By Robert Williams
Sandy Oelfke, a Frazee native and 1983 graduate of Frazee-Vergas High School, has taken over the Youth Coordinator position at CornerStone Youth and Community Center and brings a wealth of experience instructing kids to the job. ¶ Like Executive Director Mackenzie Hamm, Oelfke has a personal connection to the building that houses CornerStone, a donation from Frazee United Methodist Church. ¶ “This used to be my church that we’ve gone to all my life,” said Oelfke. “Our church family was always wanting to do something with the youth, so this worked out perfectly. We’re able to help out the youth and we’re able to accommodate the elderly more at our one-level church.”
Oelfke attended North Dakota State University right out of high school and earned a veterinary technology degree. She worked as a veterinary assistant in Detroit Lakes and Perham for a decade. She left the veterinary field after developing severe allergies and to care for her son, who had open-heart surgery at a young age. She stayed at home for a year during his recovery.
Sandy and her husband Rob have been married 38 years. Rob and Sandy graduated together at Frazee and rode the same school bus since early childhood but did not begin dating until after graduation.
The couple have two sons, Jesse, an attorney at Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota in Brainerd and Sam, an IT programmer and analyst at BTD Manufacturing in Detroit Lakes. Sam also has a son Jameson the Oelfke’s first grandson.
Sandy returned to the workforce by volunteering in the classroom and was a paraprofessional for many years. After transferring to the high school, she was then-principal Terry Karger’s secretary. Next up was a teacher’s aide position for Mahube-Otwa.
She returned to college for her teaching degree in 2014 when Sam graduated and she taught in Menahga as the school’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) coordinator. An ECFE position opened in Frazee and she took that position before finding the CornerStone opening this past July.
She officially took over duties in late August replacing Katie Grindall, who took a position with CornerStone’s first executive director and current board member Karen Pifher’s Creating Community Consulting firm.
Oelfke’s work at CornerStone is reuniting her with many kids she taught as elementary students.
“I know a majority of the kids that I’ve had in pre-school and we can enjoy learning things here together,” said Oelfke. “I kind of jumped in and things were busy here.”
Oelfke has led youth volunteer trips to the Frazee Care Center this past summer where kids participated in magic shows and played bingo with residents.
“It was fun to see how kind they were to those folks over there and how they enjoyed that interaction,” Oelfke said.
Another aspect of working with kids is providing them safe spaces and allowing them to use that in a constructive manner, either in activities or just having a place to wind down from the school day.
“Kenzie and I are figuring out where we fit together and just seeing how kids come after school. They just need that downtime,” Oelfke said. “A lot of people feel we have to have something planned every day for them. We have things out that are planned that they can opt to do. It gives them time to talk to friends; they just need to be a kid.”
Prepping for the kids’ arrival is a big part of the job, along with supporting Hamm in the continual evolution of the center in its first full year open.
“We’re open but we’re in the growing stages yet,” said Oelfke. “We’re still learning how things will work.
Oelfke also attends meetings, like the Positive Community Norms (PCN) grant program in Brainerd but on by the Montana Institute. The school district is currently using a PCN grant in the GROW Frazee-Vergas program led by grant coordinator Heidi Moen.
“That was good to learn how that connection is and I can use it here,” she said. “We can use it to promote CornerStone and GROW Frazee-Vergas. We’re serving the same kids; whatever we do we’re doing it for the greater good.”
Oelfke also credits members of the community for their efforts in helping CornerStone become a reality – even as it continues to be a work in progress with a potential date for completion of the upstairs bistro and art and performance center by early 2024.
“What’s really cool for me and the kids is we get to meet different community members when they come in and volunteer,” said Oelfke. “Which is great because there is so much going on.”
On top of the continuing construction process, CornerStone is on the verge of completing three different fundraisers in October.
A Call-a-thon campaign was held Friday, Oct. 13 that raised an incredible $94,000 to complete the center’s capital campaign. Donations were matched up to $25,000 by Lakeshirts of Detroit Lakes and an anonymous donor.
“The kids were so excited to see that; they couldn’t believe it,” Oelfke said. “That was just such a blessing.”
Last Wednesday, one of CornerStone’s youth Kylee St. Germain was at the center completing her walk-through clown painting entrance that was installed at last weekend’s Haunted Forest. St. Germain completed the project with good friend Ariel Mingo. The Haunted Forest was held in Hank Ludtke Riverside Park and included a spooky walk through the woods by the river Friday and Saturday night for area kids.
The final event, CornerStone’s first Arts and Giving Gala will be held Saturday, Oct. 28 from 5-8:30 p.m., at the Event Center, with performances by That Midwestern Mom Amber Estenson and youth from the center.
The Gala will include a live auction, silent auction, raffles, food and entertainment. The event begins with social time and the silent auction at 5 p.m., followed by dinner and awards at 6 p.m. The live auction and performances are slated for 7 p.m.
A $50 ticket includes entrance and dinner. Tickets are available at the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce or at CornerStone.
“The Gala is a fundraiser and a way to bring awareness of the artistry in our community,” said Oelfke. “What is most exciting is we have an hour of kids performing. I’m excited about that.”
The gala is partly a precursor for what is to come upstairs at CornerStone when the art gallery, bistro and performance center are completed.
Away from the events, there is plenty of work to do in the office coordinating grants and Oelfke has gotten the kids involved in that aspect, as well.
“There are other aspects of the job—the paperwork end of the building,” said Oelfke. “We’re progressing and we have grants with certain stipulations we have to meet, for instance, we have started a youth advisory council here that meets once a month, so we’re going to have them go over our policies and procedures. We want their input too.”
Oelfke has made a career out of being a support for people of all ages, working stints at the library and at Neighbor to Neighbor while she was getting her teaching degree. A fitting career for someone named Sandra, which means “protector of humanity” and “defender of people.”
“That is accurate; I want to see people do well and I want to see the kids do well too,” she said. “I don’t care if you are 2 or 80, people just want to be treated with kindness, listened to and cared about.”
Get the most up to date information on CornerStone at www.cornerstonefrazee.org or the center’s Facebook page.