Partnering with people of potential

About MicroGrants

What We Do

Want to learn about MicroGrants? You’ve come to the right place! MicroGrants gives grants of up to $5000 for low-income people of potential to invest in their lives. The grants are designed to help people increase their income either through small business development or getting and retaining stable employment. We believe in eliminating poverty through work!

The investments in people are usually made in three areas: education, business development, and transportation.

Education

  • Education grants are used for short term training programs such as a Certified Nursing Assistant training course, to pay for expenses not covered by traditional financial aid, or to pay for supplies such as lap tops
  • In 2020, 40% of our grants funded education
  • Read our education success stories

Small Business

  • These are used to buy supplies, make infrastructure improvements or invest in advertising. They can also be used to help with the costs of starting a small business
  • In 2020, 27% of our grants went to small business development
  • Read our small business development success stories

Transportation

How We Do It

  1. Generous supporters provide donations. (Donate Now!)
  2. Our Partner Agencies* recommend their best-qualified participants as possible grant recipients. All of our potential grant recipients are referred to us by these Partner Agencies*.
  3. We review grant applications and fund qualifying requests.
  4. Our Partner Agencies* mentor the recipients and oversee use of the grants.
  5. The Partner Agencies* follow up with the recipients and report the results to MicroGrants.

A few of our Partner Agencies*

Why We Do It

MicroGrants’ work is informed by certain guiding principles:

Wealth accumulation, not debt accumulation, is the way out of poverty. The inspiration for MicroGrants came from the micro-lending programs of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. But since many urban low-income people in the US have no capital and people in the US are already burdened by debt, MicroGrants gives grants rather than loans.

Keeping overhead low means more grants! MicroGrants works with existing community assets to avoid duplication of services and to allow the maximum possible percentage of donations to go towards grants. On average, 80% of spending went to the giving of grants.

Collaborating with Partner Agencies* is key. The advantage of working with reputable nonprofits is that they already have trusting relationships with the recipients. That relationship is essential to picking the right persons, mentoring them, holding them accountable and evaluating their success. It also allows MicroGrants to serve many different populations with different needs in a culturally competent way.

Giving in your own community empowers your neighbors! MicroGrants gives most grants in the Twin Cities. MicroGrants believes it is key for local money to stay local, so the Florida chapter is completely funded by restricted donations that come from Florida, and the Twin Cities chapter is funded with Twin Cities money. This model can be replicated across America because every area has people with generous donors and local “people of potential” who could use the investment as a springboard.

Who We Are

A brief history...

“Somewhere in the mid- to late-twentieth century a handful of social entrepreneurs in widely separate parts of the world made a discovery that led to a radical conclusion about low-income people. It attracted scant applause and even less visibility at the time. Their names included Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Pancho and Maria Otero of Bolivia and Joe Selvaggio of Minnesota. Low-income people with ambition, they said, low-income people willing to dig in for a second chance, can be trusted. It didn’t matter whether they were low-income in Tanzania or India, South America or in south Minneapolis. They might live in the bleakest poverty in Africa or without wheels or credit in America.They are still worth a chance. If they make it, we all benefit.” – Jim Klobuchar, from the preface in our book, MicroGrants: It’s Working.

Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, MicroGrants was founded in 2006 by Joe Selvaggio, also founder of Project for Pride in Living. But rather than micro-LOANS through banks in Bangladesh, MicroGrants give cash GRANTS through existing Partner Agencies* who are already working with low-income “people of potential” here in the Twin Cities.** MicroGrants are not given for needs or emergencies, but for opportunities to get work, keep work or create work, moving individuals closer to their financial independence. MicroGrants has a small staff and gives on average 80% of its donations directly to motivated people in our communities. How can MicroGrants operate with such a low overhead? Because these like-minded Partner Agencies* are already working to boost people out of poverty and take no money for their service. They do, and they do the selecting, coaching and mentoring of the grantees. MicroGrants simply does the fund raising and the giving of grants. Since 2006, MicroGrants has boosted more than 5000 individuals closer to their self-sufficiency.

