Washburn Center for Children receives $1 million for capital campaign

Children’s mental health provider raising money for new home

WHITTIER — The Washburn Center for Children — a leader in the Twin Cities for treating youth with mental health conditions — has received a $1 million gift from the General Mills Foundation for its capital campaign for a new building.

The center, which serves 2,300 children each year, has outgrown its 23,000-square-foot space at 2430 Nicollet Ave.

The center’s leaders are now looking for a new space for a larger facility, ideally somewhere near its current location, said Steve Lepinski, executive director of the Washburn Center for Children. The plan for the new center calls for a 45,000- to 50,000-square-foot facility.

The goal is to raise $15 million for the capital campaign. Ideally, the building would be open by the end of 2013 or early 2014. 


The center has seen about 70 percent more children last year than it did five years ago, Lepinksi said. 

“We’re busting out of our current building,” he said. “The building wasn’t designed to be a children’s mental health facility. With the new building we’re hoping to think very carefully how the facility can support and contribute to the healing and therapeutic work that we do with children.”

Washburn works with children of all ages — from birth to adolescence. Youth treated at the center have a wide variety of social, emotional and behavioral problems that are interfering with their life and their education. 

“This is an issue that touches everybody,” he said.

When asked what’s driving the increase in demand for care at the center, Lepinski cited a few factors.

“Statistics tell us that only about one out of five children get the help they need. There has always been more demand for the types of services we offer,” he said. 

Funding is a big challenge. About 50 percent of the children the center treats are from low-income families and are covered by Medical Assistance, which doesn’t fully cover the cost of treatment in most cases.  

In the last few years, the center has been able to tap new sources for money and position itself with health plans as a preferred specialty provider in the children’s mental health area, which has increased patient referrals. 

General Mills has been a longtime supporter of Washburn.

“General Mills supports this capital campaign not only because we recognize the tremendous work Washburn Center for Children does with children and families in the Twin Cities community,” said Ellen Goldberg Luger, executive director of the General Mills Foundation, in a prepared statement. “Children’s mental health is a critical component to the success of a child and General Mills is proud to support Washburn as it expands to meet the growing need within our community.”

The Washburn Center for Children started out as the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum in 1883. It was funded by Cadwallader Washburn, founder of the Washburn Milling Company, after a mill explosion left children orphaned from 14 families. The milling company later became General Mills. 

Former WCCO anchor Don Shelby has signed on to be chair of Washburn’s capital campaign. 

“Children’s mental health is a widely stigmatized issue, not just here in the Twin Cities but across the country,” Shelby said. “Other communities don’t have resources like Washburn, and I am grateful to the General Mills Foundation for helping the Twin Cities sustain this vital community resource.” 

It’s estimated that more than 70,000 children in Minnesota struggle with serious emotional and behavioral problems, which poses significant challenges for them in school. 

In addition to its main office in Whittier, the Washburn Center for Children has sites in Minnetonka and Brooklyn Park. It also offers services through home visits and in 17 public schools in Minneapolis, Bloomington and Eden Prairie. 

“Our children’s mental health is as important as their physical health,” said Lepinski. “We, as most communities have done a much better job attending to our children’s physical health issues and too often communities, don’t have the same sort of resources for our children’s mental health. While this will be a significant facility for Washburn as an organization, it’s intended to be a center of excellence for the Twin Cities focused on our children’s mental health.” 

Sarah McKenzie can be reached at smckenzie@mnpubs.com. 



For more information about the Washburn Center for Children, visit washburn.org.