Contributed photo
The members of the GROW Frazee Vergas steering committee are taking their 10 months of work and planning in meeting rooms into action with its first event for area youth in the community Saturday, June 11.

By Robert Williams


Since the Frazee-Vergas school district received a Positive Community Norms (PCN) grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services-Behavioral Health Division last July, a steering committee has spent the past 10 months training and learning how to utilize the funds to benefit youth in the surrounding community.

The five-year grant, fiscally hosted by the school district, is focused on preventing substance use of seventh through 12th grade students, but stretches to physical and mental health issues while providing opportunities and activities for area kids.

“It’s a really cool grant because it’s not just saying don’t drink alcohol and don’t use drugs. We have a youth council that has begun and whole sectors of the community coming together and thinking about how we can grow the good in Frazee and Vergas.”

LeeAnn Felix, PCN grant coordinator

The PCN program is in its 15th year. Grants are given to schools that show a need, along with a community that has the capacity to support the program. The grant process began with assistance from Essentia Health and the committee had to produce proof of local support from 12 sectors of the community.

“It had to be a community effort and Essentia Health has supported this community in so many ways,” said Felix.

The local strategic planning committee is made up of co-chairs Karen Pifher and Ryan Seeger, along with Hank Ludtke, Anna Potvin, Mike Riva, Heidi Moen, Tavia Bachmann, Amy Kilde and Felix.

That group has undergone training and built the program to utilize the grant monies from the ground up, starting with the basics, like a positive name change to GROW Frazee Vergas. 

GROW is an acronym for Generating Resilience, Opportunities, and Wellbeing.

From there, the group created a vision statement that: Frazee-Vergas youth are creatively engaged, thriving and resilient in our communities; a mission statement of: we will care for the youth of our communities, provide engaging opportunities, and foster a strong culture of health, along with seven core principles:

• Be Positive – We believe in the future of small towns.

• Be Present – We will actively listen to understand and show up authentically.

• Be Perceptive – We identify challenges to grow opportunities.

• Be Purposeful – We will achieve positive change with community partners through intentional planning and action.

• Be Perfected – We are dedicated to continuous improvement and growth. 

• Be Proactive – We will act through positive intentions to shape our communities.

• Be Passionate – We will celebrate the positive and inspire hope.

With regards to substance use, the strategic planning committee used data from the Minnesota student survey on the topic. Those numbers can help contradict perceptions and help kids focus on positive activities.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing the next five years,” said Felix. “Hopefully changing misperceptions that people might have. For example, what we’re seeing in the surveys is kids think all their peers are using, but when we look at the data it’s not the same percentages. Usually, they think 80 percent of their peers are using, but they’re not.”

The committee wants to empower and build up the skills kids use, while shining a light on positive activities already in place, for example, the school district’s Day of Caring.

“There are so many groups in the schools doing so many good things,” Felix said

The committee has partnered with CornerStone, hoping to utilize the center for activities, including the first event during “Take a Kid Fishing Weekend” from June 10-12 beginning at 9 a.m.

On June 11, kids will be able to pick up a free fishing gear bag and tackle box. 

The fishing gear for the event was donated by Steve Wolff.

“That is such a great thing that he went and did this all by himself,” said Felix.

The committee is currently completing 50 one-on-one conversations with adult individuals in both Vergas and Frazee to get a feel on what people’s views are on different topics.

“We’re trying to get a broad sample from people who have thoughts on preventing youth substance use and really getting to know what they care about,” said Felix. “I know there are so many people that care about youth in our communities.”

One goal is to meet the needs of students, not just concentrating on substance use.

“If students have even just one positive role model that can make a huge difference in the choices they make,” said Felix. “We want to help build up their protective factors. What can we do to help students and help them to deal with issues in the right way.”

Upcoming events this summer include interactive booths at both Looney Days and Turkey Days.

GROW Frazee Vergas is welcome to volunteers who desire to join the group. The group meets on the third Wednesday of each month from 4:30-6 p.m. The next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, June 15 at the fire hall. That meeting will include a presentation from regional prevention coordinator Melissa Perreault.

For more information, contact LeeAnn Felix, PCN Grant Coordinator at (218) 334-3181 ext. 5339 or email

If you go:

What: Got Tackle? A free kids fishing gear event

When: Saturday, June 11, 9 a.m.

Where: CornerStone, 200 2nd Street West, Frazee

Available: Free rod and reel combos, tackle boxes, food, giveaways and fishing tips

(1 rod/reel combo per child and 1 tackle box per family while supplies last)