Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The masks of Milaca October 6, 2017


IF I SPOT A THRIFT STORE, you can bet I will stop. I value a bargain and the repurposing of stuff. That comes from someone who, to this day, finds it difficult to shop anything other than a sales rack for clothing. I grew up without much and still watch my spending.


Right outside the thrift store, this artsy fire hydrant reinforces the idea of being there for each other.


With that background, you can understand why Randy and I recently stopped at The Community Closet Thrift Store in Milaca on our way to the Brainerd Lakes area and other parts Up North. We’d never been to Milaca and had just enough time to duck into the thrift store and a bookstore down the street.



Our drop-in at The Community Closet proved untimely with the seasonal changing out of stock. Despite that disappointment in minimal merchandise, I left with a positive feeling. You see, this is not just any thrift store. This place is an extension of Pearl Crisis Center, a non-profit which provides support and resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Mille Lacs County. Sales proceeds support efforts of the crisis center.


Photographer Erica Isaacson, also an advocate at Pearl, took the photo, right, of the young woman with a theatre mask.


Among the center’s advocacy outreach is a window display that grabs the attention of shoppers and those passing by The Community Closet. “Masked” certainly garnered my interest. As a strong proponent of the visual and literary arts, I found myself drawn to the masks surrounding a photo of a young woman unmasked.



The art reveals, in a strong visual, how victims of domestic abuse often hide behind a mask, pretending that everything is alright/normal/OK. I noted in those masks the tears, the scars, the black eye, the messages, sometimes hidden, sometimes bold.


If you look closely, you will see this message written on this mask: I am lost. It is dark here.


An accompanying poem by Steven Sjoberg offers further insight and reads in part:


To most people looking
she is just one simple face
Then again her mask is ripped off
and it’s back to the dark place.


I see conflict here between the word happy and the dark eye. Promise, yet darkness, in that rainbow.


Abuse victims and those in Pearl’s Teens Against Dating Abuse program created the masks featured in the thrift store window and also at the crisis center.


A Halloween mask for sale at a southern Minnesota antique shop and used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


In this month of October, when masks are so prevalent, perhaps it’s time to view masks beyond Halloween. Consider, too, the masks worn by victims of domestic abuse.


FYI:  October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, please call 911. Otherwise reach out to a trusted family member, friend or local support and advocacy center/shelter for help. You need a safe plan to leave your abuser. You are so worth it. There is no need to hide behind a mask, pretending all is alright while you endure abuse, whether psychological, emotional, mental, financial, spiritual, technological and/or physical. You deserve to be unmasked, to live free of abuse.

If you are the friend or family member of someone in an abusive relationship, educate yourself and seek professional help on how to best help the one you love.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How my church is connecting to young adults April 11, 2016

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I purchased Scripture cards from christianbook.com to enclose in the greeting cards.

I purchased peace-themed Scripture cards from christianbook.com to enclose in the greeting cards.

FOR AWHILE NOW I’ve thought my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, should mail care packages to college students. Finally that idea, although a bit modified, has become a reality.

Artist Arlene Rolf, a friend and Trinity member, donated greeting cards for the outreach project. The cards are feature images of her batik art.

Artist Arlene Rolf, a friend and Trinity member, donated greeting cards for the outreach project. The cards feature images of her batik art.

Four of us, who are working on outreach as part of a visioning process, recently mailed greeting cards with encouraging messages, Scripture cards and gift cards to 23 young adults from our congregation. That option, rather than the more costly care packages, realistically fit our finances.

We can complain all we want about youth disengagement from the church. But if we don’t do something about it, then we really ought to stop whining.

I also ordered joy-themed Scripture and inspirational cards from christianbook.com.

I also ordered joy-themed Scripture and inspirational cards from christianbook.com.

I’m not so naïve as to believe this first project of the College Plus Connection Team is going to bring young people back to church. Yet, I am optimistic enough to believe these mailings, this connection, at least shows that we care. I care about these “kids” because they are part of my faith family. Many are also the sons and daughters of friends. Anytime someone cares is a positive. And that can make a difference in the life of a young person.

Another one of Arlene's batik print greeting cards.

Another one of Arlene’s batik print greeting cards.

Implementing a project like this can be a challenge. We started with a list of about 70 names. It’s really really tough to track down addresses and other information when many people no longer have landlines. Publicizing our efforts didn’t help either.

Rather than despair, our team decided that if we reached even one young person, we succeeded. So we succeeded 23 times. We mailed cards to young adults who are in college, working and/or serving in the military, thus the name College Plus. They live in places ranging from Faribault to Boston to Thailand and the Netherlands. They now know that we at Trinity care about them. And that’s important in any ministry. We all want to feel valued and connected to others, whether in a faith family, a school family, a work family or even our adoptive or blood family.

I’d like to hear more ideas on how a congregation can connect with young people once they’ve left home. Please share.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling