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Assume mothers get custody of kids in domestic abuse cases? Think again.

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Violence Free Minnesota Executive Director points out abuser more likely to get custody in contested cases than mom

   By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Over the past 40-year history, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) has witnessed huge changes in how society thinks about domestic violence but there is still more work to be done, according to its executive director Liz Richards.
There are still plenty of myths to be dispelled.
“While we are proud of our history, the landscape of our work and the movement to end violence is more complex and challenging than ever. The movement to end relationship abuse must be highly iterative and adaptive,” said Richards. “As advocates and survivors, we continuously search for new and innovative ways to end relationship violence in Minnesota and beyond. This is why we are excited to embrace our new identity as Violence Free Minnesota: The Coalition to End Relationship Abuse.”

Fathers getting children more when mothers bring up domestic violence
Richards is proud of the progress her organization has made for women in Minnesota.
“In 1978, if you were experiencing domestic violence, you had few options,” she pointed out. “If you fled, there was no place to go. If you called the police, there was no crime.”
Today, there are shelters, organizations aimed at helping survivors, support groups, and laws that protect those in abusive situations.
Yet, there still remains a disconnect between that progress and family court. “What goes on in family court doesn’t mirror that,” remarked Richards.
Instead, new research done by Professor Joan Meier at George Washington University Law School shows what is actually happening in family court.
“The general presumption is that moms get custody in divorce cases,” observed Richards. While that may be true when you look at all of divorce cases, those where couples can agree on what to do about their kids, it isn’t true when domestic violence is a factor.
In contested cases, a father is just as likely to get custody as a mother, Richards pointed out, citing Meier’s research.
And what shocks people is what happens when there’s domestic violence.
“If you look at the contested cases with domestic violence against the mother or child abuse by the father against the child, fathers are more likely to gain custody,” said Richards.
The study looked at more than 2,000 custody cases involving child abuse, domestic violence, and parental alienation nationwide. There is no study specific to Minnesota and no state agency that looks specifically at domestic violence, but Richards believes that Minnesota mirrors what has been found at a national level.
“When there are contested cases and domestic violence, fathers are receiving custody more frequently,” stated Richards.

Why is this happening?
That’s not an easy question to answer, but Richards thinks that part of the answer lies in how the family court system has evolved.
She began her career as a family law attorney who worked in Hennepin, Ramsey and Chisago counties before taking a job with the MCBW 10 years ago.
Richards believe that part of the problem is that so many parties are unrepresented by legal council, and lack the knowledge and guidance of an attorney. Part of that is because of high fees for legal services that stretch over years. “You have parties showing up not understanding the system,” observed Richards.
At the same time the caseload of judicial officers has grown tremendously. Ancillary court services have been cut – Hennepin County is the only one in the state that still offers custody evaluations. These were the people who used to be able to spend more time with cases and provide the court with more outside data to determine what was happening within a family.
“We’ve got this perfect storm,” Richards remarked.
There’s been a movement within family court to streamline the process. “They keep looking for the thing that will make it better,” Richards said.
One Hennepin County judge began sitting down with both parties within a week or so after they filed for divorce to figure out what they could agree upon, and then set up a process for managing the finances and custody. It worked so well for that one judge that the county and then much of the state instituted it for everyone, giving it the name of Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), which is followed by the FENE (Financial Early Neutral Evaluation) and the SENE (Social Early Neutral Evaluation). However, things are so backlogged now, it can take months for an ICMC to occur, and longer for the ENEs.
“Now instead of becoming a way to make things smooth, it’s become a roadblock,” observed Richards.
Then there’s the issue with requiring mediation between an abuser and a victim, she pointed out. It doesn’t account for the power imbalance found in abusive relationships.
Plus, it is set up in a way that further abuses the victim.
At an FENE or SENE, each person gets to tell their side of the story without comment from the other – even to correct blatant lies. And each side is paying for their attorney to be there but the attorneys aren’t allowed to speak as there is an attitude that they augment conflict. “The process in and of itself can be very damaging,” said Richards. It is only natural to want to respond when you hear mistruths, but participants have to ignore that.
“It’s just insane as a process,” said Richards.

‘We need a smorgasboard of options’
She doesn’t think there is one magic answer to the problems in family court. “We need a smorgasboard of options,” Richards said.
In some cases, the domestic violence that occurred isn’t relevant to a financial division or custody. It could have been an isolated incident that occurred at the end of the relationship when it was most stressful. But in other situations, the domestic violence played out for years through coercive control, financial manipulation, and psychological, sexual and physical abuse of one partner by the other. Sometimes there was direct physical and sexual abuse of the children, and other times emotional and psychological.
Richards believes the system needs to ask about domestic violence immediately, gather information on it, consider the context, and factor it in. “Who is doing what to whom, with what impact?”
That should be followed up with this question in custody cases: “What is the impact and effect on children?”
The Battered Women’s Justice Project in Minneapolis has created a system focused on this, pointed out Richards. Termed the SaFER Approach, staff are working to educate family court professionals across the country.

Kids affected when moms are abused
“We know there is a high correlation between those that engage in domestic violence and child abuse,” observed Richards.
Plus, research has shown that domestic violence in a home affects the children who live there, whether or not they are physically hurt.
“What we know about resiliency of children is definitely linked to support of the non-abusive parent,” said Richards.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t think the system in place is set up to adequately account for that.

‘It takes two’ is a myth
There is the idea in family court that there are two equal parties in a divorce. “The mantra is that it takes two,” observed Richards, and that both parties are engaged in conflict. These are then termed “high conflict” cases.
That doesn’t factor in the reality of domestic violence. Where there’s intimate partner violence, one person is exerting power and control over the other and is engaged in manipulating the system. “If you have a father who has been engaged in coercive control, they’re highly skilled in using these same tactics in the family court system,” said Richards.
For example, the abusive party may sets things up to make the other parent look inflexible when they’re trying to keep things consistent for the kids. The abusive parent works to create chaos by trying to change the schedule, not show up, or move the pick-up location.
“What is the other party supposed to do?” asked Richards. “It is assumed that both parties have the best interests of the children at heart. In a situation with domestic violence, one is trying to use the children as a tool for the manipulation. It’s just a set up.”
Richards said, “If you have one parent who is working to abuse and manipulate, what does it mean for the other parent to go along?”
She pointed out that some judicial officers do a better job than others at recognizing this dynamic. There aren’t any standards for training in domestic violence dynamics for judicial officers, and the system overall isn’t set up to adequately understand and recognize domestic violence.
The domestic violence organizations in the state are primarily shelter-based, and they’re dealing with the emergency shelter needs of their clients. There aren’t any that have the resources to also manage what happens after the emergency when the victim is in family court fighting an abuser.
“Some of these cases stretch on for years,” observed Richards. “This is a problem across the country.”
She believes that Minnesota’s 12 best interest factors in statute 518.17 used in determining custody arrangements are supposed to place the focus upon kids. But Richards acknowledges, “There is a breakdown in what the law says and how it gets implemented in court.”

Does a child need a parent who is not safe?
Part of the problem is the insistence that every child needs to have two parents, a belief Richards says is deeply ingrained in society. To that, Richards asked, “Do you think it matters if one of the parents is sexually abusing a child? Do you think it matters if one of the parents is physically abusive towards a child?”
What is best for children is to have two safe parents, stressed Richards. “But if it’s not safe parenting that’s happening, it’s not in the child’s best interest.”
She doesn’t believe that the standard should be equal access to both parents, and doesn’t support any change in state law that would make 50/50 parenting the base assumption.
“I think safe parenting has to be the standard,” Richards said.
Some argue that women make false claims of abuse to get their way in divorce cases. “I have yet to see one person claim domestic violence and it made their life better,” said Richards. “Most people who talk about domestic violence do because it’s happening in their lives.”
The incidences of false allegations are extremely rare, she said. “The parent most likely to make false allegations are fathers and not mothers.”
But this idea, like many others that show up in family court, are not driven by evidence. They’re driven by emotion, according to Richards. They’re myths that society has adopted as true.
“It plays out in people’s lives and it’s devastating,” she said.
Contact editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

DEFINE IT

“HIGH CONFLICT” – To the court, “high conflict” can refer to cases that just won’t settle. To many mediators, it can mean that parties are unable to communicate effectively. To custody evaluators, it can refer to anything from frequent disagreements to severe, long-term domestic violence. Labeling a case as “high conflict” can often distract from what is actually going on, according to the Battered Women’s Justice Project. It can also disguise things as “high conflict” that are not conflict at all, like intimate partner abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse.

“Alienation” – Sometimes called “parental alienation syndrome,” this theory has been rejected by the psychological definition book, the DSM-V, as it lacks any scientific basis. However, it is still being used in the family court system. Often used to limit protective mothers to supervised or no visitation, it assumes that problems in a relationship between an allegedly abusive father and the children must be caused by alienation. The most common context of alienation claims is that fathers accused of abuse counter with claims of alienation.

ICMC – The ICMC is the first appearance in Family Court. It is supposed to happen about 3 to 4 weeks after a filing for divorce.

FENE – A Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution process in Minnesota divorce cases. An FENE involves a half-day session (or more) with a court-appointed neutral. This neutral is typically an experienced family law attorney, or a CPA familiar with the financial issues involved in a divorce. The parties, and their lawyers, sit down with the evaluator very early in the case – in an effort to catch people before they become too embroiled in conflict, or stuck in their position.

SENE – A Social Early Neutral Evaluation is a voluntary process parents may choose to participate in when they disagree about custody or parenting issues. Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators (one male and one female). During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why.

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Room at Roosevelt promotes self-care, emotional well-being for students

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

RestART

Roosevelt High School students Samiyah Farah (left) and Rahma Abdi (right), and graduate Bisharo Abdi (center) in the RestART Room. The three friends agreed that, “It doesn’t matter what you’re going through, self-care matters.”(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Room #215 doesn’t look like any other classroom at Roosevelt High School. Instead of desks and chairs, there are a few tables piled high with drawing paper, magic markers, and coloring books. There are couches for relaxing on, overstuffed pillows, books about self care – and it’s quiet.
The classroom been used in different ways over the years, but it had been left unstaffed and underutilized until recently.
Now called the RestART Room, this is a place where students can come when they need to take a break from class, from the stress of applying for college, or from the pressure of life at home.
Lindsay Walz, who jump-started the idea with a group of students last year, said, “We provide a safe space at school to access creative mindfulness practices and holistic healing supports – so students can get back to the business of learning.”
The RestART Room is a natural extension of the non-profit healing and art studio Walz started in 2013, called Courageous heARTS.” The non-profit is located nearby at 2235 E. 38th St. Its mission is to illuminate youth as leaders, while inspiring creativity, courage, and collaboration within the community.
Walz explained, “Last year, students and staff from the Health Careers Program at Roosevelt reached out to explore opportunities to volunteer at Courageous heARTS. We thought it was a natural fit to bring our efforts to Roosevelt with the help of their student leaders.”
“The timing was right. In the 20 years I’ve been working with young people, it seems like life keeps getting harder for them. They tell me they’re bombarded with typical questions about their future, but expectations for getting into college – and the possibility of incurring life-long debt – have made the stress worse.”
“There’s all of that, and then there’s the stuff of the world: the climate crisis, immigration, racism, homophobia. The list is long and it’s on a constant loop in their newsfeeds. That’s where the RestART Room comes in.”
Last year, a Roosevelt senior, Bisharo Abdi, and a group of friends worked closely with Walz to bring the RestART Room to life. Abdi said, “I was glad to have the RestART Room because managing my coursework and all the work of applying to colleges became overwhelming. I learned some techniques for de-stressing. I learned it was okay to relax, and to show my feelings, even if they weren’t positive.”
Abdi has taken those skills with her to Augsburg College, where she is a freshman majoring in biology and youth studies. In addition to going to college, Abdi is also working as an apprentice at Courageous heARTS. She said, “There have been many benefits for me in learning to live more mindfully. One of the biggest benefits is that I’ve finally overcome my shyness. When I was in high school, it was very hard for me to speak up in class. Now at Courageous heARTS, I regularly give tours to the public – and I enjoy it.”

Lindsay Walz, Courageous heARTS founder and executive director, works in creative partnership to support the RestART Room. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Want to get involved?
Walz surveyed the RestART Room, which has no shortage of art supplies. She said, “We could use more materials geared toward mindfulness and healing. If anyone has a SAD light box they’re not using, or an essential oil diffuser, these are things we’d like to try. Also books about mindfulness or meditation, or monetary donations to be used toward increasing staff. We’re lucky to be in a community that supports our mission that art is transformative, and has the power to support individual and collective healing.”
Learn more about volunteer and donation opportunities at www.courageous-hearts.org.

 

TIP: PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Senior Samiya Farah said, “One of the things I’ve learned by coming here is to practice gratitude. I focus on at least one thing every day that I’m grateful for. I’m thinking about making a gratitude jar. Just writing something simple on a piece of paper every day, and enjoying watching the jar fill up.”

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Summer Camp Guide 2020

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Create a cardboard castle, a cigar box guitar, or a Lego robot. Connect with long-time friends and make new ones while learning how to kayak, juggle or sew. Make a puppet, animated cartoon, stationary, or your own song.

There are so many summer camp options in the Twin Cities area, your kids will have trouble picking just one!

Browse below for more information on some of the camps offered locally.

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

ADVENTURES IN CARDBOARD
Be initiated into an ancient and esteemed House of The Realm, jump into live-action adventure gaming, build your own arms and armor, and more during these five-day, full-day sessions for ages 8-17. Buses available from Powderhorn Park and some camps held at Minnehaha Park.
adventuresincardboard.com
612-532-6764

ARTICULTURE
A variety of art disciplines and mediums with themes like puppetry, world cultures, If I had a Hammer, animation, art car, public art and activism, printmaking and more offered for ages 4-18. Five-day, half- and full-day sessions available.
612-729-5151
http://www.articulture.org

BASE CAMP
Climb high, climb far during the Discovery Day Camp’s high energy activities offered near Fort Snelling Mondays to Fridays June to August for ages 5-15.
612-261-2301
http://www.explorebasecamp.org/

BLACKBIRD’S MUSIC STORE
Write your own songs, start your own band, build cigar guitars from the ground up, and learn electric guitar.
612-326-5745
http://blackbirdsmusicstore.com

CIRCUS JUVENTAS
Explore international circus arts at Circus Juventas. Five-day, full-day sessions and one-day sampler camps offered for ages 6-18.
651-699-8229

HOME

CENTER FOR BLADE ARTS
Modern Olympic fencing camps for all ages run from 10 a,m,-2 p,m, Monday-Friday in June and July.
612-501-0640
www.centerforbladearts.com

COURAGEOUS heARTS
Four-day camps running June-August for ages 10-18. Discounts offered for multiple weeks.
612-729-2483
www.courageous-hearts.org

FOREST SCHOOL
Free Forest School of the Twin Cities is a free group, open to young children and their parents or caregivers. This is a welcoming and non-judgmental group where parents and caregivers can practice giving children space and autonomy to explore and create in nature. Free Forest School meets every day of the week throughout the year at wilderness areas around the metro. Share a snack, take a hike, play in the woods, and have circle time. Parents get a chance to unplug and step back… Kids and their imaginations take the lead.
Cost: Free
www.freeforestschool.org/free-forest-school-twin-cities-minnesota/

KID YOGA
Yoga infused throughout the day via story, dance and games for campers age 5-12. Located on the Greenway = daily field adventures.
612-202-5164
kidyogamn.com

MINNEHAHA ACADEMY
Pick from an amazing variety of camps for children grades K-12. From fencing to Lego robotics, baseball to history field trips, there is a camp to jump start a child’s summer adventure.
612-728-7745, ext. 1

Minnehaha Academy Minneapolis Private School

SE MINNEAPOLIS SOCCER
Southeast Soccer fields a variety of girls and boys teams for ages U9-U18 at beginner, intermediate and advanced competitive levels. Consider the Lil’ Dribblers soccer program for ages 4 -8, or summer traveling teams.
http://www.sesoccer.org/
612-396-9511

YMCA
Explore the variety of Y Summer Programs at over 60 metro-area locations. Programs include flexible three-, four-, and five-day options for preschool and up, as well as day camps, overnight camps, Teen Wilderness, family camps and more.
http://www.ymcatwincities.org/child_care__preschool/summer_programs/