Meet the Team

John Harrington

MicroGrants CEO

John Harrington, the former Commissioner for the Department of Public Safety for Minnesota, was appointed by Governor Tim Walz in January 2019 and served until January 2023. 

Pam Kellenberger

MicroGrants Business Director

Pam joined MicroGrants in early 2020 as a consultant to the Lights On! program and has since gotten involved in all of MicroGrants programming.

Sherman Patterson

Lights On! Program Director

Sherman manages law enforcement relationships for the Lights On! program. Sherman served 21 years in the US Army. 

Angie Toral

MicroGrants Executive Administrator

Angie was born and raised in Chicago Illinois, moved to Minneapolis in 1997 and has lived in South Minneapolis ever since. 

Char Navarro

Lights On! Executive Administrator

She works directly with current law enforcement and auto shop partners, and provides information to potential new partners who may be interested in participating in the program.

Ami Gomez

Lights On! Operations Administrator

Ami joined Lights On! as a consultant in January 2023. She helps onboard auto shops who want to join the program. 

Don Samuels

Former CEO & Board Member

Don spent 30 years in the toy industry as an R&D executive with major manufacturers, and as co-owner of a design studio.

Meet the Board

Abou Amara

Abou B. Amara, Jr., J.D., M.P.P. is a complex litigation attorney who practices in a variety of areas.

Don Hall

Donald Hall, now retired, has worked as a financial analyst and stockbroker most of his life.

Allen Lenzmeier

Secretary/Treasurer

Allen currently serves on four non-profit boards: Minnesota Orchestra, Pacer Advisory Board, Schulze Family Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities.

Tom Welch

Board Chair

Tom Welch is principal and owner of Palisade Asset Management, LLC, a registered investment advisory firm.

Joe Selvaggio

Founder & Board Member for Life

Joe founded MicroGrants in 2006. Throughout Joe’s prodigious career he has received more honors than we can list here.

Keiona Cook

Meet Keiona Cook is a multitalented, mixed medium artist. She is a Couture Fashion Designer and a former MicroGrants grantee.

Adrian Coulter

Adrian is perhaps MicroGrants most successful former grantee.

Jeff Tate

Jeff joined the city of Shakopee as a patrol officer in 1998. He was hired as police chief in 2009. 

Alicia Gibson

Alicia Gibson holds a law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Minnesota.

Our Advisors

An Advisor is a MicroGrants volunteer with a special area of expertise, who has committed to give opinions and make suggestions to improve our performance. Advisors commit to about two phone calls, four emails and one face-to-face meeting per year, at their convenience. Advisors allow us to identify them in all our publications.

Mike Ciresi  |  Burt Cohen  |  Norm Coleman  |  Judson Dayton  |  Joe Errigo  |  Archie Givens  |  Jim Graves  |  Peter Heegaard  |  Berit Johnson  |  Steve LeBeau  |  Charlie Maxwell  |  Art Rolnick  |  Chuck Slocum  |  Dane Smith  |  Jim Weichert

John Harrington

MicroGrants CEO

John Harrington, the former Commissioner for the Department of Public Safety for Minnesota, was appointed by Governor Tim Walz in January 2019 and served until January 2023. Before becoming the Commissioner of Public Safety, Harrington served
as the Chief of the Metro Transit Police from 2012-2019, helping to create the Homeless Action team and increasing diversity from 5-50%. Commissioner Harrington is a former member of the Minnesota Senate who represented District 67, which includes the East area of Saint Paul. Harrington was the 39th Police Chief for St. Paul Police Department, serving from 2004-2010, where he began his police career in 1977. As St. Paul Police Chief, Harrington tackled some of the city’s most challenging problems, developing programs that significantly reduced domestic violence and gang involvement. 

