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Taking the initiative: Governor appoints Bemidji teen to Young Women’s Cabinet

Cierra Wittner at the Minnesota State Capitol. (Submitted photo)

CASS LAKE -- A Bemidji teen is working on a statewide effort to improve opportunities for young women.

Gov. Mark Dayton last month named Cierra Wittner, 17, to Minnesota’s Young Women’s Cabinet, which is part a collaborative effort between the governor’s office and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota called the Young Women’s Initiative.

Near the end of October, the initiative is scheduled to release a 20-point plan focused on improving equity and opportunity for 12- to 24-year old women in eight demographic areas that often struggle with homelessness, teen pregnancy, foster care and run-ins with the justice system, including American Indians and rural Minnesotans.

“A lot of the problems that are going on in communities and lower poverty communities, like teen pregnancy, addiction, even down to bullying, suicide, depression,” Wittner said. Foundation staff said young women working full-time earn less than the cost of living for an adult in Minnesota and almost a quarter of all young women in the state have been verbally or physically abused by a partner.

The initiative’s main goal is to “create a Minnesota where every girl has the opportunity to thrive and is the champion of her own life.”

Cabinet members worked with “community-specific working groups” and a large-scale council of elected officials, business leaders, and more to keep their work grounded in the real-life experiences of women from each demographic area.

Now, with Wittner and about a dozen new members on board and the plan nearing release, the cabinet will change gears and work to promote the plan and help it succeed. They’ll also get some leadership training.

Wittner, a senior at Cass Lake-Bena High School who’s working on her generals at Bemidji State University and plans to study veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota, said she heard about the cabinet through a friend’s mom.

She said she was surprised to find out she’d been named to the cabinet.

“It was a shock to me,” Wittner told the Pioneer. “I didn’t really know if I was going to get in or not.”

The 20-point plan is tentatively scheduled for release Oct. 24.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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