IN THE TWIN CITIES

ANIMAL HUMANE SOCIETY
kids entering grades 3-10 spend a full week immersed in animal learning and fun at one of four AHS locations.
animalhumanesociety.org/summer-camp
763-489-2220

ALEXANDER RAMSEY HOUSE
Solve mysteries of the past in this three-day History Detective Camp for ages 10-13. Or, young ladies ages 9-12 can step back in time in a unique Finishing School for Young Ladies day camp.
612-341-7555
http://www.mnhs.org/summercamps

AMERICAN SWEDISH INSTITUTE
Day camps for ages 6-10 and multi-day camps for a variety of ages with topics such as vikings, Pippi Longstocking and Swedish cooking.
612-871-4907
asimn.org

ARTSTART
Creative cultural camps exploring Peru and Ecuador through art that reuses discarded materials. Sessions for ages 4-teen run late June – July.
651-698-2787
www.artstart.org

CAMP COMO
Spend some time “Monkeying Around” with your primate pals, go for the gold in “Animal Olympics”, take an “African Adventure” without leaving Como, or try on the hat of a zookeeper or gardener in “Behind-the-Scenes!”. Como’s camps focus on developing children’s appreciation for the natural world through play and exploration, behind-the-scenes experiences, interactions with zookeepers and gardeners, and up-close encounters with plant and animal ambassadors Five-day, half-day or full-day sessions for preschool to grade eight. Extended care available.
651-487-8272

Camp Como

DODGE NATURE CENTER
Campers have fun while gaining appreciation for nature by meeting live animals, building forts, and getting their hands dirty during full- and half-day, four-day camps offered for students entering 1-8 grades. Shorter sessions available for ages 3-6.
651-455-4531
http://www.dodgenaturecenter.org/

FRIENDS SCHOOL
Want to make a film just like the professionals do? Feel like biking 10 (or 20!) miles a day? Have a secret stash of poems you want to share? Feel a need to express yourself through paint and paper-folding? Maybe you’d rather argue for the defense in a real courtroom? Friends School will be the place to do that–and more–from June to August for ages 4-14. Weekdays, half- and full-day. Extended day care in the mornings and afternoons and need-based financial aid available.
651-621-8941

Home

HAMLINE YOUNG WRITERS
High school students ages 15-18 can explore the craft, prepare for college, and connect with other young writers in the Twin Cities, while working closely with Hamline Creative Writing faculty and published authors.
651-523-2476
http://www.hamline.edu/gls/youngwriters/

HEARTFELT
Summer camps allow time for more in-depth projects, such as Wild & Wooly, Fairies, Critters, and Sea Creature, for kindergarten and up.

Home

INNER CITY TENNIS
Enjoy Summer Tennis in Minneapolis parks for ages 6-17. Free and reduced programs available.
612-825-6844
http://www.innercitytennis.org

LEONARDO’S BASEMENT
Girls and boys ages 6 to 17 can design and build their creative ideas, mixing art, science and technology during partial-day, weekday camps. There are more than 120 classes available over 10 weeks.
612-824-4394
www.leonardosbasement.org

LOFT LITERARY CENTER
There’s something for everyone—from the youngster just learning to put pen to paper to the seasoned high school senior with a novel already under her belt. Sessions run in week-long blocks July and August, full and half-day options available for ages 6-17.
612-215-2575
www.loft.org/youth

LOPPET ADVENTURE CAMPS
Rollerblade, mountain bike, canoe and more during adventure camps for ages 9-13 at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Equipment provided during the full-day, five-day sessions.
612-604-5330
www.loppet.org/programs/camps/

MINNEAPOLIS SAILING CENTER
One-week youth camps and sailing classes offered on beautiful Bde Maka Ska.
https://sailmpls.org/
612-470-SAIL

NORTHERN CLAY CENTER
Explore clay through sculpture or wheel-thrown pottery in half or full-day sessions for ages 6 and up.
612-339-8007
www.northernclaycenter.org

RAPTOR CENTER
Summer sessions for ages 6-14 are run by the University of Minnesota’s Rec & Wellness Camps. Camps also offered in partnership with MIA and Richardson Nature Center.
www.raptor.umn.edu

SNAPOLOGY
With camps happening at the new Discovery Center in Uptown every week of the summer, as well as at various schools and educational partners around the Twin Cities, Snapology has got you covered for kiddos as young as 3 and as old as 14 – Robotics, Coding, Science, Technology, Drones, Pre-K, Engineering, Architecture and more.
https://www.snapology.com/locations/minneapolis

ST. PAUL CONSERVANCY OF MUSIC
Music day camp for aspiring young musicians – offering a setting where children can explore their musical knowledge and ability through classes, creative play, and presentations by renowned professionals. No prior musical experience required! July 6-17, 9 am. – 4p.m. Extended care available until 5:30 p.m.
www.thespcm.org/summercamp
651-224-2205

ST. PAUL BALLET
Summer is a great time to try dance. Programs include workshops and camps for ages 3 and up, weekly drop-in classes for teens and adults, and a “mommy and me” baby class.
651-690-1588
www.spballet.org

TEXTILE CENTER CAMPS
Sew, knit, felt, dye, and more. Take home hand-made creations from half-day, weeklong classes, for students ages 6-16.
4612-436-0464
http://textilecentermn.org/sc

VERTICAL ENDEAVORS
Climbing camp in single day, half and full day sessions run early June to late August for ages 6-13.
www.verticalendeavors.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of every camp in the Twin Cities. If you would like to be included in next year’s guide, please send us detailed information on the camp.

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RRR: Better Futures Minnesota helps men rebuild their lives with dignity, while supporting green enterprise

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Tesha Christensen

CEO and President Dr. Thomas Adams said, “Better Futures Minnesota is helping men repair and rebuild their lives. When you buy our reused materials or use our business services, you support the men we serve, the community, and Minnesota’s environment.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Reuse Warehouse is keeping more than 650 tons of construction material out of landfills and incinerators annually, through their deconstruction services and sale of salvaged building materials. While providing this environmental benefit, they are also helping their employees repair and rebuild their lives from the ground up. Proceeds from sales at the Reuse Warehouse go to support Better Futures Minnesota, in which all of their employees are enrolled.
Better Futures Minnesota (BFM) President and CEO Dr. Thomas Adams explained, “Reuse Warehouse employees are African American men between the ages of 18-65. All of them have multiple felonies on their records, and would find it almost impossible to get jobs elsewhere. In terms of education, they have not received enough to be self-sufficient. All of this combines to create a dependency on jail, treatment facilities, homeless shelters, and government assistance.”
The men who come to BFM likely have a long history of unemployment, homelessness, and a disconnection from healthy support systems. Rebuilding lives can be a long, complicated process.
Adams said, “From experience, we know it takes a coordinated team working together to help our men start walking the path to a better life. BFM is not a job re-entry program. We are a response to a public health crisis.”

Integrated model works best
Better Futures Minnesota, which was founded in 2007, stands on these four fundamental principles:
Housing Stability: participants live at Great River Landing, a permanent, supportive housing model in the North Loop for 6-8 months. The men live in a dorm-style setting, and are able to establish rental history. They can eventually move into efficiency apartments at Great River Landing, or move on to other permanent living options in the community.
Health and Wellness: mental and physical health needs are addressed through partnerships with trauma-informed, culturally-specific care providers. Many of the men have previously undiagnosed and untreated health problems such as prostate cancer and diabetes.
Workforce Development: participants receive training in one of BFM’s six business lines. These are Deconstruction Services, Warehouse Sales, Appliance Recycling, Janitorial Services, Lawn/Snow Care, and Crew-Based Labor. Men receive up to 12 professional certifications before matriculating, giving them, in all likelihood, their first chance at being self-supporting.
Life Coaching and Compassionate Care: this is at the heart of BFM’s integrated care model that helps men start to rebuild their lives. Case management services are also available.
Adams explained, “The integrated care model we’re founded on is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we’re able to see whole person transformation, and we frequently do.”
“The curse is that most of the world doesn’t operate this way. The Minnesota State Departments of Corrections, Human Services, Employment and Economic Development tell us we should be focusing on one thing for the sake of funding, but we know that focusing on one thing brings abysmal results.”

