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Jim Purfeerst plants cover crops at his Richland Township farm in June 2019. Local farmers, bit by years of low prices, and bad weather now have a new concern: COVID-19. (File photo)

special section
Janesville Rotary gives students an opportunity for new experiences through exchange program

Giving students new experiences is what Janesville Rotary offers.

Since 1970 the Janesville Rotary chapter has participated in the International Youth Exchange program with other schools around the world.

The club has hosted over 30 students and sent over 10 Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton students to other schools.

“Giving these kids an opportunity from different countries to come and experience the way we live,” Rotary member Katie Cahill said about why she thinks Rotary offers the program. “I think the bigger benefit is for the kids that live here because some of them don’t have the opportunity to meet kids from other countries like this and hearing how they live and about other cultures …”

The exchange students come from all over the world. Janesville has hosted students from Japan, Bolivia, Argentina, South Africa, Norway, Sweden and numerous other countries.

Exchange students stay with local families in the area to experience what an American home and culture is like.

Those who wish to host sign up and have their homes inspected by a member of Rotary before the student arrives. If approved they will host for four months. During that time there is another inspection done by a different member of Rotary.

There are typically three host families for the year with each family hosting for four months at a time.

“One of the main reasons why we did it (hosted) is because the kids wanted to,” Rotary member Kendra Hoehn said. “My oldest daughter Regan had become friends with previous Rotary exchange students in school and just in talking about their experience she had wanted to do that at home and meet new people. It was a good thing. Taku (Tavengwa)(who stayed with their family) was awesome, she set the bar pretty high for any other exchange student who might want to come in, but she bonded really well with the whole family. It was a really good experience. I’m glad that we did it.”

Host families will take their students to activities like JWP sporting events, camping, boating, Valleyfair, bowling, Hay Daze and other places.

Coming to Janesville through the exchange program allows these students to experience things they wouldn’t necessarily be able to in their own countries.

Tavengwa is the most recent exchange student that came through the program in Janesville. She came to JWP from Zimbabwe and stayed for one year.

“We tried to give her as many American experiences as possible,” Hoehn said. “She got to see a lot of basketball, we took her to Duluth one weekend to experience that and in November we took her down to Florida because her brother works at Disney World ...”

Tavengwa was able to run cross-country at JWP, travel and do activities with her host families, but she also connected with other Rotary exchange students from around Minnesota and Wisconsin.

She went on an east coast bus trip with the other exchange students to multiple states and sites around the U.S.

The trip went to Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Massachusetts, they saw a Broadway show and numerous other sites.

Before this big trip each time there are a couple of meetings throughout the year when the exchange students all gather to share experiences and meet each other.

The host family, a trusted friend, rotary member or her club councilor can take her to these meetings and activities.

A club councilor is also assigned to each exchange student that comes through Janesville to help them transition and to answer questions.

“My role is to help her through some of the adjustments,” rotary member Laura Seys, Tavengwa’s counselor said. “Every month I had to contact her and the host family and I had to run through questions. I had to rate their language, their ability to speak it, her school work, club activity, being part of the rotary, extra activities, overall happiness ... I had to run through it with the host family and Taku and do a report and submit it each month. Then she had my number to contact me if she needed anything.”

Along with checking in on the exchange student and the host families Seys also had to enforce the four Ds; no drinking, driving, dating or doing drugs.

Cahill, Hoehn and Seys all spoke highly of Tavengwa’s respect that she had for everyone she met. They shared that her biggest culture shock was how disrespectful kids are to their teachers and how that is not what happens in Zimbabwe.

“I think that our education here is free and I think we take that for granted where over there (Zimbabwe) their public schools they have to pay for and their families are not wealthy at all so it’s a huge sacrifice for the parents ...,” Hoehn said.

When Tavengwa left Janesville she was driven by her host sister to the airport with another vehicle full of people following. Her entourage were all allowed to sit at the gate with her and give their goodbyes while she waited to board her plane.

After returning home her parents sent a letter of gratitude and sharing the positive changes they saw in her when she returned home.

The next exchange student Rotary is hosting is coming from Chile in August. Hosts are still needed for the new student.

Lexi Adams is the current Youth Exchange Officer. She is a JWP graduate and recently went abroad for a year through the exchange program Rotary offers.

Adams is in charge of organizing an exchange student to come through Rotary to JWP. Those students who want to participate in the Youth Exchange apply to the program through their local Rotary chapter and list their top five locations they would like to be sent to.

They are then assigned a location and the site, being Janesville, would set up host families for the person, a councilor and arrange their arrival.

