Tag Archives: Minnesota

Organizations and volunteers based in Minnesota

A Rotta Love Plus

A Rotta Love Plus

In school this past spring, my daughter was given an assignment to write a persuasive letter to her parents.  She attempted to persuade us to get a dog…I think she may have convinced her father, but not me or the cats.  Today’s organization is working to persuade people to understand two specific dog breeds: Rottweilers and pit bulls.

In 1997, A Rotta Love was founded as the first nonprofit Rottweiler rescue organization in Minnesota.  In 2003, A Rotta Love and a Twin Cities’ bit bull rescue named Pits Plus merged to become A Rotta Love Plus.  The organization is a comprehensive and proactive all-volunteer advocacy organization that uses multiple strategies to further their mission of re-homing Rottweilers and pit bulls in Minnesota, raising breed awareness, educating the public about responsible pet ownership, and advocating for the humane and equal treatment of all dogs without prejudice.  They are based in Golden Valley, Minnesota, but they serve the entire greater Twin Cities area.



A Rotta Love Plus has several programs that further their mission.  Their foster and adoption program takes a “quality-over-quantity” approach to carefully select the dogs that they bring into the program and the homes where they are fostered and adopted.  They also offer ongoing assessment and support for their dogs to ensure ongoing success for the animals.  They rehome approximately 30 to 40 dogs each year.

A Rotta Love Plus builds and foster strong relationships between dogs and owners through their Rott n’ Pit Ed training classes.  These classes, free to fosters and dogs who have been adopted through their organization, offer owners a variety of tools to ensure the right approach is taken for each dog as an individual.  They also offer a Dog Safety/Humane Education program that offers education to youth, adults, and organizations on the humane treatment of animals and reduces the risk of dog bites.  Between 2009 and 2012, this program reached nearly 4,000 individuals.  They also offer free spays, neuters, vaccinations in addition to low-cost micro-chips to pit bulls and Rottweilers.



This year they partnered with the Minneapolis Police Department, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, and the Minneapolis Public Schools to bring a Dog Safety program to local elementary schools.  In just one semester, they conducted 46 classes where a group facilitator and two or three volunteers with their trained pit bull or Rottweiler visit a classroom and educate student on the humane treatment of animals and reduction of dog bite risk.

Another program offered by A Rotta Love Plus is their PRIORITY Paws (Pit Bull and Rottweiler Interactive OutReach Instruction and Therapy for Youth) program where they conduct dog-therapy groups with youth in crisis who reside in local youth-services organizations.  The stories of abuse, neglect, and negative social perception of the pit bulls and Rottweilers provide the youth with a powerful parallel that often mirrors their own experiences.  This can inspire the youth and enable them to work through their own crisis using the lessons and skills that only the dogs can teach.  In 2012, their PRIORITY Paws program gave about 700 at-risk youth experience with this unique program.

Sara Nick, Communications Director for A Rotta Love Plus shared just one of their many success stories:

This is the story of Prim, a beautiful brindle pit bull. Prim endured the first couple years of her life in a heart-wrenchingly abusive situation – without going into the ugly details, suffice it to say that when she wound up in a local animal control, it was like heaven on earth. (Food! Rest! Kindness!) Eventually, Prim ran out of time at animal control, but two ARLP volunteers, who were freshly mourning the loss of their 10-year-old pit bull to cancer, decided to push through their heartache and open their home to another dog in need through fostering. ‘When we saw her face and heard her story, we knew without words that we wanted to save her,’ they said. As soon as Prim was in their car, ‘despite not having a clue where she was going, she was smiling ear to ear!’

Ever so gently, Prim’s new fosters took the time to earn her trust. They slowly introduced her to the sights, sounds, smells, and other animals of their household. Prim adjusted well (REALLY well) to their routine and lifestyle, so it came as no surprise when we heard the news not long after that they decided to make Prim a permanent member of their family. In their words, ‘Prim brought life back into our family. She will stop doing whatever she’s doing to come kiss us and let us hold her. She has so much love that she wants to give, and we want to be the ones to give her every success in life.’”



How can you help?

