By Robert Williams
CornerStone Youth and Community Center executive director Mackenzie Hamm and Becky “Anderson” Schmitz, a 2003 Frazee-Vergas graduate, have found common ground in helping young people deal with mental health issues.
Schmitz is attending Turkey Days and emceeing the Miss Frazee pageant on the 20th anniversary of the year she won the crown. Since then, she has built a career in mental health and is currently the executive director of Vikingland Community Support Program, a non-profit in Alexandria that provides adult rehabilitative mental health services in Douglas, Pope and Stevens counties.
Each week, she posts videos discussing specific topics amidst light-hearted pokes at the always changing Minnesota weather but with a constant theme of thinking positively regardless of one’s situation.
Hamm has been watching Schmitz’s videos for years and found that they had a theme that worked for her personally and would also work for kids at CornerStone.
“I started watching Becky during COVID and I’ve known her and her family forever,” said Hamm. “I saw her start posting things and I said I better watch it. I needed her. It was one of those days, we were kind of sitting here and I happened to be on Facebook and she popped back up and I said to the kids, ‘we’re going to watch Becky today.’”
Schmitz made a special visit to CornerStone Friday afternoon to meet some of those kids.
“Knowing that these guys are listening, it’s given me a new purpose,” she said.
For the last three weeks, kids have been taking what they’ve learned from watching Schmitz’s videos on Mondays and Tuesdays and sharing those messages on the chalkboard walls of the youth center.
“It’s been fun to see their pictures posted and what they have written on the chalkboard and it’s given me new motivation and topics,” said Schmitz.
Adding young people to her audience breathed some life into what can be a formulaic and duplicating task each week.
“I’ve been doing these for so long now, to me it got repetitive even though I know it’s important,” Schmitz said. “Everything you teach an adult still applies to a child in some sort of way and kids, more than ever, need us now. This whole teen mental health thing is huge and it’s something I am going to get more active with in Alexandria too. It’s fun to see it happening here.”
Schmitz’s efforts have also been a boon to Hamm’s work at CornerStone.
“I think it’s important and I see things in them when they’re struggling to be positive about things, so we bring up Becky’s stuff,” she said. “It’s been wonderful and they like her. I think that it’s even more of a connection for them knowing she’s from Frazee and graduated from Frazee.
Schmitz sent CornerStone a package of resources, including her toolbox
Coming together has been a benefit to both program directors.
“It’s taken me by surprise a little bit,” said Schmitz. “Primarily, at Vikingland, I work with adults and that’s what I’m used to. Four months ago, the teen thing began to progress a bit in Alexandria. Some kids had reached out to our agency there. So, when Mackenzie reached out about it here I just knew there is a need and there isn’t that much out there for teens.
Seeing CornerStone in person was a delight for the former Miss Frazee.
“We have a few programs in Alexandria but not like this,” she said. “It’s not a rec center and I love all the worksheets on the wall. It’s just easy access tools that they can either read, take what they want, do what they want and most importantly, be something positive.”
Many of the messages Schmitz shares in her videos have been a benefit to Hamm with her kids.
“One day, it was almost like it was meant to be what she was talking about,” Hamm said. “We have a mix of kids here and they don’t always get along. That’s alright. We talked about how to have a healthy relationship with people you don’t necessarily have to be friends with, you don’t have to be friends with everybody here. I was trying to get these things across and Becky happened to be talking about it.”
Schmitz hopes to do more in-person activities with kids at CornerStone and share her toolbox with them. She writes for a health blog and through that effort she created her mental health toolbox, a treatment utility she made where she matches a tool with a coping skill that she uses in her practice.
Schmitz also emphasizes how her own experiences have been an aid in how she can help others.
“Absolutely, most of the things I’m talking about and the only reason I can talk the way I do to the camera is because I’ve been through my own things,” she said. “I have empathy and understanding for the topics I’m talking about because I’ve been there, done that. I get it. If I didn’t ever have any kind of experiences in life I wouldn’t have any real-life knowledge to be able to apply. Whatever you want to talk about we can talk about.”
Schmitz excels in being relatable to a wide audience in her videos. Part of that is the willingness to occasionally be a little silly despite dealing with serious issues.
“It’s fun to hear that it’s actually helpful,” said Schmitz. “I would like to believe that my cheesiness and ridiculousness sometimes allows me to be flexible in all age groups. I don’t want to be serious all the time. There’s a time and place for it when we’re talking about certain things, but for the most part, I want things to be simple and real. If people wanted to hear serious information, they’d go to therapy every day. A lot of people aren’t interested in that. Be straight up with me.”
Schmitz also recognized the benefit a place like CornerStone is to contemporary kids and teenagers, something that was not present while she was growing up in Frazee.
“It would have been interesting to have these opportunities in high school 20 years ago when I was in high school—a fun place like this to pop down to after school and hang out. We didn’t have that,” she said.
Schmitz’s videos can be viewed on her Facebook and LinkedIn pages.