As Easter approaches, Christians find strength in their faith

For Christians, Palm Sunday, observed April 5 this year, began the most important week in the liturgical calendar, but as the spread of COVID-19 continues, most churches remain shuttered.

It’s a difficult time for Christians, who’ve spent 40 days preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the centerpiece of their faith.

Waseca’s Christ Community Church will be holding Easter worship services online.

COVID-19 has made churches stop in-person services to help prevent the spread of the virus and the Waseca churches are being creative on how to still reach the congregations.

Senior Pastor Chris Johnson shared there will be new hymns, songs and an Easter message in a video on the church website.

“We are going to do the best we can to worship in spirit even though we can’t be together physically,” Johnson said.

Christ Community has held gatherings through Zoom for small groups, walking around the neighborhoods and making as many connections in the neighborhood as they can.

“We we want to be sure that we’re connected,” Johnson said. “We can’t be connected face-to-face so we look for other ways to be connected. It’s important for the church family to be connected.”

Johnson is working with other churches in the community to best reach members during COVID-19.

Waseca Faith United Methodist Church is a smaller church in the community that is doing simple things to connect with the congregation.

Pastor Victor Waters has been doing podcasts and for Easter will do a series of three. He did a podcast on Palm Sunday, the next will be on Good Friday and the final one of the series will be on Easter Sunday.

These podcasts are up on the churches website.

“We’re just telling people we love you, we’re thinking about you and we wish we could be together but we can’t,” Waters said of why they are doing simple things to connect.

On Easter Sunday, Waters and his wife will drive around the community with a cloth that has “He was risen” on it and wave it. They plan to get around to as many members as they can and the nursing home.

Waters is also asking the members to send photos of themselves on Easter that can be shared on the website.

To continue teaching Sunday school the kids are facing timing in for the mini lessons that are taught by Waters’ wife.

Waters is also taking the time to call people in the congregation to check in and writing notes for everyone.

“I’m writing personal handwritten notes to everybody because I know people need that,” Waters said.

Heather Olson, a member of Hauge Lutheran Church in Kenyon, is sharing links sent by her pastor, the Rev. Gideon Johnson, while connecting online with the churches of her friends — from California to the Czech Republic.

“Without my faith, I know that I would be very self-involved and discouraged during this time,” said Olson, a counselor at a Plymouth-based Bible college.

Although she admits feeling isolated at times, Olson said her faith allows her to look beyond herself, to Jesus Christ and how he is working during this time. She believes the pandemic is a good time for the church to reach out to people to show them how God has spoken to them.

“Without that, I would be very discouraged, very feeling alone and in this isolation and not probably willing to reach out to other people doing the same thing,” Olson said.

One of her favorite biblical passages is in Corinthians, in which God is described as saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest in me.”

‘We’re living, breathing,

we’re working together’

Like so many of faith leaders, Episcopal priest, the Rev. Henry Doyle in Faribault, is leading services without a congregation; believers view the Mass on Facebook or listen to recorded sermons. Services, now shortened, include a liturgy of the word but not the Eucharist. As many as 200 people stream church services online, and Doyle shares the Mass with his thousands of Facebook friends, who sometimes leave comments thanking him for doing so.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, where Doyle works in alumni relations and outreach, will remain closed for Easter services. He also serves as a father at Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault.

But that hasn’t discouraged Doyle, who shared a message he recently received explaining that in-person church services are only a small portion of the work of the church.

“The church has always been the people who gather together to do the work of compassion and mercy and love and justice, regardless of where they gather,” he said. “They are living, breathing, animated sanctuaries who house divinity. In these terrifying, draining, disorienting moments, the church is doing what it was always supposed to do.”

To Doyle, examples of the church’s message can be seen in exhausted health care workers on the front lines, courageous first responders caring for others on a daily basis, grocery store employees constantly working to fill ever-emptied shelves, and the efforts of parents, teachers, and nonprofit and charity workers.

“We’re living, breathing, we’re working together,” he said. “The church is being the church outside of that physical space where we come to worship together.”

‘The Lord will bring us through this time’

Johnson, Hauge Lutheran’s pastor, says he’s received notes thanking him for sharing hope-filled messages. He is planning for congregants to send in Easter greetings stating, “He is risen,” so parishioners tuning in to his online service Easter Sunday can see the messages of hope.

“The Lord will bring us through this time,” he said.

Johnson cannot track the number of people who watch online, but he is aware of the number of views the videos receive. There were approximately 80 views on March 22. That number swelled to around 175 March 29, a larger audience than he typically has for in-person services. The number of views, he believes, shows people are hungry to share a Christian message with others.

“To me, it’s very encouraging to know that the church has a passion for sharing those things,” he said.

To Johnson, Kenyon’s faith community is similar to those around the world in that there is a sense of devotion amongst church-goers. He said although he hasn’t seen a lot of people in-person due to social distancing measures, he’s noticing a stronger pull to churches during the pandemic.

A unique approach

For the first time in his 46 years of ministry, the Rev. Denny Labat of the Church of St. Peter in St. Peter observed Mass privately due to the pandemic. The Diocese of New Ulm recently stipulated there would be no public masses through at least April 13.

This week, Diocese of New Ulm Bishop John M. LeVoir will post a video of him privately celebrating the Mass on the diocese website. The diocese will also post videos of services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The bishops of the dioceses of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Winona Rochester have also granted a parishioners a dispensation from their obligation to attend Mass.

To Labat, the church must focus on older parishioners who could already be facing isolation and others who might question God during this difficult time. He said people need to be reassured that they are still spiritually connected and pray for each other, doing what they can by making a phone call, or establishing contact in other ways. Church staff have been using the Zoom app mid-day to pray together.

“In spite of the stay-at-home order of the governor and just our needing to abide by that, we still need to maintain contact with family and friends and our faith community,” Labat said. “And we are encouraging our parishioners to make a point of going out of our way to call people, just to touch base with them.”

Despite the hectic current state of affairs, Labat believes there will be better days.

“We will be stronger, and I think as much as you don’t want to go through difficult times or struggles, it does strengthen a person, it does strengthen a community,” he said.

Parishioners raise more

than $28,000 for those

in need

Parishioners at The Church of St. Dominic in Northfield have raised more than $28,000 to loan those needing help paying for housing or other necessities during the pandemic. Donors are aware there is no guarantee they’ll get their money back. Borrowers do so with no expectation of repayment.

“If they can, fine,” said the church’s parochial administrator, the Rev. Bob Hart. “If they cannot, we understand.”

The church livestreams daily Mass at 10 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and continues recording Saturday evening services. Hart added he has heard a lot of appreciative comments from community members regarding their online services.

To Hart, having faith in Christ is essential in these times.

“It’s kind of what’s going to keep them all sane,” he said. “It would be easy to step away from what’s important, because there’s so many distractions. That’s the one thing that people can be assured of.”

Hart shares that faith deeply.

“As people of faith and a community and country, we’re going to come out stronger,” he said. “We just don’t know what’s going to come out on the other side.”

Waseca FCI is making masks for staff, inmates and the community.(Federal Bureau of Prisons photo)

Light shone on Tink Larson Field Monday as part of the “Be the Light” effort across the state. Around 250 schools turned on the lights of their fields to show support for students. (Photo courtesy of Joe Hedervare)

Wounded Minnesota officer to continue recovery out of state

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A wounded southern Minnesota police officer will soon continue his recovery out of state.

The sister-in-law of Officer Arik Matson posted an update on his CaringBridge page last Monday. She says Matson has faced a few bumps in his road to recovery, but he’s “pushing through!”

She says he’s been dealing with depression along with traumatic brain jury. But WCCO-TV reports Matson will fly out of state this week to continue his therapy.

His sister-in-law, Nicole, says the facility Matson is currently staying in does not have the ability to provide the care he needs and that he’s “stoked” about the move.

Matson was shot in the head in an exchange of gunfire in Waseca in January. The suspect, Tyler Janovsky, is charged with with three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer.

spotlight centerpiece
Furloughed workers look ahead, agencies promote job training for unemployed


Laura Lehner can remember the exact moment she realized her company would be impacted by the spread of COVID-19.

It was two weeks before Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order asking residents to stay home from all non-essential work and activities. As a longtime manager for a theatrical supply and costume rental company, the Le Sueur resident said her industry served as an interesting barometer for how the virus would change the local business landscape. Up until March 11, things had been moving along as usual and then, the orders stopped.

“On March 12, we then had customers start calling from across the country to cancel their costume rentals. High schools were closing or getting word that there was a potential for closing,” said Lehner.

In the span of a couple days, she estimated that nearly two-thirds of the company’s business was gone.

Curt Wigham, owner of the Express Employment staffing agency in Owatonna, also experienced the sudden nature of the virus’ impact. He compared it to the recent Great Recession, when he said the economy deteriorated slowly over a longer period of time — giving both employers and employees more opportunity to plan for how to deal with the financial hit.

