Ad Spot

Albert Lea nonprofit movers and shakers

Ann Austin

Age: 39

Family: Husband, Nick; daughters Elise, 6, and Aila, 3

How long you have lived in Albert Lea. What brought you here?: Fifteen years. I moved down here when I married Nick.

Name of nonprofit you lead:

United Way of Freeborn County.

Describe some of the priorities of your organization?:

Our mission is “Uniting people and resources to improve lives.” United Way Worldwide identified three focus areas in 2008: education, income and health. The focus has remained much the same, except for income — which has become more about financial stability, especially after the Great Recession occurred. Our priority is to continue supporting local programs, which operate within Freeborn County, and work in partnership with other groups to address community issues of concern — recent focus has been the need for more child care services.

Why do you have a passion for this organization:

I was hired at the start of the “Community Impact” movement in August 2008. Though we didn’t quite know how to define what this meant for our community, I was inspired by the board’s vision to address deeper issues in our community. Throughout my life, I’ve been concerned about the degradation of the environment and issues such as poverty, hunger and homelessness. I believed this was the greatest opportunity for me to make a positive difference.

I have worked for many different systems and recognize there are benefits and disadvantages to being part of a large organization. However, I have been continually impressed with the vision, passion and dedication of United Way leaders across Minnesota and the nation.

We also have had the most wonderful volunteers serve on our board — they truly care about Freeborn County and are invested in creating a better community. They have continued to inspire me on this journey.

What are some of your goals for your organization in the next year?

United Way, along with many other nonprofits, is going through some big shifts with how we operate and what sustainability looks like. We have adapted in small ways to have more of an online presence, but will need to continue this push. We’ve discussed on the local level how our events/outreach will function in the community. It is so essential for there to be meaning in what we are doing. Overall, a sense of community and meaning in this work is greatly needed at this time. We must be intentional with how this will look/feel/function moving forward.

What are your favorite things about the community?

The green space. I really love what Joe Grossman (superintendent of the Parks Department for the city of Albert Lea) and his team have done to introduce native plants around the community. More needs to be done to ensure we adapt to the increased rain/flooding events. It would be really cool to see a big tree planted where the water tower now stands. We could decorate it during the holidays and celebrate the beauty of this community — there could be a tree-lighting ceremony as well. Though a lot of great work has been done, there is more to do — and there are areas around town that have been neglected, which we need to focus some love and attention on.

I love the passion of local business owners like Gerry Vogt of Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, Tony Hill of Hill’s Gardens, Amber McCornack of Heartwaves Studio, Holly Karsjens of The Meraki Studios and Kim Olson of Grandma’s Gourmets — they are the driving force for what our future will look like. And I love all of the people I have met through this work — people like Garry Hart (Cedar Valley Services) who work quietly to improve conditions, and community leaders like Dave Mullenbach (former county commissioner) and Corrine Tims (former Hawthorne principal) who still are so committed, even in retirement. They inspired me to engage in a leadership role — and I aspire to continue their legacy.

Shane Koepke

Age: 41

Family: Janelle (spouse), children Brecken, 12, and Evelyn, 9

How long you have lived in Albert Lea? What brought you here?: Since 2016.

Name of nonprofit you lead:

Grace Lutheran Church.

Describe some of the priorities of your organization:

Our mission statement is “Bringing people together and becoming disciples for Christ.” This falls in line with my personal theology that God made us to be present and serve God by serving one another.

Why do you have a passion for this organization?:

I love Grace because they want to serve others and they do that first by listening and paying attention to the world around them. The work that we do is collective and wonderful. We worship together, we make blankets and health kits that are sent all over the world, we helped start the Food for Backpacks program that, with the cooperation of lots of churches, serves over 300 youth each weekend. I love the fact that they don’t just want to be the church on Sunday morning, but they want to be the church beyond the walls of the building.

What are some of your goals for your organization in the next year?

Grace continues to strive to be a place for the community. This March we are adding a second Sunday worship service (9 and 11 a.m.) to give people more flexibility for that primary part of church: worship. This next year is a year of engagement with our people, of telling our story and listening to the stories of our community. It’s only by starting at this relational level can we truly serve one another. We are excited to hear where God is calling us next!

What are your favorite things about the community?

Our family loves Albert Lea. We were welcomed so generously by our neighbors and made new friends quickly. It’s a great size town and has given us opportunities to be involved in activities (Albert Lea Story Show, Wind Down Wednesday, Albert Lea fishing club, dance at Meraki). We love winter activities like sledding behind Lakeview Elementary, bike rides around the lake in the summer, fishing year-round and kayaking Fountain Lake. Can you tell we like Minnesota lake living?

Age: A few years away from retirement.   

Family: I am single, but I have “family” all around the world!

How long you have lived in Albert Lea. What brought you here?: I have been in Albert Lea since the beginning of July 2017.  The Salvation Army sent me here.

Name of nonprofit you lead: The Salvation Army of Albert Lea.

Describe some of the priorities of your organization:

Our mission is to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs without discrimination. We do this by showing God’s love to those we meet through our words and actions.

Why do you have a passion for this organization?:

When I first became involved with the Salvation Army, I saw regular people involved in helping people, not just pastors or paid professionals. I thought that this was something that I would like to be involved with. I saw that to receive help it did not matter your ethnicity, ancestry, your religious beliefs or unbelief, etc., but that a person needed help and they were being shown God’s love through the help they received. Also, the Salvation Army is egalitarian, and there have been three women generals that have led the worldwide Salvation Army.

What are some of your goals for your organization in the next year?

To increase participation by at least 10 more families in our Pathway of Hope program. To find additional funding sources to be able to continue to meet the emergency services needs of our community at the same level we were able to in 2018. To increase participation in our after-school activities and other programs and activities for men and women.   

What are your favorite things about the community?

I lived in Chicago before coming to Albert Lea. So, there are many things I appreciate about this community! The first thing I noticed was that the people are friendly. It is a safe community. It is dark and quiet at night, except for when the train goes by. The surrounding lakes are scenic. And, being on the crossroads of two major interstates allows for easy commutes to other beautiful areas of Minnesota.