How is it that BFM landed in the green sector?
Adams said, “Our goal is to enter industries that are forgiving toward our men’s backgrounds. Jobs in deconstruction (which means taking structures apart, not just knocking them down) and recycling are forgiving, they pay a living wage, and they are right smack in the middle of the green sector.”
He continued, “Half of our business is on the green side. We go to environmental stewardship conferences all around the country, and we’re always the only organization of color. Climate change and renewable energy are not at the top of the list for most people of color – but job creation and health care are. We came to the environmental movement through these channels.”
Community members can support the work of Better Futures Minnesota by buying used building materials from their Reuse Warehouse, or hiring a service team from one of their six business lines. BFM currently has property maintenance contracts with more than 300 residential and commercial properties around the Twin Cities.
The Reuse Warehouse is located near the “Minnehaha Mile,” a shopping corridor dedicated to recycled, reused, and reclaimed products. Their address is 2620 Minnehaha Ave. Donations of building materials and household goods are also welcome.
Visit www.betterfuturesminnesota.com to learn more.

success story
John is a 49 year old man who’s been in and out of jail for the past 15 years due to poor decisions, alcohol abuse, and homelessness.  He missed 12 of his daughter’s 17 birthdays while he was behind bars.  John chose to enroll in Better Futures Minnesota because, in his words, “the name said it all.”  In the last 14 months, John has remained sober, received all of the certifications BFM has to offer, obtained permanent housing, and had his daughter stay with him every other weekend.  Last winter, he took a trip to the Florida beach for the first time in his life. John has a new lease on life and has recently started his own cleaning company, thanks in part to the certifications and skills he obtained from BFM.
~ Courtesy of BFM

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‘It should never have happened’

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Mother warned officials ex-husband was dangerous before he killed child and himself

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Mikayla Olson Tester might be a happy 21-year-old woman today if the family court system had listened to the warnings of her mother.
Instead, it’s been 15 years since she was murdered by her own father, and the weight of not being believed by the court system still weighs heavily on mother Leigh Ann Block (fomerly Olson). She has spent the last 15 years putting together the pieces of this tragedy, trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
“Fifteen years later I’m trying to protect women and children from going through what we did because I can’t save her,” said Block.
“It should never have happened.”

Calculated murder 2 weeks after he took daughter on
vacation

Mikayla Olson Tester would have been 21 on Nov. 29, 2019. Because of her spirit, her mother Leigh Ann Block is still fighting for other kids in abusive situations with an unhealthy and dangerous parent. She was her mother’s “sweetie-girl.” Her daycare provider called her Cinderella and brought her to Mattock’s Park to play. She called herself “Mika” when she was little because she couldn’t say “Mikayla.” She loved her family, music, Disney princesses – especially Ariel, dressing up, playing with stuffed “aminals,” and her cat Smokey. Her mother remembers going on walks with godmother Kris, and Mikayla’s blond hair flying in the wind. “Feel the breeze, Mikayla Nicole,” Block would say.

It was her father’s turn to have the five-year-old on Labor Day weekend 2004, right before she was going to start kindergarten at Randolph Heights School.
The Ramsey County court had given St. Paul resident John Tester, age 41, joint custody and over 50 percent parenting time, over the objections of Block.
Her ex-husband prevented Block from caring for Mikayla and threatened and intimidated them both. But the people she tried to get to protect her and Mikayla failed.
The police, a custody evaluator, mediator, attorneys, Referee Earl Beddow Jr., and Judge Michael F. Fetcsch didn’t pay attention to his threats, coercive control or post-separation abuse, and instead gave him the standard custody and parenting time schedule.
“I tried to do everything within my power to protect her but the law was not on my side,” said Block.
On that day 15 years ago, when Block answered the door of her home she shared with Mikayla, and saw two St. Paul police officers, she knew the news was bad.
It was the news a battered woman fears most.
“Mikayla is dead, isn’t she?”
Block knew without being told. She had received a strange call from her ex-husband earlier that day. He had instructed their only child to call Block and tell her they were going on a journey in a new car.
Tester then took his daughter to a rural Wisconsin road outside of Osceola on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2004, shot her in the head, and then turned the gun on himself.
It was over three years since the couple had split up.
Tester’s sister-in-law, Gina, told the Star Tribune that Tester had done it to get back at Block.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Department called it a “cold and calculated murder” that took months to plan.
“I had warned the courts that Mikayla’s life was in danger,” said Block, a smart, capable and respondible woman.
But no one in the family court system believed her in time to save her daughter. The fact that no one in the justice system did anything to protect her daughter still haunts Block.
“Despite a well-documented history of threats to abuse me and my child, my ex-husband was allowed to have unsupervised visitation with our daughter,” said Block. “John’s abusive behavior did not affect the custody/parenting time decisions. It was clear to me that the domestic violence and threats to harm me and our daughter had no impact on the court.”
Mikayla’s funeral was held on the day she was supposed to start kindergarten.

Court wouldn’t let her protect daughter from father
Block’s attorney, Mark Anderson of Burnsville, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press shortly after Mikayla was murdered by her father that Block lived for her daughter. “She was a very, very dedicated mother; and she did everything she could to protect that little girl from people, but it was the one guy she could never do anything about because he had court-ordered visitation,” observed Anderson.
In their divorce decree, they shared joint legal custody. Tester was granted parenting time of 4.5 hours with Mikayla on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as from 9 a.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday on alternating weekends. “Even though I had sole physical custody, Mikayla’s father had over 50% of the parenting time and spent more quality time with our daughter. I ‘agreed’ to this arrangement because I had no choice,” said Block, after her first attorney, Martha Eaves (SMRLS), told her to “quit pushing John’s buttons.” Eaves also told Block that the courts would grant him 50% custody anyway.

Leigh Ann Block visits the bench in Mattock’s Park dedicated to her daughter, Mikayla Olson Tester, who was murdered by her father on Labor Day weekend 2004 at age 5. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Nightmare began after baby was born
Block graduated from Central High School in St. Paul in 1985, the same school her grandparents and mom had attended. She got a good job at Montgomery Ward, and met John Tester a year out of high school through mutual friends.
They dated off and on between 1986 and 1998, when they got married at Como Conservatory because they had a baby on the way.
Block remembers that Tester was competitive and compared himself to others constantly. He really enjoyed boating, and they had lots of fun on the weekends. But it wasn’t until she gave up her apartment and moved into “his house” on Palace St. (he never called it theirs even after they got married) to save money, that she felt trepidation about marrying him.
Things started gradually. Like many men, he didn’t really start showing his abusive side until their daughter was born when the focus was no longer on him, although Block can look back now and see some earlier red flags.
“It’s supposed to be the happiest time in your life when you have a baby,” observed Block, “but that’s basically when my nightmare began.”
From the time Mikayla was born, Block remembers that her ex-husband would get angry at the amount of care and attention Block gave her.
Sometimes he would pin her down on the bed and make her listen to their daughter’s screams in the next room.
They both agreed that Block would stop working when their daughter was born, and care for the baby, as well as manage the care for Block’s dad who was battling Stage 4 carcinoma cancer and lived with them. She was dependent upon her husband, and that was just how he wanted it.
She timed her trips out of the house to fall when Tester wasn’t home, and made sure she was back before he was. It wasn’t easy, though, as he called her regularly to make sure she was at home. He wanted to know exactly what she was doing when he wasn’t around and who she was with. He followed her from room to room to listen to her phone conversations. She started keeping journals to track what her husband was doing, and asked her best friend to hide them.
He started threatening to kill Block and their daughter on a weekly basis, sometimes while holding a large knife in his hand, and mimicking killing motions. Ten minutes later he would deny everything. The gaslighting became more regular.
“He was very smart,” said Block. “He never physically left marks.”
He told her she was fat and made fun of her crooked teeth. He told her that she’d never find anyone as great as himself if she left him. She remembers suffering from the cognitive dissonance of hearing him talk about how great he was and listening to the terrible things he said to her.
At night, when the baby was hungry and started to cry, he screamed at Block to “shut her up! Some of us have to work.”
Due to his rages and his frequent marijuana use, Block avoided leaving Mikayla home alone with him. “It’s a horrible thing to not want to leave your children with their father,” Block remarked.
At home, Block did all the childcare while Tester went boating or snowmobiling with his friends almost every weekend, but out in public Tester was a doting dad. In fact, five months before he murdered Mikayla, he took her to Disney World.
He tightly controlled their finances, and gave her a paltry $20 a week allowance. Friends and family helped Block buy diapers and other baby things.
She told herself that she was going to “stick it out” until Mikayla was in kindergarten.
Then came the day in March 2000, when she couldn’t stop herself from calling the police because she was so scared. It was a Saturday, and she had planned to buy tickets for “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Tester refused to let her leave the house, so she called her sister-in-law to tell her she couldn’t go. Angry, Tester ripped the cordless phone out of her hands. She ran to another room to use the old-fashioned wall phone, and told her friend that “things aren’t ok right now,” and returned upstairs. His behavior was so threatening that she grabbed the cordless phone again, ran out on the porch, and called 911. The phone went dead when he ripped the line out of the wall.
When the three squad cars arrived, Block asked herself, “What have I done? He’s going to kill me.”
She obtained her first order for protection (OFP), and he was banned from the house except to pick up Mikayla for visits. Angry that he’d been kicked out of “his house” due to an order for protection, Tester filed for divorce. Block had no money for another home, daycare, or an attorney.

