Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Refuse to remain silent August 26, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:00 PM
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I AM SO TIRED of it. The headlines. Another woman murdered. The court records. Another man charged with domestic assault. The close-up personal experiences that twist my gut.

An edited snipped of a Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women banner.

An edited snippet of a Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women banner photographed during a recent The Clothesline Project display in Owatonna.

Earlier today my heart raced when I heard the raised voices, the “let me go,” watched the young woman pull away from the young man’s grasp.

I hesitated for a moment. And then I was at the front door in a flash, yelling across my busy street, “Hey!” Her head pivoted toward me. “Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Her response seemed genuine.

Yet, I continued to watch as she crossed the street and headed up the hill, barefoot, shoes in hand.

I’ll likely never know her story. But the behavior and words were enough to concern me, to pull me into action, to speak up.

It’s not the first time I’ve refused to remain silent. Twice before I’ve phoned the police when women were being abused. In my neighborhood, in the open, along a busy busy street. Once I should have called 911, but didn’t. I won’t make that mistake again.

It’s been an interesting day, one which started with a “pop” that sounded like gunfire, followed by a second pop around 8 a.m. That got my attention. It is unnerving to look out your window to see police vehicles parked across the street and two policemen standing in a neighbor’s yard. Turns out they had been dispatched to shoot a sick raccoon.

Shooting. A TV reporter and cameraman in Virginia are dead today. Shot while doing a live broadcast. Just doing their jobs.

I am tired of it all. The violence. The craziness. I don’t blame the media for reporting these stories. It is their job to report the news. They don’t make the news. But sometimes they do.

On days like this—when shots are fired in your neighborhood and at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia—it is easy to feel unsettled and to despair.

But then the opportunity arises to speak up, to yell across the street and ask, “Are you alright?” And you feel the power in your voice, in perhaps making a difference because you chose not to remain silent.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Community pride: A vision & two gardens, all because she cares about Faribault

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

Behind several of these buildings in downtown Faribault, two gardens have been created.

WITHIN MY COMMUNITY, there’s a new sense of optimism rising, a positivity that shouts “community pride.”

Rather than whine and complain about what Faribault lacks, locals are taking action. They are finding solutions and digging in to make this city an even better place.

Several months ago, the Faribault Daily News began publishing good news snippets on the editorial page every Saturday, citing examples of local community pride. This came after editor Jaci Smith called Faribault residents out on their negative attitudes about our community. A group, Citizens in Action, has formed locally to assist with clean-up and other public and private projects in the Faribault area. And recently the Faribault Foundation awarded its first ever Community Pride grants of $500 each to four projects that reflect exactly that—community pride.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

The Second Street Garden, started last year and still in development.

Businesswoman, crafter and all-around optimistic long-time Faribault resident Dee Bjork received one of those grants for the Second Street Garden, a mini garden she began developing last year on a once blighted space in the heart of downtown. It’s a work in progress and a spin-off of a garden she created six years ago behind her sister and brother-in-law’s flooring store next to The Crafty Maven, the business she and another sister run.

Dee is a go-getter, a woman who cares deeply for her community and those who live here. She is always smiling and helping and encouraging.

That is how this all started, when Dee noticed a mom sitting on a bath towel on a curb downtown watching her kids play. She remembered her own childhood. Her mom lounged in a lawn chair, sipping iced tea while watching Dee and her siblings play ball in their yard.

Dee and Michelle

Dee and Michelle. Photo courtesy of Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven.

Dee wanted the same for families living downtown. So she created Michelle’s Garden, named after a young girl she had begun mentoring. Michelle, now a teen, still lives downtown Faribault with her family and remains near and dear.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A street side view of the space now occupied by the Second Street Garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

A lovely sign defines the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour's Cleaners next to the garden.

Beautiful flowers and plants spill from containers at Dufour’s Cleaners next to the garden.

With the success of Michelle’s Garden, the focus shifted recently to another spot, a vacant area between a dry cleaner and a hair salon. Dee wanted, she said, “to create a beautiful space outside in a space that was neglected but had potential.”

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

Flowers spill from a raised bed in the Second Street Garden.

She wants the Second Street Garden to become a multi-purpose green space for those who live, work and shop downtown.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

A side view of the Second Street Garden.

Already the lot, once filled with rock and debris and generally neglected, is shaping into an oasis of flowers and vegetables. Neighbors, gardeners, church members, youth and more—70 people, according to the list Dee’s kept—have worked together to create the two downtown gardens. There have been cash and plant donations, too, and a community planting day.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

Plans call for latticework to eventually hide these utility boxes.

A splash of flowers in the garden.

A splash of flowers pop color into the garden.

Potted tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds.

Tomatoes will eventually be planted in yet to be built raised beds rather than in pots.

And now Dee has that $500 Community Pride grant, and is seeking additional funding to continue with her vision for the Second Street Garden. A concrete pad will be poured for the dumpster and garbage containers that sit on a side of the lot, a necessity for those who occupy the adjoining building. The dumpster will also be fenced. She plans, too, to have a concrete pad installed for seating under a pergola. The city has promised a picnic table for seasonal placement. Latticework on the pergola will hide utility boxes. More raised beds are planned for the tomatoes that now grow in pots along a wall.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

Gorgeous petunias add color to the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

A dog waits on stairs overlooking the garden.

Veggies to give away.

Garden veggies.

Already the two gardens are lush with growing vegetables—tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli and zucchini—to be distributed among those downtown and also shared with customers at The Crafty Maven.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Encouraging words posted at the garden.

Dee saw a problem and solved it. And because of that, Faribault’s downtown is a better place.

FYI: Check back tomorrow to learn about another project that has been funded by the Faribault Foundation’s Community Pride Grant program.

If you wish to help Dee with the Second Street Garden, consider a cash, labor or materials donation. Contact her at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling