I was a hairdresser for 40 years and had my own shop, but after knee surgery, I couldn’t pump my chair, so I retired at 58 years old – almost too young. My husband Joe and I moved to our cabin in Moose Lake, Minnesota. When I first arrived in town (pop. 2780) I thought, “It’s too quiet.” That’s when my encore started with the Kids Plus after school program funded by the Northland Foundation.
Its overall goal is to improve the well-being of children and youth in northeastern Minnesota, especially in rural and low-income areas. It encourages youth to volunteer and connects them with older adults as mentors.
The Kids Plus program runs 3 days a week after school offering classes the students can pick from. After a trip to Norway and Sweden, I was asked to teach a class on genealogy for the 2nd to 6th graders in the program. We have a lot of Scandinavians in our area and the young people have no idea who they are, or where their grandparents came from. I also teach making fleece blankets and knitting and crocheting. We also have woodwork, outdoor hiking, cooking, baking, archery. I brought an older fellow in who taught the kids how to make cribbage boards. Cribbage is a big thing in Minnesota. He had 18 kids in that class.
When I first started, I mentored a set of 10-year old boy twins named Tyler and Maverick. The teachers couldn’t handle them, their parents were called to school all the time. They were like my own boys, hyper, super-intelligent but bored out of their minds. We got to be buddies.
When they were in 6th grade, they wanted to play football, but they were bullied out of it. I told them, “You march back there and talk to the coach. Do not even look at those kids who are harassing you.” They got on a team and played. Now they’re going to graduate this year.
The biggest impact I see from this work is children being educated about respecting people in their 70s and up, and I see older people getting used to being around kids again. There is more self-esteem among the kids, and they know that not only their parents, but their grandparents and neighbors, are working together to help.
My new plan is to go into the senior high-rises here and get people into the schools to help us. Whatever you know how to do, help these young people learn it. We don’t have home economics in the schools anymore, barely any music. We older people need to fight for these kids and teach them what we know.
I tell the volunteers, “If you can reach one of these children, you’ve done your job.” I guess that is why I am still there; the children need me and I need them.