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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

New nonprofit seeks to help local college students

Catie Clark
Posted 3/20/24

ELY- Elyites Kes Ebbs and Lou Wiggen introduced the SAGE Foundation, a new a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, at last week’s Tuesday Group meeting. SAGE, which stands for “Students Achieving Goals …

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New nonprofit seeks to help local college students


ELY- Elyites Kes Ebbs and Lou Wiggen introduced the SAGE Foundation, a new a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, at last week’s Tuesday Group meeting. SAGE, which stands for “Students Achieving Goals Equally,” aims to help “underrepresented students,” especially first-generation college students and students of color, at Minnesota North College- Vermilion.
Ebbs and Wiggen set up the group when they saw firsthand some of the problems students had in accessing resources in Ely. Ebbs is a Vermilion alum and Wiggen was the assistant basketball coach last year. The foundation held its first board meeting on March 1.
“The college is wonderful,” said Ebbs, “and they have a lot of programs, but a lot of students have barriers to accessing those resources. What really helped me in college here was getting involved in the community, but a lot of college students that we are trying to support are just not familiar with the Ely area.”
Ebbs explained that a previous, now defunct group, Project Legacy, had similar goals to the SAGE Foundation but failed. “The source of the problem was a disconnect between the college and the local community,” explained Ebbs. To address that disconnect, the SAGE Foundation seeks to build connections between the Ely community and the students at the college.

Student obstacles
The SAGE Foundation has identified four needs: transportation, affordable food, productive activities, and a “lack of consistent advocates” for students. Ebbs commented that many students, especially students of color, struggle with the high cost of food in the Ely area and lack a vehicle to reach local resources like the Ely Food Shelf. Ebbs remarked that many students don’t see services like the food shelf as something they can use.
Ebbs explained the difficulties in overcoming student perceptions that they aren’t a part of Ely and can’t access local Ely resources. “For them, it’s like, ‘I don’t know if I need that,’ or ‘That’s not for me.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re part of the community—it’s literally for you.’ So, we’re trying to get over those barriers we see with students thinking they’re outside of the Ely community.”

The solution
“The solution exists and it’s everyone in this room,” Ebbs said. “We’re trying to create a community at the college that will be able to bridge the disconnect with the Ely community.”
Part of the SAGE Foundation’s plan to build those bridges is to establish mentorships with Ely residents, internships with local businesses to connect students with all the local jobs available, and getting students to stay in the Ely area and becoming part of the community instead of treating their time at Vermilion as “just a stop to finish up at the college and then move on to the next place.”
To date, the foundation has set up Sunday dinners for students at the Ely Folk School, food drops for students without transportation, a clothing drive especially for students unprepared for Minnesota winters, outdoor recreation opportunities, and arranging access to emergency transportation and medical care.

Foundation needs
“What we’re really needing at this moment is funding for basic operations,” explained Ebbs. The group’s immediate goals are to raise funds and acquire a vehicle, car insurance, office space, and food donations. “We need to be sure that we can make this a long-running program, and not just a one-off, one-year program where it’s going to die down when the funding goes down.”
Acquiring transportation is a critical goal to connect students with Ely. The college and Ely’s downtown, with its concentration of businesses, medical services, and food shelf are on opposite sides of the city. Having a vehicle to bridge the transportation gap is key to the foundation’s goals.
The SAGE Foundation currently is using a space in the college library to talk with students but would like its own space where students would feel welcome. The college also has its own food pantry, but as Ebbs explained, it always needs more items. The foundation would like to make food and clothing donations for students a more continuous process.
“We have been collecting things like noodles, canned goods, sauce, basic things that you know a college student could take home and cook a quick meal.” The group also started the Sunday dinners so students could access a healthier meal than just ramen noodles on a regular basis.

The foundation hopes to raise $80,000 this year to further its goals. Besides actively applying for grants, the organization will hold a fundraiser this weekend at the Ely Folk School, on both Saturday, March 23, and Sunday March 24, from 5-7 p.m. Pizza and Dorothy Molter root beer are on the menu and the foundation will also hold a silent auction.