A place to call 'home'

November 12, 2007

Efforts to build a faith-based group home in Wright County are underway

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

After watching children fall through the cracks of the foster care system, Wendy Duske of Waverly felt the need to take matters into her own hands.

For 15 years, Duske and her husband, Clifford, were licensed foster parents through the State of Minnesota. She saw firsthand how the system dropped foster children after they graduated or turned 18.

“Unless they go into the service, many of them don’t have any financial support when they become adults,” Duske said.

Because at-risk youth receive no long-term mentoring after being released from the “system,” many end up on welfare, on the streets, or on drugs, according to Duske.

She hopes the Sharington Place, a transitional living group home facility for at-risk youth, will help break the cycle.

“[The system] has got to start changing now,” she added.

By providing an alternative, and shifting to programs like the Sharington Place, change can begin to take effect, according to Duske.

“There is an epidemic in Minnesota . . . there are kids sleeping in cars in Cokato,” she said.

“There is such a great need, but people who don’t work in these areas, don’t see it,” Duske explained.

The vision of the Sharington Place is to help teens deal with adult issues, work with tough youth, deter teens from being placed in adult correctional facilities, promote independence and self-sufficiency in troubled teens, and break the cycle of welfare dependency and repeat placement in treatment.

Most importantly, the Sharington Place will include the Jeremiah Mentoring program, which follows at-risk youth into society to keep a support base in place.

“This is what makes us different from other similar group home-type programs,” Duske said.

Modeled after Minnesota Teen Challenge, the Sharington Place will be faith-based and only open to those who want to be there.

Curtis Levang of Howard Lake has 38 years in education. He, too, has seen his fair share of kids being neglected by the system.

“It’s not the county’s fault. You can’t change the system,” he said.

He believes the missing link in programs funded by the counties and state is the religious aspect.

“Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t begin without a religious base,” Levang said.

The Sharington Place hopes to reach youth and families who may have been in a detention facility in the state, may have contemplated suicide, are at-risk or high risk of failure or repeat offenders, and/or received inappropriate treatment or unsuccessful treatment.

It will include a structured group home, an alternative school, a supervised independent living program, and family-centered services.

This will be a county-based program designed to be duplicated in any county.

The exact location in Wright County is yet to be determined, but it must be adjacent to a town to access city water and sewer, according to Levang.

Wright County sheriff and former foster parent Gary Miller is in support of this vision.

“If you can help a percentage of at-risk youth and change their direction, away from criminality to productivity, it’s a net gain for everyone,” Miller said.

He further explained that if at-risk youth aren’t dealt with while there is still a chance for change, he will be dealing with them on the criminal end.

“We will save money by making smart investments early on. It gets a lot more expensive later – our jail is a good example,” Miller said.

Miller understands change can’t always wait for the leaders of the state and nation.

“Good initiatives are locally grown,” he said.

The board of directors Sharington Place’s have been holding informational meetings with members from the cities of Cokato, Howard Lake, Waverly, Buffalo, and Rockford.

A second phase of informational meetings could include the communities of Monticello, Annandale, Maple Lake, and Delano.

The meetings are to determine if there is enough interest to begin a capital campaign. Levang is hopeful the project will soon be underway.

The board of directors includes Grace Nelson of Cokato, Michael Day of Howard Lake, Curtis Levang of Howard Lake, Robin Holland of Buffalo, Nancy Cassidy of St. Michael, and Duske.

“Children need a program that is church- and community-based – we’re losing kids without that,” Duske said.

“Instead of them becoming productive taxpayers, they are becoming a burden on society,” she added.

Dan Swanson, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cokato, recently attended an informational meeting regarding the Sharington Place.

He was impressed with the plan and the attempt to help at-risk youth.

“I think it’s the kind of thing that can help [youth] who have been in trouble,” Swanson said.

“The strength of success comes from the faith aspect,” he added.

The estimated cost of the project is $1,350,000. The goal to establish the program and to begin building would take $750,000, according to Levang.

The board of directors will continue informational meetings with community leaders to establish the viability of the proposed project.

Anyone interested in being a part of the Sharington Place project can contact Duske at (763) 658-4732 or attend the next meeting at KC Hall in Waverly Friday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 a.m. The meeting will include a light breakfast.