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Meeting the needs of many

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 02/19/2013 1:42 PM

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Leaving for MARL seminar three, "The Needs of Many," was hard.

My youngest was sick and wanted me to stay home. I did, too, but I also wanted to continue my MARL journey.

Fresh snow surprised me on the morning I was to leave for St. Paul. Thankfully, the main roads were in good shape and we made it to St. Paul without incident. Groups traveling from the west weren't so lucky as traffic was backed up on Interstate 35.

I was most anticipating the evening Capitol tour, but while the beauty of the building and the vision and dedication of Cass Gilbert remain in my mind, it's the hands-on experiences we had that linger most prominently as I think back across our three days in St. Paul.

Sue Knott, education specialist with the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, led us in hands-on activities. Our group drew the life cycle of a turkey. Another placed a corn seed and soybean seed in a soda-cracker-sized plastic bag with a wet cotton ball. They placed a string through a hold in the bag and wore it around their neck. Another used markers, water and paper to show the different areas in a watershed.

We all gave a presentation on what we'd done and Knott led us in a power clap after each one. I'm still fighting the urge to use the power clap in other situations where applause is delivered.

Perhaps the most unsettling presentation of the seminar was delivered by Dan Pfarr of Bridge for Youth. Pfarr lives in Minneapolis, but also farms with his brother and sister-in-law in Le Sueur County.

He gave the junction of Interstates 35 and 94 a name I had never heard before: Kiddie track. It's there that children with an average age of 14, who are bought and sold for sex, are sent north or south or east or west.

Minnesota is the 11th largest center for kids being exploited.

"We have a problem here," Pfarr said. "I see what it looks like on their faces when they've experienced this type of trauma."

It doesn't always happen to the other families, he said.

Our class of 30 divided into four groups to tour different non-profits that work with disadvantaged residents, including Bridge for Youth.

Our group went to Neighborhood House in St. Paul, which has been helping people and families develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to thrive since 1897.

There, Sarah Yang and Joan McDonough-Schlecht gave us a tour and answered our questions before leaving us in the food shelf for a community service project.

Neighborhood House provides an array of services, from helping people learn English and ride the bus to tattoo removal for people who want to leave the gang life. They have kitchens where people learn to cook and to preserve food. Many people who use services from Neighborhood House share their skills with others, including a group who led a garden project last year. Neighborhood House offers a safe place for students to work on homework and a place to grow community. They also offer a food shelf.

There's where our group of rural leaders showed strength. We divided into two groups of four, with one group stocking bare shelves and another bagging rice from a 50-pound bag into a smaller bag. I'm guessing it was about four cups of rice in each bag. The time passed quickly and we worked up a sweat. The Neighborhood House people were thrilled. It would have taken them so much longer with their normal volunteer level to accomplish the task.

It reinforced in my mind the power of people working together for a common goal. At first, we tried to have two bagging teams of two. That was slow, but when we came together as a four-person crew, we established a routine and were able to make great progress.

Perhaps that is the greatest lesson I learned in seminar three of Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Class VII: Working together, we'll accomplish great things.

And my daughter? She called the first day of my seminar and said she was feeling better, good enough, in fact, to go to grandmas the next day and spend the night.