The organization’s greatest volunteer need is for foster homes which allow them to save a pit bull or Rottweiler and place them in a loving home until their forever family can be found.  Foster families are provided with everything they need to be successful, including food and supplies as well as free training and support.  Learn more about their foster program on their website.

A list of other current volunteer opportunities can be found here.  You can also give a monetary donation, including dog sponsorships. They also have a wish list of in kind donations.

You can also attend any of their adoption events.  On Saturday, August 10 from 4 to 7 PM, they have a “Beer and Dogs” event at Nomad World Pub (501 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis) where people will have an opportunity to meet some of the dogs they have available for adoption.

You can learn more about A Rotta Love Plus on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter or follow their blog.


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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

The legal system can be a difficult place to navigate for anyone, but imagine a child in foster care or a homeless young adult trying to navigate the system without any professional guidance.  Today’s organization was founded to help these kids.

In 1995, an interdisciplinary group of attorneys, social workers, youth workers, judges, teachers, pediatricians, and other children’s advocates in Minnesota realized a need to create an organization that focused on increasing the impact and effectiveness of legal advocacy for foster care and at-risk children.  They established the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota in order to help them through some difficult situations and help prepare them for successful adult lives ahead.

The mission of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota is to promote the rights and interests of Minnesota’s children, especially children of color and children with disabilities, in the judicial, child welfare, health care, and education systems.  The organization’s vision is that through their work, abused and neglected youth achieve stability, hope, and opportunity.

Since their founding, the organization has trained over 650 volunteer attorneys, represented more than 1,800 foster children, and helped promote systemic change and advocacy for vulnerable youth throughout the state.  The majority of the organization’s volunteers are trained to provide legal representation for youth who are at-risk, homeless, or in foster care.  Other volunteers work on special projects such as legal research, copyediting, and graphic design in addition to other legal, paralegal, social work, and administration volunteers and interns.

Today, they serve over 560 child clients each year.  They also collaborate with individuals and organizations in the county, court, educational, and health care systems to support coordinated efforts to ensure the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable youth are legally met and optimized.

The Children’s Law Center also works on reform efforts that result in policies, procedures, and legislation that protects the safety and stability of foster populations.  They also provide education to lawyers, judges, social workers, educators, school administrators, law enforcement officials, youth, and other youth serving professionals on the issues that youth in foster care or at-risk situations face.

To better understand the difference that the organization makes, Heather Wolfgram, Director of Development, shared Steven’s story with me:

“Until he was 10, Steven lived with his mom and her boyfriend who was a pimp and drug dealer. The boyfriend routinely beat up Steven and his mom. Steven watched as the boyfriend killed his mother. Child protection placed Steven with his father who had remarried. Steven’s step mother hated and abused him. Eventually, Steven’s father kicked him out of the house and he ended up on the streets. Steven reentered the child protection system where he bounced from foster home to foster home and school to school. He began to act out at school, was put in detention almost daily, and was then placed in a special education program. This all happened before Steven was 14.

Children’s Law Center (CLC) was court appointed to represent Steven when he was 14. When the volunteer attorney took the case, child protection was about to place Steven in a residential treatment program for kids with mental health problems. The CLC attorney fought to keep him out of the facility and to get the mental health assessment that he had never been given. That assessment determined institutionalization was not needed. The attorney then fought to get Steven a stable placement where he felt welcomed and comfortable. The attorney also advocated for an education assessment that resulted in Steven being removed from the special education program and put into a mainstream high school program. As a result, Steven graduated from high school. Finally, the attorney fought the county’s efforts to discharge Steven from the foster care system on his 18th birthday and successfully advocated for transitional living education and funding for living expenses and job training. Steven currently has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.”

You can also watch Sophie’s story below:

How can you help?

  • Children’s Law Center is always in need of financial support from individuals or corporations.  You can donate via their website.
  • They also have a wish list of in-kind goods and services they are seeking on their website.
  • They also have opportunities for lawyers to provide pro-bono attorney services.  You can find information on their website.
  • In addition, they are looking to partner with groups to put together birthday and graduation packages filled with items such as boxed cake mix, frosting, a card, and a gift card for the youth they work with.  Please contact them to arrange a donation.

