Mental health is a topic that four Faribault High School students wanted to address in Rice County. None of them anticipated that joining the group MINDS (Moving In New DirectionS) would give them the opportunity to share their message on a national level.
Abigale Bongers, Jordyn Tesch, Bennett Wolff and Anna Behning, were invited to participate in an Adolescent and Young Adult Behavioral Health CoIIN (Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network) project titled “Addressing Adolescent and Young Adult Depression in Primary Care.” The goal of the CoIIN project is to improve depression/mental health screenings and followups for adolescents and young adults, and to involve youth in the process by giving them a platform.
So far, Bongers and Tesch participated in two national-level conference calls to share a presentation on their cause. Part of the conversation for the first call, for the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, can be viewed at bit.ly/30aHQ55. For the second conference call, Bongers, Tesch, Behning and Wolff presented their information to the University of Minnesota Institute in Adolescent Health.
The students were given this platform thanks to Lyndsey Reece, child and teen checkup coordinator for Rice County Public Health. The Minnesota Department of Health invited Reese to be part of the CoIIN project. Minnesota is one of five states chosen to participate, and Rice County is one of two counties chosen in the state.
Reece sought out MINDS students to represent the youth voice on the conference calls. She and Shane Roessler, school counselor at the Faribault Area Learning Center, both supervise this group to engage students in discussions about mental health. Ten students across FHS, Faribault Discovery School and the ALC participate in the group, which has the goals of normalizing the topic of mental health, educating youth in self-advocacy and helping the community understand how to best support youth.
“In this group we talk about how mental health is just as important as physical health, just not as visible,” said Bongers.
Bongers joined MINDS following a friend’s recommendation.
“I just want to be heard and make a difference.” Bongers then passed the word on to Tesch, who joined because she likes to talk about mental health.
During their conference calls, Bongers and Tesch shared feedback from a student survey, suggestions for the year ahead and ideas moving forward.
Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, MINDS began developing a survey to gather input from area students on their stressors, worries and coping skills. Students later added “pre-COVID-19” questions to the survey as well as questions that applied to participants’ mental states during the pandemic.
In response to one of the questions, which read, “How have things changed since COVID?” some of the answers from FHS and ALC students included, “Nothing has changed,” “School is better” and “Not much has changed other than not going to school and hanging out with friends as much.”
Others were less upbeat, noting, “Things changed a ton and a lot of people are getting depressed,” “Everything being cancelled really upset me and I am still hit with waves of sadness about that,” “I get super anxious about everything” and “Life isn’t the same anymore.”
On low days, survey participants reported thinking about how much they miss friends and family, “how scary and cruel the world is,” questions about life and death and their uncertain futures. Some worried about not being liked, not being “good enough” and disappointing people.
Through the survey, MINDS students found that school counselors and teachers at FHS and the ALC are the most likely people students turn to for help. Thirty-six out of 65 FHS participants and 19 out of 21 ALC participants said they would turn to a teacher while 32 FHS students and 17 ALC students said they would talk to a school counselor.
Survey participants also listed their theories about what stops the conversation about mental health from moving forward. Students listed judgment from others, fear of appearing weak, rejection and the realness of acknowledging a problem as reasons youth may stay silent on the issue.
MINDS students learned from the survey that some youth lack the necessary resources to appropriately cope with negative feelings. While some students said they go outside, talk to a trusted friend or listen to music, others admitted they don’t do anything, ignore their feelings or self-destruct.
Tesch said while it’s scary to know that youth deal with these difficult emotions, the survey showed how important it is to address their needs. She recognizes that students may keep their feelings inside because they don’t want to be treated differently.
For the upcoming school year, the group wants to promote building trust between new teachers and/or counselors and their students, using software for regular student well-being check-ins, allowing students to turn off their webcams during distance learning if they feel uncomfortable showing their teachers and peers where they live, and connecting students to relevant mental health resources.
MINDS has also plotted ways to prioritize the mental well-being of students if distance learning continues. Some of their ideas include facilitating more calls between students, so they can see their peers outside the online classroom setting, and “Wellness Wednesday,” which would give students the chance to focus on themselves mid-week.
Bongers said teachers could either lighten the homework load or refrain from presenting new material on Wednesdays to prevent students from growing overwhelmed.
For middle school students specifically, MINDS members want to host a wellness panel in which eighth-graders learn from ninth-graders about how they deal with high school stressors. Bongers said many eighth-graders deal with anxiety as they approach the end of their middle school careers, so the panel could ease some of their worries.
Bongers and Tesch both said they’ve dealt with their own share of hardships during the pandemic, particularly missed opportunities, reduced social outings and the uncertainty of what the 2020-21 school year will look like. Being involved in MINDS is one thing that gives them a sense of normalcy and an outlet for sharing their perspectives.
“Everybody’s voice needs to be heard at some point,” said Tesch.
Faribault’s City Council has signed off a plan that could bring more environmentally conscious consumers to the city’s downtown business district — all without costing taxpayers a cent.
According to City Planner Dave Wanberg, the city’s newest Electronic Vehicle (EV) charging station is set to be installed yet this summer at 17 Third Street NE, a municipal parking lot that was formerly home to the Knights of Columbus building.
If the city attempted to pay for such a charging station itself, the cost would likely run around $85,000. That cost will instead be covered using funds from a $2.8 billion settlement reached between the U.S. Government and Volkswagen Motors. As part of the settlement, Volkswagen paid $2.9 billion into an environmental mitigation trust, helping to compensate for the environmental damage by Volkswagen’s systematic, years-long efforts to sell vehicles with emissions levels in violation of the Clean Air Act.
That money has been distributed to each state based on the number of Volkswagen diesel vehicles registered within its borders. Minnesota has been awarded $47 million, which is being distributed through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
To install the charging station, the city has turned to ZEF Energy, a Twin Cities-based network of EV charging stations. ZEF has been awarded funding to install charging stations at 22 sites throughout the state.
It will be the first in Faribault’s downtown, but the third in the city overall. Currently, charging stations are located in close proximity to each other, at Goodwill (at 2100 Grant St. NW) and Harry Brown’s Family Automotive (at 1747 Grant St).
Recently, Harry Brown’s has been trying to restrict access to its charging station to customers only. Still, some cars pull off the freeway to charge their vehicles at Harry Brown’s, frustrating the owners, according to Councilor Peter van Sluis.
The new charging station will include one 50 kW DC fast charger, which can provide a roughly 175-mile charge in one hour. According to Wanberg’s presentation, this would be ideal for travelers along I-35.
The station will also include a pair of level two charging stations, which provide roughly 40 miles worth of drive time in one hour. However, the substation supporting the chargers is optimized for expansion, and technology has continued to improve when it comes to electric vehicles.
Four spots will be reserved for the three charging stations, to accommodate state requirements that the station be ADA accessible. That additional parking space would accommodate extra room at the fast charger location.
While early EVs were known for their limited driving ranges, the latest have the capacity to go much further. The EPA estimates that on a full charge, the Nissan Leaf PLUS can drive for up 226 miles, the Chevrolet Bolt for up to 238 miles, and the Tesla Long Range Model S for up to 309 miles.
While the sticker price of electric vehicles may be higher, fuel costs can make up at least part of the difference. A recent University of Michigan analysis found that the average Minnesotan could save $577 in fuel costs annually by switching to an electric vehicle.
The same report also found that maintenance costs are significantly lower with electric vehicles. On average, owners save about $1,500 in maintenance costs in the first 150,000 miles with an electric vehicle.
Currently only about 2% of vehicles on Minnesota roadways are electric, though that share has increased exponentially in just the last few years. However, it’s still low enough that ZEF anticipates light initial demand. Nonetheless, ZEF believes that demand will ultimately increase, especially given Faribault’s prime location along the I-35 corridor. In general, charging stations in greater Minnesota are currently few and far between, though several currently exist in Northfield.
The council split on where the best location would be on the property. Several councilors, including Royal Ross, wanted it toward the front of the property, saying it was more convenient and could reduce the risk of vandalism.
Others, including Tom Spooner, preferred it toward the back of the site, at a distance from Third Street NE. In addition to providing more room, Spooner said that the location would be more aesthetically pleasing.
Under the city’s agreement with ZEF, the city would be responsible for limiting the space to only electric vehicles. van Sluis raised the issue of how the city would prevent electric vehicle owners from staying parked in their spot long after their vehicle is charged.
Wanberg said that under the latest technology, many electric vehicle apps let owners know when their vehicle is charged and that if they continue to stay parked in the spot after it’s charged, they may incur additional fees.
Overall, councilors were very pleased with the arrangement. Councilor Elizabeth Cap was particularly pleased that the project required no public funding, and said that the city should seek out such opportunities in the future.
“Any time you can protect the environment and have it funded without taxpayer dollars, it’s a great option,” she said.
After a few bumps in the road, a rapidly growing hot sauce manufacturer finally seems to be back on track and ready to call downtown Faribault home.
With financing finally secured, Cry Baby Craig’s is now set to move into a new space at 405 Central Ave. Chef and co-owner Craig Kaiser said that business leaders plan to meet with architects next week as it looks to renovate the space to suit its needs.
At 100 years old, the building at 405 Central is historic in theory, but its metal exterior robs it of the charming Queen Anne style of many buildings downtown. Still, the former B&B Sporting Goods building offers well-located retail or office space.
To help fund the deal, Faribault’s Economic Development Authority approved $47,000 in forgivable loans at its meeting earlier this month. That’s in addition to $50,000 in assistance the EDA provided last year, which was matched by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.
In addition to manufacturing, the facility will include a retail store, something the EDA hopes could help draw people to downtown.
At the new facility, Cry Baby Craig’s co-owners Kaiser and Sam Bonin believe they will be able to greatly expand their business. Along with extra space, Cry Baby Craig’s will get new bottling equipment that will enable the company to dramatically increase its capacity.
Initially, the company planned to move into a space at 313 Central Ave. Also a historic building, that was one of numerous downtown buildings owned by Twin Cities-based developer John Sheesley, who bought it in 2015.
The agreement between Sheesley and Kaiser ultimately soured, with Kaiser accusing Sheesley of failing to sign a Change of Use Certificate required by the city’s Planning and Zoning Division, and generally not helping his business to open.
“He constantly was missing deadlines,” Kaiser said. “I started putting a bunch of money in the building that I won’t get back.”
Sheesley disputes that assessment, saying that the agreement fell through because he was unable to to cover a larger share of the renovation costs than had initially been agreed to. Still, he said he doesn’t hold a grudge against Cry Baby Craig’s.
“I’m happy to have them in downtown Faribault, and happy to not have them be in my building,” he said.
The dispute between Cry Baby Craig’s and Sheesley have led to a longer than hoped for production gap for the company. Fortunately, Cry Baby Craig’s managed to build up an ample supply of product before making the move.
Despite that, Kaiser’s particularly excited that the company will be able to own a building of its own. In addition to avoiding any disputes with landlords, moving into 405 Central provides ample space for Cry Baby Craig’s, with five times the space of 313 Central.
Though it’s big, the building will need a thorough renovation in order to convert it into the needed use. Kaiser said it’s likely to be roughly three months before the building is ready to serve as Cry Baby Craig’s headquarters.
Once it’s ready to go, Kaiser said that the building is well suited to serve as Cry Baby Craig’s headquarters for the foreseeable future, even if the company outgrows it. In contrast, he said 313 Central would have been more temporary.
Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson was among those expressing excitement for the project, as a potential cornerstone of a downtown revitalization that could bring the city’s Journey to 2040 Vision to fruition.
“We’re really pleased that they were able to make their way to Faribault and get a place they can call home,” Johnson said. “They have a growing presence around the country, and we think that they fit in very nicely with Faribault’s ‘Making American Stories’ theme.”