In his experience this time around, Wigham said a number of businesses have suddenly put a freeze on hiring at the same time that many residents are being furloughed or let go. “I think a lot of companies don’t want to bring people into their work environments yet until this has settled down,” he noted.

At Lehner’s company, she was responsible for furloughing over half of the staff just days after the stream of orders began to dry up. After taking a weekend to process the situation, she had individual meetings with every semployee the company was temporarily letting go, noting that none of them seemed surprised.

Later that week, she explained that the company went into “shutdown mode,” preparing for an indefinite hibernation by paying any outstanding bills, cashing checks and tidying up the inventory. After helping with this process, Lehner was laid off March 20 — leaving just three people left, including the business’ owner, working for its Minnesota office.

“Watching the company that you’ve worked for for 30 years shutting down was one of the most moving experiences,” said Lehner, “in a bad way.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly being described as unprecedented, both Wigham and Lehner looked back over the last couple decades for possible points of comparison. While the former contrasted the coronavirus with the Great Recession, Lehner recalled the impact that 9/11 had on the company.

“All performing arts just shut down, because people were terrified. That aspect was a little different than it is now, but there is still terror,” she recalled. “It took until spring to get going again, and then it resurged like crazy.”

Much immediate work is


For workers who have been laid off and are hoping to take on a new job, Wigham added that many of the sectors that are hiring right now involve putting employees at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

“I don’t know what it is — I don’t know if people are afraid or what. I’ve got 20 jobs that it shouldn’t be this hard to fill,” he noted. “Most of them are on the essential functions list, manufacturing that has the authority to remain open.”

While many grocery stores in the area have implemented additional safety measures, employees at chains across the country have also raised concerns over the lack of personal protective equipment or hazard pay. Locally, frontline associates at both Family Fare in Northfield and Family Fresh Market in St. Peter — both owned by Michigan-based corporation SpartanNash — will receive an additional $2 per hour for time worked between April 5 and 25, according to an April 3 press release.

“There are places that are hiring quickly, but a lot of those are face-to-face with other people and not everyone is comfortable doing that,” added Amanda Mackie, executive director of the Minnesota Valley Action Council.

MVAC serves south-central Minnesota — including Le Sueur, Nicollet and Waseca counties — and Mackie added that recently, her organization has been seeing an uptick in the number of people applying to its energy assistance program.

As Lehner described her industry as a barometer for coming unemployment, Mackie also noted that energy assistance applications can be a sign of things to come. As a first step for families facing a new financial burden, she noted that help with utility bills can free up money for groceries and other necessities.

Training for current — and

other — fields

In addition to applying for assistance due to lay-offs, dislocated worker coordinator Sonji Davis with locally-based Workforce Development, Inc. is also encouraging individuals who are out of work to look into job training opportunities. Her agency partners with local government officials to provide assistance like the Minnesota Family Investment Program, while also offering career counseling and employment preparation opportunities to those who have been laid off through no fault of their own and now qualify for the state’s Dislocated Worker Program.

“We won’t have as many people hiring as we did previously, but it’s my belief that now is a good time to access services and maybe even access online training,” said Davis. “That way, when people are hiring again, you’re coming back even stronger than when you left.”

Another resource for job training and retraining in southern Minnesota is South Central College, a Minnesota State school with locations in Faribault and North Mankato. Dr. Marsha Danielson, vice president of economic development for the college, said that her institution has also worked with the Dislocated Worker Program in the past, receiving government funds to provide training opportunities for workers displaced by a major economic event like COVID-19.

“We try and set them up in occupations that look like they have growth projections or high wages and high demand,” noted Danielson. “We look at those programs to try and re-skill or up-skill individuals into that gap.”

She also acknowledged that many of the higher-growth fields right now involve a significant amount of person-to-person contact — for example, she explained that health care tends to be a growth area in the region. However, she added that there is also a significant need for truck drivers and agricultural workers in southern Minnesota — two professions that may require less face-to-face interaction.

For individuals who have been laid off in the region and are considering training for a new field, she recommended calling South Central College to talk through programming, adding that all training and advising has also been moved into the virtual sphere to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Lehner, who has technically been furloughed, has applied for unemployment insurance and said she’s expecting to see a marked resurgence in her industry once the virus subsides and people are able to gather once more — just as she saw following 9/11.

“Theater is one of those things that people don’t sit around and think about, but our country needs it. Our culture needs it. Being in the same room with people you don’t know is incredible. It will be back, there’s no doubt about it,” she noted, adding that her company’s owner for now has every intention of reopening. “That’s what people are going to want once we come out on the other side of this.”