To learn more about Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, you can visit their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Liz’s Daughter

Liz’s Daughter

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.  Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

Marie Garza was inspired to make a difference.  It wasn’t just one thing that inspired her.  When she was a young girl, she witnessed her father hold a knife to her mother’s throat and has memories of her mother’s screams.  She witnessed her aunt being dragged into the street by her hair and her face beat into the concrete.  Marie then entered into a verbally abusive relationship of her own.  The final inspiration came when she watched the story about Gladys Ricart, a woman who was shot and killed in her wedding gown by an abusive ex-boyfriend just hours before wedding another man.

In 2010, Marie Garza started the Twin Cities Brides March Against Domestic Violence, an event where participants (many dressed in wedding apparel) march through the streets of Saint Paul, Minnesota to raise awareness and honor those who have lost their lives to domestic violence.  The event is inspired by a Brides March in New York that has been held in honor of Gladys Ricart.

Marie also founded Liz’s Daughter, an organization to help those battered in domestic violence named after her mother, Elizabeth Garza.  They are not a shelter.  Marie wants to get in front of domestic violence to work on prevention rather than reaction.  Education and awareness is the only way to stop the generational cycle of abuse in families.

Most domestic violence organizations are not run by survivors of domestic violence and abuse, but Liz’s Daughter is different because Marie is a survivor turned advocate who wants to gather the strength of other survivors who are no longer in abusive relationships.  Marie believes there are new solutions that can be implemented to solve this old problem of domestic violence and abuse.  One such solution is Girlz Take ‘N Action, an after-school program in her old neighborhood on the west side of St. Paul that shows young girls how abusive relationships impact women.

How can you help?

  • For those near Saint Paul, Minnesota, you can sign up to participate in the Twin Cities Brides March Against Domestic Violence held this year on Friday, June 21, 2013.  Please visit for more information!
  • They are also looking for event sponsors.  You can learn more about sponsorship opportunities on the event’s website.
  • Other opportunities include help with their marketing, fundraising, photography, videography, social media, website updates, grant writing, graphic design, and more!
  • They are looking for people with a background in politics or legislation to assist them with the passage of bills to protect women.
  • In addition, they are seeking help from future and current law enforcement officers to start changing the police academy curriculum to increase the number of training hours for handling domestic calls.  These additional training hours can help officers to be educated about the cultural and social issues involved in domestic abuse situations.
  • If you are interested in any of these volunteer opportunities, please contact Liz’s Daughter at

Learn more about Liz’s Daughter on their website,  You can also connect with them on Twitter, Facebook or via e-mail.


Posted by on May 15, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Smile Network

Smile Network

I recently saw a story about encore careers on the news.  According to, encore careers combine personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good.  Today’s organization was founded by someone seeking a change and an opportunity to do something more meaningful.

In May of 2003, Kim Valentini decided to leave the corporate world to make a difference.  In an interview in Minnesota Business, Kim said that she had a desire to do something more with her life.  She “wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have one.  What we all have in common is a need to belong…when you’re a child born with a disfigurement, you don’t fit in.”

Kim Valentini with Farzhad

Kim Valentini with Farzhad

Kim started by committing five hours a week to a charitable cause with a goal of creating one mission site in Mexico and gifting 50 smiles per year.  However, those five hours quickly turned to 55 hours per week and Smile Network International was born.  Smile Network is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and provides life-altering reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults around the world.

Since 2003, Smile Network has developed 24 surgical sites in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Armenia, India, Ecuador, and Uganda.  They recently completed their 50th mission and have provided 2,500 new smiles through their free surgeries.