Leigh Ann Block (formerly Olson) pages through a photo album of her daughter, who was murdered by her father 15 years ago.

Post-separation abuse
unchecked
Fearing what Tester would do despite the OFP, Block put a baby monitor in the garage. Tester worked third shift, but one night she heard a noise in the garage and called the police. The cops found him inside with the hood of her vehicle up and a quart of oil sitting by the open gas tank. He told the cops he was just there to pick up some tools. He was arrested for violating the OFP.
The morning after Halloween, Block looked out the window of her new apartment, and her Blazer was missing again. She had changed the vehicle’s door key after an earlier suspicious incident, but not the ignition key. She reported it stolen, and three weeks later it was found wrapped around a tree in Rochester. It had been involved in a vehicular homicide when two kids took it on a joyride despite the passenger seat having been cut out.
Shortly after, Block flipped through the notebook she and Tester exchanged with their daughter, recording important details to share with the other parent. Inside, she found the ignition key to her Blazer.
Tester was letting her know he could get to her, despite the OFP and their divorce papers.
Before he murdered Mikayla, Tester quit his job in order to get his child support reduced, and then worked secretly for cash while receiving unemployment benefits.
Tester put Mikayla in the middle of Block and himself, because he couldn’t control Block any more as she started a new life with Mikayla. Mikayla started asking her mother distressing questions like, “why is Daddy mean?” One day Mikayla asked her mom if she was going to die. “No,” Block told her. “Why do you ask?” “Because Daddy said you were,” replied Mikayla. He told her that if mom starting dating that she wouldn’t love Mikayla anymore.
He stole and refused to return their daughter’s favorite stuffed animal, even though she had trouble sleeping without Hippity. He told their daughter she was fat.
Block was always on alert, waiting for the next thing to happen.
Tester continued to threaten Block and yell obscenities at her during exchanges of Mikayla. But when she told the officials involved in their case – the people she thought were supposed to help her – they didn’t give him any real consequences. After Tester tampered with Block’s vehicle, he had been instructed to see Mikayla at the Children’s Safety Center for supervised visitation. After a month or two, Tester wanted to take Mikayla to a family reunion, and Ramsey County custody evaluator Kelly Gerleman allowed it, despite Tester’s threats to take Mikayla away from Block and despite his threats to kill them both. Moreover, Gerleman removed Mikayla from the Safety Center indefinitely. Gerleman told Block, “John needs to be given the chance to demonstrate good behavior.”
Block was warned by officials that if she fled with her daughter, she would be arrested for kidnapping. And then, Tester killed Mikayla.
Block called each one of these professionals after Mikayla was murdered, but she never got an apology, nor did any suffer consequences in their jobs for their role in Mikayla’s death.
“They failed miserably,” said Block. “I didn’t get any help. Nobody listened to me. I was not some crazy ex-wife. I was a loving mother trying to protect my child. This is what parents are supposed to do – keep their children safe from harm. There’s something really wrong with the system and that’s an understatement.”
She added, “They were minimizing. I still feel like I’m being minimized because I didn’t have any bruises.”

Not hit, but still victims of abuse
Block is tired of hearing the common myth that “it takes two to tango.”
She’s tired of the stereotypes about the kind of woman who gets abused. “It doesn’t matter how much money you make or your status,” she observed. She doesn’t think people want to believe that someone with a few kids who lives in a nice house could be an abuser or a victim, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.
She’s tired of hearing that women are vindictive and make up abuse to get back at their spouses. She’s ready for people to start believing women and children.
“Abuse survivors are constantly trying to prove themselves,” she observed. “There should be no question.” She supports a national resolution, H. Con.Res.72, “expressing the sense of Congress that child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and that state courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged” (115th Congress [2017-2018]). This resolution makes it standard to put the safety needs of children first rather than parental rights, and Block and friend Bonnie Roy are pushing for state legislation that will also support putting the safety of children first through the Minnesota Chapter of the Stop Abuse Campaign.
Block began recording her abuse in journals in the spring of 1999, and now it’s 2019. Kids are still not being protected, despite the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research on how much kids are affected by threats, intimidation and physical violence.
“I may not have been hit, but Mikayla was still a victim of domestic violence,” she said.
“There’s still no law that protects children in abusive situations.”
Minnesota has nine best interest factors, and only one is related to domestic violence. “The best interest is not putting your children with an abusive father,” said Block. She believes that if a parent is abusive, they should not have joint custody. They should not have access to their children.
“I want to be part of a positive change that will prioritize these kids’ lives,” said Block.
And so she keeps telling her story.
“We shouldn’t have to beg for these laws to protect our kids,” said Block.
“We need to start looking out for each other.”
She has devoted her time to promoting prevention, testifying at government hearings against 50/50 custody laws, and speaking out so that no more children die because of domestic violence.
According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, at least 728 children have been murdered by a divorcing or separating parent since 2011. Seventy-three percent of the perpetrators are fathers. Many of these children are killed in murder-suicides, as Mikayla was.
In the 30 years that Violence Free Minnesota (formerly the Minnesota Battered Women’s Coalition) has been tracking femicides, at least 685 people were killed due to relationship abuse. The youngest victim was just 22 weeks old; the oldest was 88.
“Mikayla was mentally and physically abused by her father, as was I. And we dealt with it basically from her birth in 1998,” said Block.
“I don’t want any other child to have to go through what Mikayla went through.”
Contact editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

 

Four murdered in Minneapolis

19 killed in intimate partner homicides in 2019

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Raven B. Gant’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her in front of her minor daughter in North Minneapolis. Later, over the holiday weekend, Kjersten Marie Schladetzky, and her two sons, William and Nelson were killed in a triple murder-suicide by their father and Kjersten’s ex-husband, David, in south Minneapolis.
Raven, Kjersten, William, and Nelson are Minnesota’s most recent confirmed intimate partner homicide victims. There have been 19 confirmed intimate partner homicide victims as of press time on Dec. 21.
On the morning of Dec. 1, David Schladetzky, 53, shot and killed his two sons, William, 11, and Nelson, 8, outside of their home at 2738 Oakland Ave. He then entered the house and shot and killed his ex-wife, Kjersten, 39, before killing himself. Police officers responded to calls of gunshots and found the two boys in the front yard. As officers arrived, they heard shots coming from inside the house. Kjersten and David’s bodies were later found inside the home. A divorce was finalized between the two in June 2019.
Randall Watkins, 41, faces a second-degree murder charge for the killing of 27-year-old Raven Gant, who was shot in the back. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office says it will seek an enhanced sentence in this case due to the presence of the child.
Intimate partner homicides have a devastating impact on children. Children are injured and killed. Additionally, witnessing the murder of a parent due to intimate partner homicide can have long-term adverse effects on children. In the Violence Free Minnesota 30-year retrospective on intimate partner homicide in Minnesota, a child witnessed the homicide of their parent in 22% of the 685 cases from 1989-2018.
“The safety of our children is directly linked to intimate partner violence of their parents,” said Violence Free Minnesota Executive Director Liz Richards. “Protecting our children is an essential part of our work to end intimate partner violence. We must find the words – and the solutions – to say that these deaths are the fatal result of power and control; and we can take action as a community to end intimate partner violence.”
Raven Gant, and Kjersten, William, and Nelson Schladetzky’s lives will be honored at an intimate partner homicide memorial on Jan. 28, 2020, and included in the 2019 intimate partner homicide report to be released on Oct. 1, 2020.
If you are a victim experiencing abuse, contact Day One at 866-223-1111 to connect with services.
Information courtesy of Violence Free Minnesota, formerly the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