John grew up in Chicago, graduated from Dartmouth College, and earned a master’s degree at the University of St. Thomas. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Harvard Senior Management Institute. He is also a founder of Ujamaa
Place, a nonprofit organization in Saint Paul that serves African American men who are economically disadvantaged and have experienced repeated cycles of failure. He is currently working on his doctorate in Administration of Justice, focusing on the
George Floyd Riots.

Pam Kellenberger

MicroGrants Business Director

Pam joined MicroGrants in early 2020 as a consultant to the Lights On! program and has since gotten involved in all of MicroGrants programming.

Pam graduated from the University of Michigan where she started on the women’s track team and is now in the school’s Hall of Fame for her athletic performance. Pam spent 15 years living in Canada, and she worked at both Proctor and Gamble and 3M. Throughout her 23 years at 3M, she mainly concentrated on start-ups and new businesses, and she brings this expertise to MicroGrants and Lights On!. Furthermore, Pam is the first woman president at North Oaks Golf Club and is a Board Member on the Children’s Hospital Association.

Sherman Patterson

Lights On! Program Director

Sherman manages law enforcement relationships for the Lights On! program. Sherman served 21 years in the US Army. After his years of service, he obtained his masters’ degree in Public Safety Administration from Saint Mary’s University. Sherm worked for eight years as a Public Safety Policy Liaison to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and also worked for Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau. In 2014, Sherm started his own social outreach program called Lead By Example with the mission to reduce gun violence by working with young men to become leaders in dismantling the gun culture in their neighborhoods. He received the 2008 Minneapolis Park & Recreation Boards Martin Luther King Award, and a Bush Fellowship in 2014.

Angie Toral

MicroGrants Executive Administrator

Angie joined MicroGrants as an Administrator in July of 2021

Angie was born and raised in Chicago Illinois, moved to Minneapolis in 1997 and has lived in South Minneapolis ever since. She has worked for many nonprofit organizations as an administrative assistant for more than 20 years. Angie enjoys helping out the community and volunteering, spending time with her daughters, and traveling and doing outdoor activities.

Char Cavarro

Lights On! Executive Administrator

Char joined Lights On! as a consultant in June 2022. She works directly with current law enforcement and auto shop partners, and provides information to potential new partners who may be interested in participating in the program. Passionate about the work Lights On! does, she enjoys learning about each partner she works with and helping to build and strengthen the community.

Based in Texas, Char previously served as a business consultant for another nonprofit. When not working, she enjoys learning about other cultures, being outdoors, spending time with others and volunteering.

Don Samuels

Former CEO & Board Member

Don spent 30 years in the toy industry as an R&D executive with major manufacturers, and as co-owner of a design studio. He later joined the Minneapolis City Council, serving as chair of the Public Safety Committee, where he led 6 consecutive years of double-digit crime reduction, and the board of Minneapolis Public Schools. Don is also an ordained minister.

Among his many initiatives, Don cofounded The PEACE Foundation, which eventually became the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), serving 1,100 families and their 2,300 kids, with wrap -around services for academic success. Don spearheaded the Ban the Box legislation to help ex-offenders gain employment. He currently serves on the boards of The Center for Action and Contemplation, Luther Seminary, and Twin Cities Rise, The Trust for Public Land and is a member of the Minneapolis Chief’s Citizen Advisory Council.

Abou Amara

Abou B. Amara, Jr., J.D., M.P.P. is a complex litigation attorney who practices in a variety of areas. Abou previously clerked on the Minnesota Supreme Court, advising its seven Justices on legal matters before the body. Before entering private practice, for nearly a decade, Abou served in a variety of capacities in the public affairs arena, including in Minneapolis City Hall, the Minnesota Legislature, and Congress. In addition to his practice, Abou is a public affairs strategist, analyst, and commentator on several TV, radio, and print platforms. Abou has over 250 on-the-record appearances and is a sought after speaker on politics and public affairs.

Don Hall

Donald Hall, now retired, has worked as a financial analyst and stockbroker most of his life. In that activity he has had to sort out the genuine and possible from the hopeful and unlikely. Doing his own investigation, he has supported numerous non-profits over the years, including Joe Selvaggio’s initial work as a social advocate, then PPL and then the 1% Club. Joe’s work has always met the test. “I hope I can be useful on the MicroGrants board,” he said, “as I am proud to serve on it.”

Allen Lenzmeier

Secretary/Treasurer

Allen currently serves on four non-profit boards: Minnesota Orchestra, Pacer Advisory Board, Schulze Family Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities. Allen currently serves on four non-profit boards: Minnesota Orchestra, Pacer Advisory Board, Schulze Family Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities. He has been involved with Boys and Girls Clubs for 28 years, serving as Chair of the Board and also as a National Trustee. Prior to his retirement in 2007, he was employed for 25 years at Best Buy Company serving at various times as CFO, President, Vice Chairman and Board Member. Allen is married with three children and five grandchildren.

Tom Welch

Tom Welch is principal and owner of Palisade Asset Management, LLC, a registered investment advisory firm. Tom is on the investment committee that reviews and analyzes investment portfolios of clients, many of which are trust accounts for which our firm is the investment manager. Tom was President of BNC National Bank, Minnesota region, head of the Wealth Division for 3 regions (ND, MN and AZ), was a member of the Board of both BNC National Bank and BNC Corp., the publicly held holding company, responsible for all corporate and retail banking.

Joe Selvaggio

Founder & Board Member for Life

Joe founded MicroGrants in 2006. Throughout Joe’s prodigious career he has received more honors than we can list here. Some highlights are, Founder of Project for Pride in Living-1972, Doctor of Human Letters, honoris causa (Macalester College)-1991, Minnesotan of the Year (Minneapolis Monthly)-1997, Huffington Post’s Greatest Person of the Day (Huffington Post)-2011. Of the first grants, Joe said, “These $1000 Microgrants” are not ‘transfers of wealth’, but life-changing investments from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have-nots’ of potential. I hope we can educate more ‘haves’ to make this productive investment. I know of no better use for money.”

Keiona Cook

Meet Keiona Cook is a multitalented, mixed medium artist. She is a Couture Fashion Designer and a former MicroGrants grantee. Keiona is the founder and Executive Director of Lovely’s Sewing & Arts Collective where she works with youth from all over the twin cities ages 4-16. She is an author, she self- published, illustrated and wrote, “Lovely Helps Mommy Fold the Laundry.” She is a thought-provoking motivational speaker. She has been advocating and working with parents and their kids in our communities for the last 20 years.

Adrian Coulter

Adrian is perhaps MicroGrants most successful former grantee. Adrian was stuck at an income of $7,000 in his new shoe business for XLFeet for extra-large footwear. He had exhausted all his sources of funds. Under the advice of his training agency and our Partner Agency, MEDA, he applied for a micro grant. With it, he was able to place the required large order to take his business to the next level. Today, XLFeet is a multimillion-dollar business.

Jeff Tate

Jeff joined the city of Shakopee as a patrol officer in 1998. He was hired as police chief in 2009. Tate holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration. Tate also graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2007. He also serves as a board member of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. In 2016, Chief Tate received the City Administrator Leadership Award and The Shakopee Police have been awarded the Community Policing Award twice from the International Chiefs of Police Association. Jeff is a big fan of Lights On! and an effective promoter of the program across the country.

Alicia Gibson

Alicia Gibson holds a law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Minnesota. She has experience in restorative justice beginning in South Africa in the late ‘90s where she studied the truth and reconciliation process and more recently in the Twin Cities area, Alicia is involved in several philanthropic projects. She writes commentary for the Minnesota Women’s Press and Mill City Times, is a board member of the Soo Visual Arts Center, and finds joy and inspiration teaching “Writing and Inquiry” at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.