Each of these 2,500 surgeries have changed a life, here are just a few of their stories:

  • Eliseo was 72 years old and had never known what it was like to sit at a table and share a meal with family because food would come out his nose.  He was born with a cleft palate and abandoned at birth.  With tears in his eyes, he begged the Smile Network team to take a risk to operate on him stating that he would rather die than to continue living this way.  This simple request was hard to deny.
  • Rosealva was a little girl abandoned by her family and left to die under a blanket because of her cleft lip.  She was was given a new life after she was found by a local mission team and brought to the Smile Network mission site.
  • David’s mother was forced to walk to the end of her village and leave her infant son to die because they thought he would bring a curse to the village causing their crops and livestock to die.  Instead, she kept walking to a mission site where David received an operation.  She and David returned to village to be reunited with their family.

Same Child

You can watch a video of one of the Smile Network’s trips to Peru from an episode of On The Road with Jason Davis from KSTP TV to see some more moving stories of lives changed.

How can you help?

  • Smile Network’s Champions of Children program allows students and schools to raise money to fund surgeries.  You can learn more about his program and read stories of schools who have participated on the organization’s website.
  • Their Global Ventures program offers individuals and groups a chance to raise money to hike the Inca Trail or Mount Kilimanjaro to bring about change.  At the end of your hike, you participate in the screening process to identify the candidates for surgeries.  To learn more about this program and to hear from others who have participated, visit their website.
  • You can also volunteer for a surgical mission to help transform lives around the world.  You can find the mission schedule and more information on their website.
  • The easiest thing to do is to make a donation.  It takes just $500 to pay for an entire surgery.  A donation of $250 covers the surgical supplies for one child, $100 covers a child’s medication, and $50 covers the care kit given to each child.  You can make a donation directly on their website.

To learn more about the Smile Network, visit their website,  You can follow them on Facebook or Twitter or contact them via phone at 612-377-1800.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Face It Foundation

Face It Foundation

“Six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year. But millions more suffer silently, unaware that their problem has a name or unwilling to seek treatment.  The result is a hidden epidemic of despair that is destroying marriages, disrupting careers, filling jail cells, clogging emergency rooms and costing society billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical bills. It is also creating a cohort of children who carry the burden of their fathers’ pain for the rest of their lives.” – Julie Scelfo (from a 2007 article named Men and Depression: Facing Darkness in Newsweek)

Today’s organization is focusing on men facing depression.  Roughly 12% of men experience depression in their lifetime, but men are less likely than women to seek treatment for their depression.  Untreated depression is the primary cause of suicide, and suicide is the 7th leading cause of death for men in the United States.

Mark Meier founded Face It Foundation after his own first-hand experience avoiding his own depression for 14 years.  Mark’s depression caused him to avoid his wife and be “useless as a parent.”  He had no tolerance for his children’s needs or requests, so he avoided them, wasn’t engaged in their life, or was angry at them.  One night, he quickly put his children to bed after his wife had gone to work.  He turned to his usual distraction of alcohol then retreated to his bedroom where he sat with a gun in his mouth.  Before he could pull the trigger, his then nine month old daughter cried and jolted Mark back to reality.  He was soon thereafter admitted to the hospital by his wife and slowly gained control over his life.  That was seven years ago.  Mark now has a successful consulting practice, serves as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota, and travels the United States speaking, training, and building programs about depression.  You can read the detailed story from Mark here.

Guys get depressed, but are often too stubborn, proud, or unaware of their symptoms to address it.  Thoughts such as only women get depression or that you can just get over it are common among men.  Many men also tend to be taught not to talk about their problems in public.  These are some reasons why men are often unwilling to consider treatment for depression.  Mark founded the Face It Foundation to help, “Depression in men is common, but far too often men don’t recognize they are suffering from depression and equally often when they know they are suffering it is difficult to talk to someone.  Face It wants men to know that depression is treatable, but to begin the recovery process a man must come forward.”

The mission of Face It Foundation is to work with men to understand and overcome depression through education, online tools, and peer support.  Their website offers a wealth of information including signs and symptoms of depression, frequently asked questions, real life stories, treatment options, articles, videos, podcasts, and more.

Mark told me in an e-mail, “The treatment for depression is complicated and has many facets.  The use of antidepressants and psychotherapy are the primary approaches used, but many men reject both of these options.  Face It believes that there are many ways to deal with depression and the first step is to begin talking to others who understand the issue.”

You can hear more about the founder and the Face It mission in this short video:

How can you help?

  • You can spread the word about the information available on the Face It website.
  • You can read the stories and articles on the Face it website if you feel depression may be impacting a man in your life, then utilize the tips for discussing depression from Face It.
  • You can also support the mission of Face It by making a monetary donation.
  • Face It is also seeking men who have gone through depression and are willing to be peer mentors to other men.  You can contact Face It Foundation via e-mail or phone (612-600-3953) if you are interested in helping with this online peer connector system.
  • In July, the third annual Alive at the Market event will benefit the Face It Foundation.  You can learn more about this event and how to volunteer or donate to the silent auction at

You can learn more about Face It Foundation on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, via e-mail, or their blog.

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center

Most of the organizations I write about are places I have never visited.  In December, I visited today’s organization along with my family.  The Raptor Center was an interesting place to visit and an organization that has been ensuring the health of raptors since 1974.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Gary Duke, a faculty member at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, was conducting some research on grain-eating turkeys.  Dr. Patrick Redig, a veterinary student was working with Duke when four baby great horned owls offered them an opportunity to expand their research to avian meat-eaters.  Redig offered to care for the resident owls as well as other birds that they did not need for their research.  He also began to repair their injuries and return them to the wild, pioneering avian orthopedic and anesthetic techniques that are still used by avian veterinarians today.

Omaha the Red Tailed Hawk

Some of the birds were unable to be released back to the wild, so he used these live birds to educate the general public about raptor behavior, habitat, and threats to their survival.  Since their founding in 1974, The Raptor Center has become an internationally renowned education facility.  The Raptor Center has also made a huge difference for raptors including the Midwest Peregrine Falcon Restoration Project which helped remove the Peregrine Falcon from the endangered species list, a book named Medical Management of Birds of Prey that details medical and surgical techniques for birds of prey, a manual named Raptors in Captivity: A Guide to Care and Management that has been adopted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as their standard on captive raptor management, among many other accomplishments listed on their website.

In 2012, The Raptor Center received nearly 800 patients including eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons.  These birds are all raptors because they have hooked beaks, sharp talons, and sharp talons.  When we visited in December 2012, they had 52 bird patients.  One long term winged ambassador resident is Leuc, a male bald eagle that has called The Raptor Center home since 1983.  He arrived with a broken right wing.  It healed but left him unable to fly.  In 1999, Leuc was also treated for a cancerous tumor on his right leg.  Luec has served as an education bird at the center since he was unable to be released back into the wild.

Luec from The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center reaches over 250,000 people annually though their unique public education programs and events.  Anyone can visit the center’s facility for a tour and meet a variety of raptors.  In addition, some of the raptors go on visits to local schools and other events.

How can you help?

The Raptor Center provided me with a many things we can all do to help birds and the environment.

  • Get involved in local conservation organizations such as The Raptor Center or your local nature center.  The Raptor Center has volunteer opportunities including transporting sick or injured birds and helping in the clinic.  You can learn more about volunteer opportunities here.
  • Learn about the various species of raptors here.
  • Lead alternative ammunition will help reduce lead poisoning in bald eagles and other birds.  Click here to learn more.
  • Eliminate unnecessary pesticide use.  According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 50 pesticides currently used in the United States have caused bird die-offs.  Even the small amounts used by individuals on their lawns have a cumulative affect.
  • Modify your windows to help avoid collisions by adding screens, blinds, or bird feeders.  For examples and more information on this topic, please visit the Audubon Society website.
  • Properly dispose of toxic chemicals such as latex paint and items containing mercury.  Mercury is a potent nerve toxin, which is increasingly found in our water, fish, and loons.
  • Attend special events that The Raptor Center holds throughout the year, including its semi-annual Raptor Release, where rehabilitated raptors are released back into the wild.  You can watch their online calendar or sign up for their e-communications.
  • You can also make a monetary donation using a variety of options on their website or via their fundraising page on  In addition, there are opportunities to adopt a specific raptor.  You can learn more about raptor adoption here.

Owl from The Raptor Center

You can learn more about The Raptor Center on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook and their blog.


Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Feed My Starving Children

Feed My Starving Children

According to the World Food Programme, hunger is the world’s number one health risk.  It kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.  Malnutrition and hunger related diseases cause 60% of deaths of children under five in developing countries.  Today’s organization is making a difference for children around the world.

In 1987, Richard Proudfit, a businessman from Minnesota, incorporated Feed My Starving Children to develop an original meal formula to feed starving children.  He had seen the needs of children in Honduras during his mission trips and felt a calling from God to make a difference.   Dr. Richard Fulmer, a food scientist at Cargill, teamed up with colleagues from Pillsbury and General Mills to develop a nutritious “Fortified Rice Soy Casserole” for malnourished children.  The formula for this rice mix was finalized in 1993 and the next year volunteer production started.  Their food is shipped via mission partners to the counties that need it.  They have distributed food to nearly 70 counties and have had more than 99.96% of their meals arrive safely.  In 2008 they worked with nutritionist Cade Fields-Gardner to develop the world’s first and only food to treat diarrhea.

I have personally volunteered at Feed My Starving Children and it is always a moving experience.  They start your experience with a video about their program.

Then after a short lesson on packing the meals, you spend time packing their formula of chicken flavored powder, dried vegetables, dried soy protein, and rice into bags and then into boxes.  Even kids can volunteer.  My daughter loves to put the ingredients into the bags and weigh the bags.  At the end of a volunteer session, you also get a sample of the meal (it tastes a bit like Rice-a-Roni).  Their locations are filled with pictures of the children who have received their food.  I have included a couple of these before and after images below.

Feed My Starving Children now has seven permanent locations in Chanhassen, Coon Rapids, and Eagan Minnesota; Aurora, Libertyville, and Schaumburg Illinois; and Tempe Arizona.  They also have an option for MobilePack events where they bring their operation to you.  You can find the already scheduled MobilePack events and learn how to host your own on their website.

How can you help?

  • If you live near one of their permanent locations, you can volunteer individually or with a group on their website.
  • You can also find already scheduled MobilePack events or learn more about hosting your own on their website.
  • You can also make a monetary donation or purchase merchandise to support their mission.

You can learn more on their website, and their blog.  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Google+, and LinkedIn.

After 7 months of eating MannaPack meals twice a day, Marilyn was restored to normal development. Click the photo to read her story.

Jonise was in the Love A Child orphanage since she was 4 years old receiving Feed My Starving Children food. She is now going to school to be a bank teller. Click the photo to see her story.


Related Posts: Sow Much Good and 363 Days



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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Erik’s Ranch & Retreats

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats

Most mothers would do anything for their kids.  Today’s organization was founded by a mother who wanted to ensure her son was cared for even after she was gone.

Kathryn Nordberg started Erik’s Ranch & Retreats in 2008.  She was inspired after her own experience as a mother contemplating the future for her son Erik.  Every parent of a special needs child wonders “what happens when I am gone…who will care for my child”?  When Kathryn looked around, she did not like the options she found for adults with autism.  Most of the models were structured around a center-based operation where disabled people gather to complete mundane tasks.  This model works for some people, but not for everyone.

Individuals living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can have difficulties with communication and forming relationships.  Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is built on a model that will address those needs by allowing residents to engage with the guests while doing something they enjoy.

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is located on two properties, one in Edina, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis) and a second in Paradise Valley near Bozeman, Montana.  At the Minnesota location they offer “Erik’s Minnesota Adventures” – tours led by individuals with autism.  Each tour invites six to thirty volunteers to participate in one of many adventures, such as a behind the scenes tour of a local horse track, learning about St. Paul’s architecture, or a visit to an art studio.  These are not your traditional volunteer opportunities; these are chances to help build a person by giving their passion a place in society.  You can learn more about the current tours offered as well as additional information on the program on their website.

Ricky, who works part time as an experience guide of the 1960’s Counter Culture and the History of Aviation During World War II tour said, “Erik’s Minnesota Adventures means a lot to me because I’ve always had the dream of being a history teacher.  With my tours I am finally able to help people and teach them something they might not have known before.”