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Isuroon: A portal to better health

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN

Executive Director Fartun Weli said, “There are things I’m not good at, but I am good at is busting down doors. There is power in keeping people dependent on the system. What I’m trying to do with Isuroon is make sure Somali women and girls are not becoming dependent.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Isuroon is a robust word in the Somali language.
According to Isuroon Executive Director Fartun Weli, it can be used as a verb, a noun, or an adjective. It is also the name of the organization she leads.
She said, “Somali words are conceptual. While the short translation of Isuroon is ‘a woman who cares for herself,’ the long translation is ‘a woman who has gotten everything she needs to be strong, healthy, independent, empowered, beautiful, vivacious, and confident.’ The mission of our organization is to be a space where every Somali woman can be all of those things.”
Isuroon was founded in 2010 to address the unmet health care needs of Somali women and girls in this community. Through group meetings, one-on-one counseling, and carefully designed teaching sessions, staff offer education on issues including self-care and social connectedness, healthy eating, pre-natal health, the impact of female genital cutting/mutilation, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, domestic and sexual violence, pregnancy prevention, child abuse, understanding HIV/AIDS, and navigating a complex health care system.
Weli and her 11 employees have a lot on their plates. Their resources are available to any Somali woman who wants to improve her health and wellness, and that of her family – to give her the tools so that she can thrive in Minnesota and beyond. Through education and coaching, women and girls learn to manage their health care preventatively, strengthen their economic self-sufficiency, and develop their innate leadership skills.
Isuroon serves a population that likely came to Minnesota from refugee camps. To be a stable presence rooted in the Somali community, they purchased a building at 1600 East Lake Street last year. Weli explained, “One of the ways we are different as an organization is that we don’t just operate within our 55407 zip code. Our women come from everywhere. Now we are easy to find.”
The barriers to health and wellness for immigrants and refugees are significant. Food insecurity can be a problem for Somali families, especially new arrivals. Weli explained why a disproportionate number of Somali families have female heads-of-household (54% nation-wide.) She said, “After 911, it got much harder for Muslim men to enter the US. While the typical Somali family consists of mom, dad, and children, it’s common for males 18+ to arrive 3-5 years after the rest of their family.”
These separations cause alot of stress. Weli believes the burden is made worse for Muslim women because of cultural stereotypes. She said, “Many Americans (especially white women) think that because we’re covered, we are insecure, oppressed, and in need of rescue. This is not true! We need to diffuse these stereotypes, which are also perpetuated by the media. Who are Muslim women in general, and Somali women in particular? We are intuitive, alert, and sociable; we didn’t grow up feeling inferior to anyone. We are unique.”
To address food insecurity, Isuroon opened a food shelf six years ago. Weli explained, “I didn’t think it was part of our mission, but our elders started asking for one. We went to Governor Dayton’s Office, and they tried to be helpful. They connected us with the big, established food distribution networks in the Twin Cities but, ultimately, it didn’t work. Understand that when you’ve lived in a refugee camp, you are given food handouts all the time. Then, when you finally come to this country and find out how hard it is to be self-sufficient, you are still given strange, unfamiliar food. It can be very demoralizing. We needed a new model for an ethnic food shelf, and we created one. ”
The Seward Co-op is an annual donor to the Isuroon Food Shelf through their SEED Project, where shoppers can round up to the nearest dollar in support of a different local non-profit organization each month. Isuroon typically receives $20,000 + from one month’s donations. Weli said, “The Seward Co-op is great. They don’t pressure us to buy foods that aren’t culturally appropriate. We were able to serve 1,100 families with their donations last year, and the size of an average Somali family is seven.”
Isuroon staff members are trained to interact with clients in a way that reflect the agency’s core values of trust, transparency, and empathy. Weli said, “We work relationally, which means that listening is at the heart of everything. What we are trying to do here is replicate what our moms did back home. In the Somali culture, we have our own definition of what makes someone strong. When I meet a Somali woman who can’t read or write, I worship her. Do you know how hard life is when you can’t read or write? We value women for the strengths that they have, rather than judge them for what they lack.”
As an organization, consider requesting an Isuroon speaker to help your group connect with the experiences of Somali women, or to obtain culturally competent consulting and training for health care providers, policymakers and other leaders. As an individual, consider attending a workshop to learn about the Somali community here in the Twin Cities. Weli said, “Our organization has so much to offer. What can we do for you? We’re here to engage communities. Connect with us!”
For more information, go to www.isuroon.org.

“We’re grateful and excited to announce that Isuroon has received a Community Innovation Grant of more than $200,000 from The Bush Foundation. The grant will empower our work to reduce disparities in reproductive health care for African immigrant women in Minnesota with female genital cutting. The voices and needs of women who have experienced female genital cutting will drive this grassroots effort,” said Fartun Weli, Executive Director. “We express gratitude on their behalf.”

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Bark Ranger Program starting soon

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

NPS staff creating new way for people and dogs to enjoy Coldwater Spring

The Bark Ranger trainings on Jan. 4 and 9 will be a great opportunity to engage with staff and volunteers, and to learn more about both the histories and the lay-out of Coldwater Spring. (Photo courtesy of NPS)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The Bark Ranger Program is a joint venture of the National Park Service (NPS) and their non-profit partner, the Mississippi Park Connection. In early January, a cadre of four-legged volunteers and their owners will be sworn in at Coldwater Spring. New recruits to this awareness campaign will pledge to leash their dogs while walking at Coldwater Spring, pick up dog waste, and respect wildlife and habitat restoration.
NPS land manager Neil Smarjesse, leads the habitat restoration crews at Coldwater Spring. He said, “We would like to create a different way for people and their dogs to experience this place. We’re adjacent to the Minnehaha Dog Park, but we are not an off-leash area. When dogs are kept leashed, grassland-nesting birds (like the newly returned clay colored sparrow) aren’t disturbed. We are welcoming back indigo buntings, Baltimore orioles, fox, coyote, deer, and many other species.”
The 29-acre site was added to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 2010, with the goal of restoring the landscape to a prairie oak savannah. A major renovation, which included seeding 13 acres of prairie and wetlands, was completed in 2012. More than 1,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers have been planted on the property.

 

Coldwater Spring carries historical and cultural significance for some Dakota tribes, as well as being considered a sacred site by other Dakota tribes. Coldwater Spring is a part of the Fort Snelling Historic District, protected as both a National Historic Landmark and National Register listed property under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.

 

Paula Swingley is the NPS volunteer coordinator. She said, “People love this place for many different reasons. The paths here aren’t straight-to-a-place paths; they meander. It’s a place to enjoy the prairie in all seasons. As part of the Bark Ranger training, there’s the added bonus of learning some of the non-visible history of this site. You can still see the Spring House and the ore bins, but there is so much more to learn.”
Bark Ranger trainings will be held on Jan. 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Jan. 9 from 9 a.m. to noon. The drop-in events will include a 30-minute walking tour of the site led by rangers. The address for Coldwater Spring is 5601 Minnehaha Park Drive South. GPS coordinates are: 44.901602, -93.198256. Registration isn’t required, but by going to  https://parkconnection.org/events  and signing up on Event Brite, you’ll be notified of weather-related changes or cancellations.
There is no cost to participate. There are four handicapped accessible parking spots on-site, and plenty of metered parking spots on the street. Canines participating in the BARK Ranger Program will receive a shiny collar tag. Sign up to be a Bark Ranger Ambassador (a volunteer who helps lead future trainings) and receive a stylish bandana. In either capacity, Swingley clarified, “Participants will absolutely not do any law enforcement. They are just there to demonstrate good practices.”
Americorps intern Claire Jaeger Mountain was instrumental in bringing the Bark Ranger Program to Coldwater Spring. She said, “The trainings will be a great opportunity to engage with staff and volunteers, and to hear stories unique to this historic and beautiful place.”

 

B – bag your dog waste,
A – always keep your dog on a leash,
R – respect wildlife and habitat restoration,
K – know where you can go.

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Re-using household fabrics for a new purpose

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Neighborhood Bag Project

Artists Laura Brown (left) and Lauren Callis Erickson (right), co-founded the Neighborhood Bag Project to promote community art-making and fabric recycling. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Laura Brown and Lauren Callis Erickson shared a stand at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on several Saturday mornings last summer. They had a couple of sewing machines set up, and were surrounded by piles of fabric.
Callis Erickson said, “We taught market-goers to sew simple drawstring bags. The bags were made from salvaged, thrifted, or previously used fabric squares, ribbon, and cord. We sewed a lot of bags with children. Most of the bags weren’t perfect, but they held produce anyhow.”
Everybody has to bring a shopping bag to a farmer’s market, so why not make your own?
Brown remembered that shoppers would often stop at their stand and say things like, “I have so much fabric at home; I just don’t know what to do with it.”
Brown explained, “We believe there is value in leading by example. It’s easy to make something beautiful and useful from what you already have. Change it, use it, or pass it along. That’s where the Neighborhood Bag Project is coming from.”
The two Minneapolis-based artists travelled between five different farmer’s markets last summer sewing drawstring bags.
Callis Erickson said, “We started the Neighborhood Bag Project to get outside our usual circles of connection. Many of the people we met at the Midtown Farmer’s Market were already on-board with repurposing. One woman shopped with a bag she had made from an old tent. Another used a mylar balloon – apparently mylar is pretty durable.”
Repurposing fabrics is an area of recycling that is getting a lot of attention lately, as people become aware that fabrics need to be dealt with responsibly, too. The fashion industry is believed to contribute 10% of the greenhouse gasses warming the earth.
If you can give fabrics a second, third or fourth life by repurposing, why not do it?

“Fiber has always been a community practice, whether based on the necessity of needing to make something or the simple need for fellowship. It’s largely been assigned to women, though not entirely. If you can remove yourself from thinking that what you make has to be perfect, then being creative is
a great experience.”
~ Lauren Callis Erickson

Callis Erickson is both an art therapist and an entrepreneur. She said, “I’m pleased to offer opportunities through the Curiosity Studio in the Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis for adults to explore art as it relates to their whole selves. We offer regular courses and workshops for creative exploration using non-traditional materials.”
Her other venture, called an Upcycled Closet, is in the same location. Callis Erickson provides secondhand items sourced to be functional, sustainable, and expressive. She said, “I’m a staunch believer in buying used, mending it, or making it yourself. I wrote my Master’s thesis on working with used and recycled materials in the art practice. I feel that, as a culture, we have really learned to distance ourselves from our trash – and that has had very negative consequences.”
Brown agreed, saying, “The more removed people are from their trash, the more they feel they can ignore it.” Her areas of specialty are letterpress and silk screen printing, both of which she teaches at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Brown’s studio, called CHEER!, is located in the Casket Arts Building in Northeast Minneapolis.
Also an avid sewer and quilter, Brown said, “I’ve been to so many estate sales where I’ve seen tons of fabric left behind by just one person. Even though I have a bad habit of collecting sewing machines, I don’t ever want to be that person with rooms full of unused fabric.”

Try it yourself
On Jan. 22, Callis Erickson will teach a Bag Making Class from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Seward Coop Franklin Store. All sewing skill levels welcome. On Jan. 25, she will teach a Visible Mending Class from 1-3 p.m. at Winsome Goods. This beginner course is for anyone interested in repairing their own clothes. Learn to use simple, visible stitches to rebuild clothes and make them last longer. Each participant will receive their own mending kit.
Brown concluded, saying, “We believe that the process of creating will bring anyone joy. People seem to have a huge appetite right now for getting out of the house, turning off their phones, and doing something creative. Remember that everything is an experiment, and nothing needs to be perfect.” Her upcoming classes at CHEER! are Learn to Use Your Sewing Machine on Jan. 18, and Block Printing on Fabric on Feb. 1, with other dates coming soon.
For further information, contact Laura Brown at www.laurabrownart.com and Lauren Callis Erickson at www.anupcycledcloset.com and www.curiositystudio.com.

 

 

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WHAT’S DEVELOPING ?

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN

Bergan’s update
Bergan’s Supervalu at Cedar and Minnehaha Parkway has been family owned and operated for 30 years, but it will be torn down and replaced with a new multi-use building that houses a Lunds and Byerlys. The longtime grocery store closed its doors for the last time the week before Christmas 2019.
The new Lunds & Byerlys at 4715 Cedar Ave. will be about 23,500 square feet. Above it will be four stories with 125 apartments. Units will include studio, alcove, one and two-bedrooms.
Under one section of the building will be 30 covered parking stalls, with access to a 35-stall lot in the northeast corner that accesses Longfellow Ave. Another lot off Cedar will have 44 stalls.
A second-level parking garage with 125 stalls will serve the residential units.
In addition to the unit terraces the exterior facades will feature projecting and recessed balconies on upper floors that will allow residents to take advantage of private outdoor space. On the fifth floor and top floor, the building includes an indoor gathering room and outdoor deck for residents to enjoy amenities and views of the parks and lakes adjacent to the site.

Friendship Academy expands
Friendship Academy of the Arts plans to create an upper campus in the existing building at 3320 41st St. E., about three blocks southwest of the 38th St. lightrail station.
The 1.53-acre lot currently has a 28,000-square-foot building that will be rehabilitated to accommodate office and classroom spaces, gymnasium, and cafeteria spaces, and a 2,400-square-foot vestibule will be added. The current one-story millwork building was constructed in 1945.
The existing loading docks adjacent to Dight Ave. will be demolished. A new 24-stall paved parking area and playground will be built north of the building, and a wraparound driveway added along the property’s north and west sides. The project will also include a new sidewalk along Dight Ave. in an area without a current sidewalk on either side of the street.
Once complete, the new campus will serve 350 students in grades second to eighth grade, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.
The proposed redevelopment will include predominantly interior renovations with a small addition to accommodate classroom space. The redevelopment will also include 24-vehicle parking stalls, 46-bicycle parking, increased green space, internal circulation for drop off areas to accommodate traffic flow, and landscaping to screen the proposed parking lot and beautify the parcel.
Friendship Academy of the Arts is a National Blue Ribbon, tuition-free, public charter school located (2600 E. 38th St.) just a few blocks away from the proposed development. The proposed second school location will serve the upper grades of Friendship Academy of the Arts. Founded in 2001 and authorized by Pillsbury United Communities, Friendship Academy of the Arts has a strong track record of addressing the dire opportunity gap for African-American students in Minnesota through its high-quality education and arts program, according to Executive Director Dr. B. Charvez Russell.
Due to family and community demand, FAA is planning to expand from a K-7 program with one section per grade to a PK-8 program with two sections per grade, and is need of additional school facility space. It currently has about 170 students in grades K-7. Students wear uniforms to fosters an equitable and respectful school climate.
Transportation is provided within Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and certain communities on the borderline of these communities. The school expects about 85% of students to come via bus and 10% via car.

Tierra Encantada under
construction on Minnehaha
A new building with the popular incandescent panels found on the University of Minnesota Children’s hospital is under construction along Minnehaha Ave.
The new Tierra Encantada Spanish Immersion Daycare and Preschool (4012 and 4016 Minnehaha Ave.) will open in spring 2020, and is the first site built specifically for the company.
One single-family home was demolished to make room for this new 12,000-square-foot, three-story building. The Hiawatha location will be licensed for approximately 260 children with four infant classrooms, four toddler classrooms, three young preschool classrooms, three inter preschool classrooms, and three pre-k classrooms
A 3,300-square-foot, fenced playground will be constructed in the backyard on a poured rubber surfacing material, and there will be two large indoor gyms.
There will be just four parking spots off the rear of the building. Drop-off for children will occur along Minnehaha Ave.
When full, the center will employ approximately 50 full-time staff, who will all receive medical and dental insurance, paid time off, paid holidays, paid training, and discounted child care.

 

28th bridge, street won’t
reopen until June
Bogged down by record rainfall, an unexpected watermain break, extra coordination with utilities and the early onset of freezing weather, the 28th bridge project over Minnehaha Creek is behind schedule.
It was supposed to be done in 2019, but residents can expect 28th St. to remain closed through June 2020.
The bridge foundations and outside framework have been completed. However, the site has been shut down now through spring when temperatures are warm enough to ensure the concrete decking sets at the appropriate strength to safely support vehicle traffic.
Over winter, crews will install a temporary sidewalk over the creek and will ensure that pedestrian and bike access are maintained across 28th Ave. Additionally, temporary lights, winter maintenance activities and traffic control will be in place during the winter season.
“This delay means a significant impact to nearby residents and continued inconvenience for the whole community,” observed Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson. “I also believe that if Public Works could do anything more to speed up the timeline or restore greater access through the winter, they would. They are doing what they can to make the best of a bad situation. Thank you for understanding and for your continued patience.”

