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Libraries are a community asset, even during the pandemic
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The American Library Association‘s theme for this year’s National Library Week (April 4-10) promotes the idea that libraries extend far beyond the four walls of a building.

Kenyon Public Library Director Michelle Otte says libraries offer its patrons many digital services that can be accessed from the comfort of their homes, whether it be an e-book, e-audio book or digital magazine. Throughout the pandemic, Otte believes staff have proven that libraries are an asset to the community.

“I am proud that the library doors were only closed for a few weeks in April 2020 and we have been able to remain open since to serve our community,” said Otte.

Kenyon Public Library Director Michelle Otte, pictured, finds that libraries are an important component to any community and provides valuable services to patrons of all ages. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Staff, she said, have been instrumental in helping residents sign up for unemployment benefits, register for Social Security after retirement, track stimulus payments, and provide books and movies for entertainment and educational purposes throughout the pandemic. The library also strengthened its wireless internet signal while the building was closed to the public, but has been able to retain the same signal strength since reopening the building.

Local resident Rhana Olson, who has been a Kenyon Public Library patron since she was 6 years old, has fond memories of the library. She still recalls a trip to the library with her neighbor. She was chewing bubble gum at the time and had to get rid of it because she knew she couldn’t chew it in the library. Her first thought was to stick the gum in her shirt, leaving her quite the memory to hold on to.

“I also remember that I got seven books. That was so exciting,” said Olson in response to Facebook post on the Kenyon Leader’s page. ”So I’ve been going to the library ever since.”

Olson also served on the Library Board and finds the library a wonderful asset to town.

“I think some people still think all they provide are books,” said Olson. “They do so much more for the community including computer use, historical references, DVDs, CDs and audiobooks. And what a wonderful place for children to come to begin a love of learning and reading. I am very proud of our Kenyon Public Library.”

Heidi Haugen, too, recalls going to the library as a child when it was where Ace Hardware currently resides and now enjoys bringing her grandchildren to the library.

“Once my first grandchildren came along eight years ago, I have had the opportunity to bring them to the Kenyon Library for some programming on occasion,” said Haugen.

“They also like to visit the library to check out books when they come to our house. The first thing they say (twin girls) when they get in the car on the way to Kenyon is ‘Can we go to the library today Grandma?’ There is nothing that warms my heart more, even if it is Sunday and the library is not open.”

A community-oriented approach

Looking back on the past year, Otte says the driving force in adapting to provide services to patrons is because libraries are community-oriented.

Since libraries serve the public by meeting their needs, Otte said the residents made it clear they wanted and needed library services during the pandemic, so the staff set out to do their best to provide services as safely/normally as possible during this time.

Otte says one advantage of being a small, rural library is that large numbers of patrons are not coming through the doors each day so they’re able to maintain some normalcy. Recently, the library started hosting in-person story time again, which Otte says has been successful.

Even prior to the pandemic, Otte said the library offered curbside service and is something they will continue to offer. Upon request, from patrons within a 5-mile radius of the library, staff will also make home deliveries.

Otte also anticipates the library will continue to provide hand sanitizer for staff and patrons, and staff will continue to disinfect high touch areas and computers after use.

Kenyon Public Library Children’s Librarian Barb Bonde prepares materials for the next story time event at the library. Story times take place each Wednesday and Friday at 10:30 a.m. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

From the youngest patrons to the oldest, Otte says libraries are an important component to any community and provide valuable services like literacy and social programs, books and movies for education or entertainment. And, she says, library staff can help with digital needs such as navigating the internet safely, applying for jobs, signing up for healthcare and more.

“Librarians are ad-hoc social workers. If you have a need, a librarian may not be able to provide an answer, but we can get you in touch with someone who will,” said Otte.

Kenyon Public Library offers digital services through the mobile apps Libby and OverDrive. Other digital services include eLibraryMN.org, which Otte says includes research help, peer reviewed journals, magazines, e-books MN and employment help. In total, Otte says there are 57 databases for specific topics.

An app called “SELCO Libraries” (available for both IOS and Android devices) also allows patrons to access the SELCO catalog, manage their library account, renew items, check due dates and request materials and access e-books and e-audiobooks with their smartphone or tablet.

Partnership brings free food distribution to Kenyon
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There’s no doubt that many struggled with food insecurity before the pandemic, and since the pandemic began that need has increased.

In an effort to provide food to anyone experiencing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenyon-Wanamingo Community Education and Live Well Goodhue County are teaming up with Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester to host a free food distribution event from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, April 16 at the Kenyon Pool Parking Lot, 304 First St., Kenyon.

Kenyon-Wanamingo Community Education and Live Well Goodhue County teamed up with Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester to host a free food distribution event from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, April 16 at the Kenyon Pool parking lot, 304 First St. Food is free to anyone experiencing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured is a previous distribution that took place in Cannon Falls. (Photo courtesy of Live Well Goodhue County)

Kenyon-Wanamingo Community Education Director Amy Belcher said school officials are excited to be chosen as a site for this distribution event, especially since the closest food distribution event like this one has been in Zumbrota. Since Kenyon is so far east in the Goodhue County, Belcher said it came up at one of the quarterly Community Education Advisory Council meetings as a way to better serve residents in the area.

“I think there’s been a lot of people affected by the pandemic and some who have lost their jobs or just started working again,” said Belcher. “There’s a lot of people in our communities that could benefit from this event and help them get on their feet as we hopefully move out of this pandemic soon.”

Residents participating in the April 16 Pop-up Food Distribution event are urged to enter the Kenyon Pool parking lot at the corner of First and Bullis Street, travel around the perimeter of the parking lot and exit on First Street towards the Washington Street side. (Photo courtesy of Kenyon-Wanamingo Community Education)

Even though this event is held in Kenyon, Belcher said it is open to anyone in the surrounding communities in need.

For those who may be working or unavailable to pick up a box of food during the time of the event, neighbors or friends are encouraged to pick up boxes and delievr them to other households. Participants of the food distribution event will receive a combination box of fruit, milk, vegetables and proteins. Those interested in attending are urged to enter the pool parking lot at the corner of First and Bullis streets, travel around the perimeter of the parking lot and exit on First Street toward the Washington Street side. Boxes will distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

Belcher said numerous adults and members of student groups like FCCLA and NHS have volunteered to help with the set up and distribution of the boxes.

“Hopefully we have lots of people come and take advantage of this opportunity,” said Belcher.

A group effort

Live Well Goodhue County Coordinator Megan Roschen said Kenyon’s distribution event will be the ninth event the county has co-hosted since last June.

One has been co-hosted with the Hispanic Outreach of Goodhue County, Zumbrota School and now K-W Community Education. Roschen said several free food distribution events have taken place in Red Wing at a couple different locations, some in Cannon Falls and one in Zumbrota.

“We are trying to reach as much of the county as we can by moving locations,” said Roschen.

At each distribution, Roschen said they have had a great turnout and estimates they’ve given out anywhere from 225 to 400 boxes of food. Soon after the start of the pandemic, Roschen said Channel One Regional Food Bank reached out to several counties, including Goodhue County. The food that is distributed at the events is all from Channel One and is delivered the morning of the pop-up event. Roschen said the county then helps organize the volunteers, figure out a location and orchestrate the promotion.

The distribution is completely free, and organizers won’t ask for any identification from participants who will just drive through the area and stay in their cars while volunteers load up their items.

“It is open to anybody experiencing challenges in the pandemic and we encourage participants to pick up for multiple households. We know that time and day doesn’t work for everybody,” said Roschen.

Part of the reason Live Well Goodhue County wanted to host an event like this, Roschen says, is since they know that food security is a concern among many in the county. Even when the pandemic is over, Roschen says they anticipate it to be an issue. The local leadership team plans on exploring ways to continue these types of events when the food distribution comes to an end. For now, it depends on the funding Channel One is able to receive.

“One of our goals is to create a healthier food environment in our communities by increasing access to affordable and nutritious foods,” said Roschen. “This fit into our goal real well, which is another reason why we decided to provide this additional support to communities.”

Through talking to participants at food distribution events, Roschen said they’ve heard a lot of positive feedback and learned a lot of people are thankful for the additional resource. Event organizers strive to make the distribution both convenient and safe by practicing social distancing, mask wearing and having residents stay in their cars.

Roschen said they also encourage residents in need to utilize their local food shelves.

New club offers opportunities for teen anglers to compete, learn about fishing
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Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes provide endless opportunities for summer fun: from fishing, boating, tubing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming.

This spring/summer, students at Kenyon-Wanamingo schools and those in the surrounding areas will have the opportunity to fish while participating in a sport officials say is the fastest growing sport there is right now. Started by Julie Siems, resident of Kenyon and parent of two children in Kenyon-Wanamingo School District, the K-W Knights Fishing Club will follow the Minnesota Student Angler Tournament Trail and Student Angler Federation (a federation of The Bass Federation) as the Minnesota State High School League does not currently recognize fishing as an official sport.

An informational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the K-W High School Auditorium in Kenyon for those interested in being a part of the K-W Fishing Club, whether as a student, parent or potential boat captain and to learn more about the club and its upcoming schedule. Though part of the K-W School District, Siems says the club is open to interested students living in surrounding communities that may not have their own team. So far, she has had requests from students in Zumbrota and Medford looking to join. Byron, Owatonna, Northfield and Kasson-Mantorville currently have fishing clubs.

The team will give students the opportunity to participate in bass tournaments, fundraisers, seminars and practices that are fun for the students, coaches, and boat captains. Along with giving back to the community and sponsors, coaches will also provide tips and instructions on how to become a well-rounded angler.

Costs associated with the club include approximately $60-$75 for jerseys for all registered members who want to place an order, an annual one-time $25 fee to participate in the Minnesota Student Angler Tournament, $20 per angler per tournament and $25 for once in a lifetime boaters Education.

Siems, an avid fisher, first learned of the Minnesota Student Angler Tournament after talking with students and their coach who participated in the league several years ago.

The league allows students going into ninth grade to begin fishing in all of the tournaments. As the mother of a soon-to-be-freshman who loves to fish, Siems asked her son for his thoughts on starting the club in the area. After he was on board, Siems set out to make it a reality and reached out to school officials as a way to encourage more students to join.

“I didn’t want it to be just a few people, so I wanted to work with the school to make sure we have their support and help make others more comfortable in attending,” said Siems. “[School officials] were very supportive over it. The more students we have the better.”

Though the Student Angler Tournament Trail only includes participants in grades nine through 12, the Lund Virtual Fishing League participation is open to anglers who are 10 and older at the time of the event. Teams consist of at least one student and can include one adult. When fishing from a boat, students must have an adult boat captain 19 or older.

Siems said her target ages for the club are students going into seventh grade next year through current high school seniors. Though there aren’t as many opportunities for seventh and eighth graders, Siems said she would like to get them involved soon to start teaching them the basics. They can also help fill holes in the high school league where needed, for example if a high schooler was without a partner for one of the SATT events.

Developing a passion

The Student Angler Tournament Trail is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing fishing opportunities and environmental awareness for students, youth and schools through competition, scholarships, education and mentoring opportunities.

Siems hopes those who participate in the club, whether a member or volunteer, develop a passion for the outdoors. As a conservation officer, Siems also hopes members learn how to fish, become confident in both their fishing and boating skills and are able to be independent on the water.

High school participants will be required to go through boaters education to promote safety on the water, get instruction on the laws of fishing, learn about the different species and about watercraft operation. As a conservation officer, Siems said she will be able to teach more about the laws and keep people up to date on them as they change.

“That’s my priority so everybody knows the laws and is safe,” added Siems.

She feels fishing can teach ethic and help participants bond with a people of different ages. Whether they are in sixth grade or 75, Siems said fishing is something everyone can do — there is no barrier in age.

K-W High School Principal Matt Ryan is excited for this opportunity from both his principal position and as someone who also has a passion for bass fishing.

“I was excited to hear from Julie this spring and am looking forward to partnering with her to get the K-W Fishing Club started this spring,” said Ryan. “I’ve been part of different Bass Clubs the last five years and spend much of my free time on the water fishing and participating in bass fishing competitions. I’m hoping to be able to share the enjoyment I get from bass fishing and some of the things I’ve learned over the years with some of our students who may be interested.”

Last weekend, Ryan spent time bass fishing on the Mississippi River with his son. Even though the boat launch was pretty empty Easter Sunday morning, Ryan said it was a beautiful day to spend time on the water with his son doing something they both enjoy.

Siems is looking for volunteers who feel confident in their bass fishing skills and are willing to offer up some of their time, and others who may want to provide their boat for the day. Each team of two students is required to have one boat captain whose primary responsibility is student and team safety. They will be responsible for knowing all of the rules and are allowed to help students by netting fish, running the trolly motor if needed and making sure the fish are entered into the CRR App.

Siems said her goal would be to meet with the group before the first event in May 23 for students to work on technique while shore fishing and practicing measuring fish. Those participating in the virtual league are allowed to fish from the shore. Siems said for virtual tournaments, students can fish in any area. Volunteers also don’t have to be available for every tournament.