The Minnesota location also offers a special needs riding program where volunteers assist trainers and staff in giving therapeutic horseback riding lessons for individuals age 5 to 35.  You can read more about the riding program and sign up here.

At the organization’s Montana location, they will start offering a voluntour vacation that allows guests to experience natural surroundings, excellent food, as well as a pool and spa.  Several activities and tours such as cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing will be led by a resident experience guide.  Learn more about this ranch vacation opportunity on their website.

The organization is guided by the principals of lifelong learning, individual community building, and bidirectional integration through voluntourism.  These opportunities offer their residents individualized life plans in exciting and challenging careers, opportunities to build connections and relationships, and a new paradigm for expanding the life and social skills for individuals with autism.  The guests and volunteers at each location will be able to see the world through the eyes of a young adult with autism while the residents and tour guides can share their knowledge, passion, and talents with others.  These are opportunities that may not have occurred otherwise and offer a meaningful way for the residents to engage with guests and fulfill their social needs.

Once the program is fully operational, both the ranch in Montana and the retreat in Minnesota will be fully self-sustaining and serve as a home for 84 permanent residents (49 in Montana and 35 in Minnesota).

How can you help?

  • Since Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is still new, they could use help getting the word out about their program.  Spread the word about their programs on Facebook and Twitter by sharing this blog post.
  • You can let them know you are interested in volunteering by filling out the form on their website.  To volunteer for the riding program, you can contact Chelsea at
  • If you live in Minnesota or are visiting the Twin Cities area, you can volunteer to take a tour.  Learn about all the available tours and sign up here.
  • They also accept financial donations on their website.

You can learn more about Erik’s Ranch & Retreats on their website, or by watching the video below.  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.   You can also sign up for their e-newsletter by e-mailing them at




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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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TV Reporter Finds a New Mission

Kristi Piehl
Today I have a guest post from Kristi Piehl.  During her 12 year television career, Kristi worked as a reporter and anchor at 5 television stations. She won numerous awards for her work including two Emmy awards for stories she covered at KSTP in Minneapolis. Kristi has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Dateline NBC and several national radio shows.  Kristi prides herself on building the most effective media-focused public relations team in the area. In addition to having a team dominated by former TV news professionals and storytellers, Media Minefield also has a graphic designer, videographer and photographer on staff.  Kristi holds a BA in English from Bethel University. She studied Professional Writing and graduated with honors.


Knocking on the door of a homicide victim to ask the grieving mother for an interview.

Picking through remnants of a tornado-ravaged home for a prop.

Driving through a snow storm to tell the public that travel is not advised.

Yes, running towards the disasters that other people run away from is the reality of a TV reporter. For 12 years, it was my life. Thankfully there were some opportunities to tell positive stories. However, it always frustrated me when I’d try to do a positive story with a local non-profit, church or ministry and the administrators would decline. I couldn’t figure it out. A journalist teamed up with a talented videographer with the purpose of telling a non-profit’s story to a large audience is a powerful way to bring in donations and volunteers.

Don’t get me wrong, many non-profits make an attempt to grab headlines. Non-profits send press releases by the hundreds to newsrooms hoping for coverage of their gala or fundraising campaign. I’ve seen the pile of releases and I’ll be honest, it’s tough for small or medium sized non-profits to get noticed.

While media will ignore a run-of-the-mill news release, no self-respecting journalist will turn down a powerful story.

So in 2010, I found myself in a strange place – a storyteller detoxing from a career in television news with a heart for non-profits. The timing was perfect; my church was offering a class to teach people how to use the talents they have to help others.

Media Minefield was born.

The company is an intentionally different public relations and video production firm. At first, I had a hand-full of non-profit clients in the Twin Cities. Some wanted their stories transformed into short videos for special events or fundraising campaigns and others wanted their stories in the media.

Two years later, we have both for-profit and non-profit clients in Minnesota and around the country. Our office is in Minnetonka and there are eleven employees. The majority of the men and women on the Media Minefield team have a background in television news. In our front office, it says “your message is our mission” and that is what makes us unique. We work with every client to define and distill their message. That message then becomes the foundation of the kind of story that inspires others to take action.

