Fidgety Fairy Tales, children’s mental health programs eye expansion thanks to $1M gift


Even a small theater company that is focused on making fairy tales into musicals to help children understand mental illness doesn’t like having lots of money. When Matt Jenson, creator and director of Fidgety Fairy Tales learned that the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health had received $1million from an anonymous donor, his brain was blown by the possibilities.

Brandon Jones, executive director of the association, stated that the donation was made with the request that “a good portion,” or approximately a quarter of it, be donated to Fidgety Fairy Tales. He said, “This is a tremendous boost to that program.”

Jenson, who has been working on Fidgety for 15 years, and held three jobs to make ends work, will now be able to quit his other jobs and devote himself to the project. Jenson stated that right now, “it’s pretty much all my thoughts because we are trying get things off of the ground.” But I love it. This has been a passion project and a great experience for me. It is amazing to be able think about it and keep your eyes on it.

Jones is a 2013 Bush Fellowspan styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>,”>. He first heard about the donation when a Bush foundation colleague sent him an email. He laughed and said, “A foundation reached out to Bush asking if they could get in touch with us.” “I suppose the foundation world works in this way.”

Jones reached out to the representative of the donor and set up a Zoom meeting. Jones thought the Zoom meeting would be a casual conversation to get information on potential donors. He recalled, “We were getting ready for them to give us our spiel, and talk about our programmes.” “Then she stopped us in the middle of our conversation and said, ‘I have some news for you. We have a $1 million donation and would love to give it to your as soon as possible .'”

Jones stated that he was told by the donor that he liked the association’s mission. “There has been a lot of focus on mental health and kids, especially during the pandemic.” The donor also enjoyed Fidgety Fairy Tales, which he said was a fun way to talk about and address mental health for young people.

MinnPost photo taken by Andy Steiner
Brandon Jones, Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health executive Director, and Matt Jenson (Fidgety Fairy Tales founder).

“It changes everything”

This gift has a tremendous impact on the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. It is a small nonprofit with 14 employees and an annual operating budget $1.7 million.

Jones stated that span style=”font weight: 400 It makes things different.” He explained that the gift was intended for general operating funds and that it allows the organization to create foundational programs that will assist in the future.

Jones was a former mental health therapist and worked at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center . He said that he had been aware of the restrictions imposed on him by the modest budget since he joined the association just over a year ago.

He said that although there were many ideas when he arrived, he didn’t know how to finance them all. “This donation allows us to be a bit more creative in how we address children’s mental health.”

Jones said that he received the news of the donation and impulsively left Jenson a message saying that there was something he wanted to discuss. It was Monday. Jones and the development director came up with the idea of sharing the news at a Thursday staff meeting.

Jones stated that span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” So then Matt was kind of left hanging.” They didn’t understand what the emergency call was. There was 72 hours of suspense.

Jones explained that funds not destined for Fidgety Fairy Tales will be used to support infrastructure projects such as board development, software upgrades, and staff trainings. He said, “I’m taking a look at these funds and trying to figure out how they can help me to be sustainable moving forward.”

The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health was also given the gift with the condition that it must spend the money within one year. Jones acknowledged that this is a difficult task, but he believes he and his coworkers will be able meet the goal.

He said that it was a large sum of money. “I had never imagined that I would spend $1 million in my life.” It’s a different matter to spend $1million in one year. It is both a blessing and a curse from an organizational perspective. Small nonprofits rarely receive large gifts. Association staff will need to be able to keep up with the demands of their limited time.

Jones stated that although Jones doesn’t mean to suggest that their backs are against a wall, it was a bit pressure to figure how to spend the money all in one year.

Jones stated that he has theories about why the donor chose Fidgety and not the association.

span style=”font weight: 400 The donors didn’t say so, so I assume that this is why it happened. A year ago, the American Pediatric Association (and a few other national organizations) declared that youth and adolescent psychological health was a national crisis. I believe those alarms prompted a lot of people to ask, “What can we do for our youth in mental health crisis?”

Jones said he is excited about the possibility of using this money to expand his group’s reach in a difficult time. Jones stated that the need is so great. Jones and his colleagues were aware of this fact for a while. “How can we help parents, caregivers, and professionals support their families and communities?” This grant will significantly increase our ability .”

Plans for expansion

Jenson is thrilled to finally see his long-held hopes for Fidgety Fairy Tales come true. Jenson, along with Marya Hart, is the group’s director. They have always sent a small number of young actors to perform their musicals about mental health in schools and community centers throughout the state. Their message will now reach a wider audience.

Jenson stated that this year’s focus is on getting more people involved in arts and partnerships with schools. The development of script packages to help educators stage Fidgety’s “Three Little Pigs” productions in their classroom is an exciting program.

Jenson explained that the grant funds made it possible for Fidgety Faerie Tales to establish a microgrant program to provide funding to teachers who want to stage the show but don’t have the funding. Jenson explained that the small grants are available nationwide, so anyone can apply.

Fidgety was a touring company that made its name, but the pandemic caused live performances to be halted for two years. Cast and crew had to find alternatives. The group is back in live performances this year and their schedule is packed.

Jenson stated that there are 25 performances planned for this fall. “We will travel up to Two Harbors, Silver Bay and Hibbing, and then to the Apostle Islands/Bayfield region. Jenson mentioned the possibility of doing shows in Zumbrota. While the group will continue to tour the region, Jenson stated that the grant money could allow them to perform on a national scale.

Jenson stated that Fidgety scripts have been available for schools to rent for a while, but the new script package program will allow even more people to start important conversations about mental illness.

Jenson stated that this summer in Cloquet, young people who were part of a credit-recovery programme – for students with a history of dropping out of school due to the pandemic – staged a performance of Fidgety in the County Seat Theater span styling=”font-weight 400 ;”>.

Jenson drove up to watch the rehearsals. Participants discussed the importance of the production during a break. Jenson recalls that some participants said, “This is so important because nobody discusses mental health around here, nobody speaks about anxiety.” They felt the play was beneficial for their own well-being, but also felt it was important to help others. This is exactly what we are all about.

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