 

 

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‘No one will believe you’

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Abused for years by her dad and a troubled system, Renee and mom are finally free

Renee and mother Nadine fought for some normalcy during her childhood despite her father’s abuse. Today, they are happy to say they are survivors. (Photo submitted)

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
To the outside world, Fred* was a model citizen who worked at the top of the Hennepin County Social Service department as comptroller.
To his family, he was a dictator who was abusive and impossible to please.
His moods were up and down, he was controlling, manipulative, critical, blaming, cruel, rageful, isolating, hateful, belittling and unethical, recalls his daughter, Renee, now age 57.
She and her mother, Nadine, now 77, finally escaped into hiding in 2007 and go by alias identities.

He was careful to never leave visible marks
As comptroller, Fred was in charge of finances for the Social Services Department and Crisis Management.
“He knew the ins and outs of how to work the system,” said Renee.
He’d throw things at his wife and daughter, pulled his wife’s hair, and whipped Renee with a belt, but he was careful to never leave any visible marks.
Diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), anxiety, and depression, Renee doesn’t remember much about her childhood. She’s blocked out most of the memories.
“But I do remember the feelings they provoked, and how the abuse has affected me,” she said.

‘No one will ever believe you’
“Imagine being in an environment so abusive and stressful that as an infant in the womb I did not even want to come out!” Renee said. She was a month overdue, and wasn’t born until her mother had been induced.
At three, she was so stressed and nervous that she had failed to thrive. She was underweight and her hair came out in hand fulls.
She was fearful all the time, didn’t get her needs met, and rarely talked.
“My father controlled everything from when we slept and when, what and if we ate,” recalled Renee. She remembers a house full of yelling, name calling, swearing and threats. Plus, her dad threw things and broke them.
“We walked on eggshells constantly in our home never knowing what would send him into a rage,” said Renee. One day something might be fine, but the next day the same thing would be a major offense. “His rules were always changing, throwing us off on knowing how to behave to prevent one of his explosions. Everything was always our fault (never his), and we were the cause of everything wrong for him.
“We were stupid, lazy, worthless, oversensitive, crazy, emotional cripples and weak. We were told no one would ever hire us, want us or believe us.”
She worked hard to stuff her feelings and emotions so that they weren’t used against her.
“Sometimes my feelings became so intense because of not being allowed to express them that I had to find a way to release them,” she remembered. “I started burning myself when feelings became more than I could possibly hold inside.
“I felt like a teapot about to explode and the burning of flesh felt like letting off steam.”
She didn’t start talking in school until junior high. Her grade school teachers were always telling her mother, “She doesn’t talk.” Her mom wanted to know what she could do. Now they both know that’s a symptom of abuse.
Renee remembers that kids at school thought she was stuck up, but she was just afraid to have friends. She didn’t want others to know what happened in her home, and felt ashamed and embarrassed. She didn’t want to subject any one to her father’s abuse.
She had made that mistake before. She had invited friends over, and Fred accused them unjustly of stealing from him. He caused such a stink in the neighborhood that after that no one was allowed to play with her.
Renee didn’t get to do the usual after-school activities that other kids did, and she wasn’t allowed to work outside of the house. It was another way to control her and keep her dependent financially upon him.
“He was great at finding a person’s weaknesses and using it against them,” observed Renee.
If Renee or her mother enjoyed anything, they paid dearly for it. “I never was sure if it was because dad was jealous or if he just really enjoyed making us miserable,” remarked Renee.
He anticipated any question of leaving by telling them that no one would believe their story. After all, he was a successful comptroller in the social services department. If they couldn’t go there for help, where could they go?

Still paying dearly as an adult
As an adult, the abuse continued although it looked different. When Renee called home to talk to her mom, he would lie and say she wasn’t there. He’d threaten Renee that she couldn’t have anything to do with her mom if she didn’t do what Ed wanted.
When Renee’s husband died, she was left to raise her two stepsons, who were initially treated much better than she was because they were males. At first, Fred spent time and money on them, recalled Renee, but eventually he started to use them for his personal gain and the abuse began for them, too.
“He would often make me chose between my stepsons or my parents and extended family,” said Renee. “I would end up paying dearly for trying to be a good mom to the boys.”
Finally, one day her youngest stepson and the most laid back of the two, did what everyone dreamed about but never had the guts. He punched Fred and left.

Finally, they went into hiding but he used system against them
As he aged, Fred didn’t get any better. Instead, he escalated to threatening them with knives and loaded guns. He manipulated or “bought” friends to carry out some of his dirty work, as well.
Finally, Renee helped her mom leave Hennepin County and they went into hiding together in a new county.
They decided to leave at a time inbetween his rages because they thought he wouldn’t be watching them as closely. To their dismay, they discovered that their local police didn’t understand that line of reasoning. “I think the victim knows the situation best and when to leave,” remarked Renee.
To retaliate, Fred started hiding and getting rid of their assets, along with the things he knew Nadine and Renee cared most about.
“The legal battle in the divorce was a joke,” stated Renee. “My dad blatantly lied through the court hearings and was in contempt of nearly every court order. He was rarely held accountable or punished for refusing to obey court orders.”
He used the court system to harass them by filing false accusations, wasting their time and money to defend themselves. “Nothing was done to stop him from doing this,” said Renee, who is still shocked by how things played out in the court system. “When finally threatened by the courts for jail time, he moved out state so he wouldn’t be arrested.”
Both Renee and Nadine filed for orders of protection, but Fred appealed them. Renee’s remained but her mom’s was removed by Hennepin County Judge Bruce Peterson. This was despite Fred pointing a loaded gun at them both during a rage. “Apparently, leaving a threatening message on my voicemail, confronting us, screaming, and pointing a loaded gun at us was not reason to give my mom the OFP because my dad didn’t say he was going to kill us (that time),” stated Renee. “Apparently, perpetrators have to tell you they are going to kill you before they pull the trigger.”
She was also frustrated by the family court insistence that her mother attend mediation with her abuser in the same room. “How is this going to be productive when the abuser is abusive and controlling?” she asked.
Her parent’s divorce was messy, ugly and complicated, Renee observed, and is now studied by law students.
“We found that the legal/judicial system we always believed in is not just. Victims keep getting re-victimized by the system,” said Renee. “How do we fix a broken system?”
She advocates, “Get involved, have a voice, educate and contact your representatives!”

Shouldn’t be ‘Why doesn’t she leave’ but ‘Why does he do that?’
Renee is working to help people understand the dynamics of abusive households and to recognize what’s happening.
“I feel most people do not understand abuse or people would not ask why doesn’t she leave him? Why not, ‘Why does he mistreat someone who loves him’ or ‘Why is this acceptable in society?’”
She added, “Most people think the abuser is mentally ill because certainly no one in their right mind would behave as the abuser does. But actually, domestic violence is a learned behavior.”
Renee has found support and help at the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (now Violence Free Minnesota), the Alexander House in Anoka, Home Free Community Program, the Domestic Abuse Project, and DomesticShelter.org. She’s also grateful for the various domestic abuse support groups she has been a part of, therapists she’s worked with, doctors and some educated priests. She and her mom benefited from the local food shelf and community action groups.
She recommends that others check out the free app InsightTimer for its meditations, and Lisa A. Romano’s talks.
Today, Renee knows that she is still affected by the abuse she’s lived through. It is part of how she lives and her relationships with others. She’s found it difficult to trust in herself or others. Her self-confidence is low, she has trouble expressing emotions, she replays memories, and doesn’t always want to be touched, and can be jumpy, nervous, and easy to frighten. She suffers from a chronic illness.
But she’s a survivor. One who is working to transcend the wounds of the past, to learn to love herself, and to be comfortable in her own life. She’s got a future filled with hope, laughter and freedom. She believes her future is a gift from God.
* Name changed for protection.
Contact editor at tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com.

Click here to read her mom’s story.

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