I’ve heard more powerful stories in the past two years than in the previous twelve. The difference is that I, surrounded by some of the most talented former news minds in the Twin Cities, can now focus on maximizing and telling those positive stories.

We’ve produced videos for local and national non-profits and have watched how a media appearance can bolster a bottom line. After all, a powerful news story or video could be used on social media, at gala events and on websites. For our team, it’s so rewarding to see a non-profit empowered to do even more to help others.

What makes a good story? A main character, a clear purpose and a concise message. For television news, it’s critical to have compelling video to accompany the story. For newspaper, magazine, online and radio mediums, a main character with a powerful story who understands how to communicate with control and speak in sound bites is all it takes.

Tell your story. People want to hear it.

Kristi sent me just a few of the nonprofit stories Media Minefield has done.  I have included these below.

7 Year Old Using Music to Help Hungry Kids

Minnesota Man Skis Again after Being in a Coma

Dan’s Restart Story

Related Post: Storytellers for Good

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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Guest Post


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Prior Lake Players

Prior Lake Players

Today’s organization has been a big part of my life in the last couple months.  In early September, my daughter auditioned for a play and she convinced me to also audition too.  We both got parts, she is a playing card and I am a duck.  This past weekend was our first set of shows!

The Prior Lake Players started as an idea inspired by a play at a local community festival.  Thirteen couples, including Nick and Patti Sotis, came together in 1972 at a cocktail party and decided to put together a theatre organization.  They held their first meeting that year.  One of the couples had been involved in a local theatre organization in another Minneapolis suburb, so they were able to quickly develop bylaws and become registered as a nonprofit.  

Their first show was “Don’t Drink the Water” in the Spring of 1973 and have done a play each spring and fall since including “The Wizard of Oz”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, and “My Fair Lady”, just to name a few.  Their current production is “Alice in Wonderland”. 

The Prior Lake Players is a non-profit, performing arts educational group formed for the purpose of producing and performing live theatrical entertainments, including both established and original scripts, and of providing training and experience to its members in the various artistic and technical aspects of live theatre. 

In 1976, Nick and Patti’s daughter, Karen Welch was in her first play, The Music Man.  She was in the chorus.  It was her most memorable play because her brother and parents were also in the cast and it was fun to be in a play together as a family.  In Alice in Wonderland, the family tradition continues with Karen playing the caterpillar and her daughter Caitlin Welch playing the Gryphon. 

The theme of family involvement doesn’t end with them.  Kay Dunning worked on the wonderful costumes for Alice in Wonderland and her daughter Ryanne Dunning was in the play as the Dodo bird and Tweedledee.  In 1993, Kay did set design, costume design, directed and acted in The Music Man. 

The organization also has a scholarship program for high school seniors who were either in their productions or attend the local school district.  Up to $1,000 is given out each year.  You can learn more about the Nick Sotis Memorial Scholarship program by contacting the Prior Lake Players

How can you help?

  • You can sign up for their e-mail list by e-mailing to keep up to date with upcoming shows and events. 
  • You can sign up to be a member to receive discounts and other benefits. 
  • Tax deductible donations can be made through
  • Before each play can come to stage, they need many volunteers including actors, set construction, prop building, costume sewing, publicity, and more!  During the productions they also need volunteers to sell tickets prior to the show and serve refreshments during intermission.  E-mail to learn more about specific volunteer opportunities.
  • The organization does also do things between productions such as walk in parades and attend other local events.  If you are interested in offering your time or talents in other ways, you can contact them at

No play is successful without an audience, so consider taking an evening or afternoon to enjoy the show!  You can connect with the Prior Lake Players on their website,  You can also sign up for their e-mail list and like them on Facebook.  If you don’t live near Prior Lake, Minnesota, there is likely a small theatre organization near you and they likely have many of the same volunteer opportunities as the Prior Lake Players.

Alice in Wonderland Cast Photo - November 2012

Alice in Wonderland Cast Photo – November 2012


Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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