed by confusing information about “healthy” foods or weight loss products.

“Weight loss doesn’t mean anything! You can have a weight loss, but you’re still not healthy,” she said.

Liu tells her “CHIPers” they don’t need to beat themselves up on the treadmill to work toward wellness. She explains that many people are in pain or are overweight and this method just causes them to give up. CHIP, instead, has no focus on weight loss, calorie counting, or portion control. The program promotes a whole-food, plant-based diet with less sugar, less oil, and less salt (SOS) where “you eat until you’re full. You eat more, weigh less,” Liu explained.

Liu first learned about CHIP at a lifestyle medicine conference in 2014 and became a CHIP certified instructor to implement the program among the Rochester Clinic staff. The first Rochester community CHIP class took place in 2015 at Hy-vee Barlow. Last fall, the class outgrew that space and moved community sessions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Over the course of the twelve-week CHIP program, Liu says she can see people’s personalities open as the group collectively pursues wellness. “The bonding is so valuable. They find they are not alone,” she explained. She said that graduation from the program does not mean that “CHIPers” will be 100% consistent with a healthy lifestyle. But when they get off track, they now have the training and education to work back toward wellness.

CHIP is not only about the health of the individual. It’s for the whole community. When you educate one person about healthy living, that person can implement wellness concepts to their entire family.

“CHIPers” still eat at restaurants. Liu explains CHIP graduates often loose the desire to order foods they normally would have before the program. Instead, they are looking for healthier options. Liu has personally worked with Rochester restaurants to get CHIP meals on their menus, even if it’s just for one, special day. “When you have one of these events, people take notice,” she explained.

Lotus Health Foundation also held their very first weeklong Community Health Fair this April to celebrate graduation of both a community and UMR student group of participants from the CHIP program. The banquet event had 200 attendees and featured CHIP founder Dr. Diehl and Tony Buettner of Blue Zones as speakers. Liu explained that community-wide events like these are the “fastest way and a fun way to get more people involved” in lifestyle medicine.

CHIP and Lotus Health Foundation are passions for Liu. She is the main contact for CHIP registration and personally sits down and speaks with each participant before the program starts. She’s the one going out and seeking involvement from local restaurants, schools, and the Rochester community. She’s the one who gets deeply attached to each group of her “CHIPers”. Liu is one of the selfless few who pursue a business with a small profit margin because she cares so deeply about the community and about the people seeking to making themselves better.

Both Rochester Clinic and Lotus Health Foundation are small and still relatively new in the community’s eyes. Now they are tasked to raise brand awareness and form lasting bonds within Rochester.

“We want to partner with the other organizations in the community. We want support from the community. We want them to know our mission and what we can do to help the community in general,” Liu explained.

Lotus Health Foundation is seeking funding sources who support their mission so they can provide more lifestyle medicine programming in the community and offer CHIP free to participants without the financial resources.

The Rochester Startup Part Seven: Jeremiah Program Brings Transformative, Multi-Generational Approach to Rochester Families

Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Program.

Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Program.

About the author: Ryan Cardarella is a freelance writer who recently moved to Rochester after spending 12 years in Milwaukee.

This series is in partnership with Ambient House Productions, a Rochester based full service video production company specializing in high quality corporate, commercial, & promotional videos.

Expanding beyond its headquarters in Minneapolis, Jeremiah Program has brought its multi-generational commitment to transforming the lives of single mothers and their children to the Rochester area. Founded in 1993, the organization currently runs two fully operational sites in the Twin Cities. A new campus will open in Austin, Texas in March 2017 and ground will be broken on a Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn. campus by summer 2017. In addition to their ongoing work in southeastern Minnesota, Jeremiah Program has engaged with leading organizations to serve mothers and children in Boston and is also exploring growth options in Brownsville, N.Y. and Charlottesville, Va.

JoMarie Morris, who practiced law for nearly 20 years prior to assuming the role of Executive Director of Jeremiah Program Rochester-Southeastern Minnesota, was compelled to join the organization following years of work focused on immigration, women’s issues, and human trafficking.

“The element of Jeremiah Program that really captured my heart is the fact that it’s a two-generation program,” said Morris. “It’s an amazing organization and I’m all in on our mission to serve the families of southeastern Minnesota.”

She initially joined the program as a replication consultant, working with an advisory committee to help create partnerships, assess the needs of the community, and determine whether Rochester would be a good fit for the program.

Jeremiah Program’s organizational model is predicated on five pillars to assist women and their children: support for a career-track college education, quality early childhood education, safe and affordable housing, empowerment and life skills training, and a supportive community.

These strategies are intended to reduce generational dependence on public assistance and help single mothers move into high-demand, living-wage jobs.

JoMarie identified “the enormous need for skilled workers in the Rochester area,” and is partnering with community and business leaders to help program participants move off of public assistance into sustainable jobs.

To achieve this, program participants engaged in empowerment training, work toward obtaining a two- or four-year degree under the guidance of professional coaches and secure employment through the support of Jeremiah Program staff and their communities. While mothers in the program study and work, their children attend the Program’s early childhood education centers that help to establish the proper foundation for their academic success.

“Waiting lists are long for Head Start programs and it can be difficult for children to catch up,” Morris said. “Our programs ensure that children are kindergarten-ready.”

Presently, JoMarie is working to secure a Rochester campus site with the capacity to house up to forty families, identify additional collaborative partners, and increase program sustainability as the organization fulfills its mission of service “not only to Rochester, but also to its many neighboring communities.”

A key factor in the program’s early success has been in its ability to utilize incubator space at the Rochester Area Foundation, allowing Jeremiah Program to effectively operate while building relationships within the community, collaborate with city and business leaders, and search for their permanent program home.

“The space offered by the Rochester Area Foundation has been fabulous as a transitional space and has been great as a way for us to work and collaborate with other community organizations,” Morris said.

Jeremiah Program has already garnered substantial grants from Mayo Clinic and the Otto Bremer Foundation, and has received significant assistance from the Rochester community to advance program efforts.

For more information, visit www.jeremiahprogram.org/rochester.

The "Rochester Startup" Series is Sponsored by: