Project Optimist receives $100K grant from McKnight Foundation

The funding will support Project Optimist in 2024 and 2025.

Project Optimist receives $100K grant from McKnight Foundation
The McKnight Foundation logo (Courtesy of the McKnight Foundation)

Happy Wednesday!

The headline gives away our big news: Project Optimist received $100,000 in grant funding from the McKnight Foundation!

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts and culture in Minnesota, neuroscience, and global food systems.

The funding will be used in 2024 and 2025. We are grateful for the McKnight Foundation's support — thank you so much!

In today's newsletter: a few stories from across Minnesota, reminders about our upcoming events, and a new section designed to spread joy.

Let's get to it!

-Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten
Managing editor,

Illustration of a person throwing a piece of paper in a trash can.
Illustration of a person throwing something away. (Courtesy of

How lawmakers, officials plan to overhaul recycling in Minnesota

By Mohamed Ibrahim

This story was originally published by MinnPost on June 27, 2024. Find the original story here.

The use of e-commerce and deliveries has seen a dramatic rise in recent years, and alongside it the amount of packaging waste that ends up in Minnesota landfills each year. 

About 40% of waste statewide now comes from packaging, prompting lawmakers to put the onus on the manufacturers of that packaging. 

The Packaging Waste and Cost Reduction Act passed by the Legislature last month aims to remedy old problems and new ones. Lawmakers and advocates hope it will lessen the environmental impacts of packaging made up of plastic and other non-recyclable waste, while also creating sustainable funding for recycling efforts that have become too expensive for many residents and local governments statewide.

Support Project Optimist

If you value the work we do, please consider making a gift to Project Optimist.

Your donation will fund solution-focused reporting, rigorous fact-checking, and dialogue events aimed at cutting through polarization.

To give online, click here. To make a gift from a donor-advised fund, email Nora Hertel, Project Optimist founder and executive director, at

If you can't give financially, please share this newsletter with a friend.

Join us on July 28 at Riverside Park in St. Cloud as we celebrate our Biophilia series. The free event will start with forest bathing at 10 a.m. (register here, space for forest bathing is limited), followed by food, music, and fun from noon to 2:30 p.m.
We're hosting a free moderated discussion on wildfire August 21 in Finland, Minn. The in-person event is part of our Shades of Purple: Dialogue across difference series. For more information and to register, click here.

Stories to check out

It's Jen again 👋. Here's what I'm reading this week:

🛑 The first installment in Sahan Journal's series about the opioid epidemic. The story investigates how opioid overdose deaths are impacting Minnesota's communities of color. I can only imagine how much time it took the reporters to sift through the data and report the piece. It felt like a gut punch to analyze the graphs that accompanied it. This is a series I will continue to follow, for sure.

🎓 MinnPost's story on adoption policy changes in Minnesota. As a former education reporter, the research in this story fascinated me.

🪖 Imagine how many soldiers from previous generations brought items to the U.S. after serving overseas. Where are those things now? A story from the Duluth News Tribune details how books taken by a Duluth man who served in Okinawa were returned to a Japanese family. Just a heads up: You need a subscription to read the piece.

🍪 The Minnesota State Fair announced new foods that will be available at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Here are a few links, in case you missed it: StarTribune / MPR.

This is a new feature we've added to spread a little joy.

I have to kick it off with one of my absolute favorite summer treats: the twist cone. I got this one on a recent trip to visit friends in Wisconsin, and it hit the spot.

Woman holds a twist cone.
Twist cones win the soft serve game. (Courtesy of Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten)

Did you know that chains like DQ and McDonald's have stopped serving this beloved ice cream treat? Thankfully, small businesses near and far still appreciate the twist cone as much as I do.

If you know of a place that still has them, let me know via email:

Have a fantastic week, and thanks for supporting Project Optimist!


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