Three Grand Forks organizations receive $120K in grants from Otto Bremer Trust

The Otto Bremer Trust, a bank holding company and a private charitable trust, was created in Saint Paul, Minn. by Otto Bremer. It is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in America, and it supports organizations that benefit their communities in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin.

MyAlly Health, Red River Valley Habitat for Humanity and High Plains Fair Housing Center received a collective total of $120,000 in grants from the Otto Bremer Trust to fund general operations.

Red River Valley Habitat for Humanity received $25,000. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that provides long-term affordable housing across America for families in need, as well as other community-strengthening efforts.

The organization has two part-time employees, including Executive Director Marisa Sauceda.

“There aren’t a lot of foundations that will give out grants for operational funds, and that’s one of the great things about the Otto Bremer Foundation,” Sauceda said. “We applied for $25,000 in operating funds, and we’re going to use that for salaries and other things like insurance, accounting expenses, office supplies and things like that.”

Sauceda said the organization would have had difficulty paying for these expenses had the Otto Bremer Trust not stepped in because of the operation is so small.

“It’s not necessarily hard to get funds to fund home construction, or our home buyer education or anything like that, but the operating expenses are typically the hardest thing for nonprofits to cover, because a lot of donors don’t want to give funds just for salaries and office supplies. They want their funds to directly impact one of our clients.”

High Plains Fair Housing Center received $45,000 from the Otto Bremer Trust. Its mission is to provide fair housing education, outreach and support to ensure equal housing opportunities in North Dakota.

High Plains received funds from Otto Bremer Trust, as well as the city of Grand Forks, as seed money to start the organization. It is the only fair housing center in the state that works to fight housing discrimination.

“We do that through outreach, providing consumers with knowledge of their fair housing rights,” High Plains Fair Housing Center Executive Director Michelle Rydz said. “We do advocacy work for people who may be experiencing fair housing discrimination, and we help them through the complaint process or help mediate with landlords and tenants to resolve an issue that may be occurring.”

High Plains also has a secret shopper program, in which is its fair housing testing program.

“It simulates a sales experience where you have someone from a protected class, and then you compare treatment to see if discrimination occurs,” Rydz said. “It’s part of our ongoing programming, so we do it a lot.”

Rydz explained that the funds from the Otto Bremer Trust are useful for more than just paying its eight employees at both its Grand Forks and Bismarck offices. It comes down to protections offered by the state. North Dakota has additional protections, such as source of income, age and marital status.

“So really this funding is for general operating purposes, but the state has additional fair housing protections that the federal government doesn’t have, and the federal funding that we receive is only for the federal protected classes,” Rydz said. “We have additional protected classes in North Dakota, so if we want to investigate or advocate those cases or do fair housing tests in those cases, then we need to use other funds. This helps fill in the gaps.”

MyAlly Health, which received $50,000, has a goal of increasing reproductive health awareness and services to at-risk individuals. The organization has been active in the Grand Forks community for nearly 50 years, and it generally serves underinsured or uninsured people with low income.

“Our clinic provides services and supplies on a sliding fee scale according to income and family size,” MyAlly Health Executive Director Laura Spicer said. “We offer reproductive healthcare services and supplies on that sliding fee scale.”

MyAlly Health provides services such as annual exams, including breast exams, pap smears, physicals, STI and STD testing and treatment and other reproductive health needs. About 50% of MyAlly Health’s clients qualified for free services and supplies in 2019, and more than 80% of them live at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.

The organization has received funding from the Otto Bremer Trust in 2017 and 2019 prior to this year. The money was to be used for general operations all three times.

“Our agency funding is about 20% federal funding,” Spicer said. “The rest of our agency budget is made up of things like soliciting grants, health insurance, client donations, non-client donations and things like that.”