By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Sometimes, boundaries between different groups get in the way of cooperation, but in Lester Prairie, several groups have found ways to work together for the common goal of showing students that someone cares.
The groups, which include Lester Prairie Schools, several churches, the Lester Prairie Police Department, and members of the community, including some local business owners, have been working together for more than four years.
The group is formally called the Lester Prairie Community Task Force on Children and Adolescents, but most people just call it the task force.
“The purpose is to give kids an interaction with adults that might not otherwise exist,” task force member Eric Angvall commented.
Angvall, owner of Angvall Hardware & Mercantile, explained that he and Fred Holasek, owner of Fred Holasek and Son Greenhouses, were among the first business owners to get involved with the group.
“Relationships have been created, and not just with people who are paid to care,” Angvall said.
An offshoot of the task force is the free lunch program, which started as an outreach to students in the city. Each month, volunteers at one of the local churches prepare lunch for the students. The program rotates among four area churches; Bethel Lutheran Church, Prairie Community Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, and St. Peter Lutheran Church.
Students are bussed to lunch in two shifts, junior high and senior high.
According to Angvall, the lunches provide an informal setting in which the students can get to know adult members of the community.
“The volunteers enjoy it,” Angvall said. “Kids breathe life into the town, and we, as adults, enjoy interacting with the kids.”
The volunteers also have a chance to learn about the students.
“I was surprised at how polite they are,” Pastor Dave Erbel of St. Peter Lutheran Church commented. “They always say ‘thank you.’”
Erbel noted that it was the students’ choice to attend the lunches.
“They are very pleasant to be around,” he added.
One of the goals of the task force is to give students options. If they find themselves in difficult circumstances, they may have other adult members of the community that they feel comfortable talking to, Angvall added.
“They learn that we are not the enemy,” he said. “When they see us on the street, there is a friendly recognition. It sends a strong message.”
The group also provides a forum in which representatives from the school, law enforcement, churches, and the business community can get together and discuss problems and come up with solutions.
Recently, the group has brought students into some of the meetings to get their perspective on issues.
The group also tries to provide fun activities for the students.
The task force recently purchased a Wii game system for the students.
“This is a way for the kids to learn something and to work as a team. It is a new way for them to interact, and it is something their community gave them,” Angvall said.
In some cases, the students have had contests using the game system, and the prizes have also been donated by members of the community.
The task force has received funding from 3M grants for three years, but did not receive a grant this year.
The group has also received donations, including donations from Bethel Lutheran Church for the past three years. The Lester Prairie Lions have also donated funds to the group.
Angvall said because the group did not receive a grant this year, it will need to reach out to other sources to fund its activities.