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Vision West wins Bush Foundation award, granted $500,000

Vision West ND consortium members, pictured left to right - Donna Scott, Craig Pelton, Tracey Dolezal, Lydia DeJesus, Daryl Dukart, Dawn Nelson, Buster Langowski, Deb Nelson, Reinhard Hauck. (Submitted photo by Passenger Productions)

Vision West, a consortium of counties, government agencies, tribes and other organizations across western North Dakota, received the 2017 Bush Prize for Community Innovation on Tuesday and will be awarded $500,000 spread over the next three years.

This is the fifth year the Bush Foundation has awarded community innovation prizes across Minnesota and the Dakotas, and it is the first time an organization working in western North Dakota has received the award.

Seven prizes were given out this year from 127 applications, and the only other North Dakota organization to win an award was the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons organization, which will receive $68,762.

"The Bush Prize recognizes organizations that are creative, fierce and dogged in the way they work and in what they accomplish," Jennifer Reedy, president of the Bush Foundation said in a news release. "As models for problem solving, they consistently pick a path of innovation that drives profound results for their communities."

Donna Scott, Vision West chairwoman and Dunn County commissioner, and Deb Nelson, Vision West administrator and executive director of DLN Consulting, were were excited the organization received the maximum award.

"We figured that if we do get a prize, it would be $50,000 to $100,000, so for us to be awarded $500,000 unanimously by the Bush Foundation board is huge," Scott said. "That is such an honor. It leaves me speechless."

Vision West applied for the Bush Prize in partnership with Dunn County, which it has worked closely with for a number of years. The Bush Foundation had a choice of basing the grant off of the smaller Vision West budget or the larger Dunn County budget. It chose to base the grant on Dunn County's budget, allowing Vision West to receive the maximum award.

"I think that because we were so broad both geographically and in scope, we were able to have some real accomplishments. I think that is what caused them to sit up and take notice," Nelson said. "They were looking at how inclusive are we of the communities that we represent, the ethnic groups we represent, what innovative plans and ideas that we have come up with to educate and help the western half of North Dakota."

Nelson said Vision West plans to use the grant to better follow through on its core mission of creating more sustainable communities in western North Dakota. The consortium meets six times a year and each member of the organization is given a vote in decision making.

"Whether we like it or not, we still have counties losing population, despite the fact that we had this big oil boom," she said. "It's important to us that we look at all aspects of keeping communities sustainable."

Scott and Nelson said specific projects the consortium has worked on in the last few years include transportation and infrastructure, opening day cares, housing and improving emergency medical services.

One initiative the group has recently been pushing is a "go local" campaign to promote local shopping habits.

"We want to encourage each community in the western side of North Dakota to shop local," Scott said. "If you shop local, every part of that stays local rather than out of state."

Scott and Nelson said that they are preparing a budget plan to bring to the next consortium meeting.

"Certainly there are a lot of needs out there, but we need to be careful because this prize was awarded for the region so the work has to be for the region," Nelson said.

Some of the funds will also be put in Vision West's endowment in order to fund more local grants, and to set aside for applications for larger grants that may require matching funds from the consortium.

Nelson and Scott said the Bush Prize may allow Vision West to get more involved in important issues facing western North Dakota such as a lack of behavioral and mental health services, and a need for more locally sourced food.

"For me, it means that western North Dakota will be able to continue to have a strong voice in the state," Nelson said. "It's my goal that through this work, through communities being able to benefit from the work that we do, that VWND can help continue to present a strong voice. We have long been an underdog."

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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