New director hopes to expand restorative justice initiatives in Crow Wing County

“If we want to see these big changes in our community and in our state and in our country, it’s going to have to start with youth."

Brian Andrews, a Crosby native, took over as the new executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project July 20. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“Repair the harm. Build the community. One kid at a time.”

It’s those 10 words that drew Brian Andrews into his new role as the executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project.

“A lot of this bounces back off of my own personal experience in life,” he said during an interview Aug. 6. “And just having well-placed people at the right time in my life and the impact that it had, and now the impact that I’m able to have on countless other people — it’s hard not to want to be a part of that.”

Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, now in its 16th year of operation, is a Brainerd-based nonprofit that works with juvenile offenders in Crow Wing County to repair harm they created. Kids who are referred to the organization by the county attorney’s office, police departments or school districts meet with facilitators, community volunteers and those affected to discuss the incident. As a group, they determine how the offender can not only take accountability for their actions but also help in the healing process for anyone victimized.

It might be posters reminding drivers of etiquette around school buses, hand-drawn by a teenaged driver who committed a stop arm violation while looking at his phone. Or it could be community service projects in city parks where acts of vandalism occurred. No matter the situation, after the offender completes a contract designed for each client, their record is cleared, helping to pave the way to a brighter future for all involved.



How to get involved

Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project is always looking for community volunteers and plans to schedule volunteer training sessions in the near future.

To donate financially to the organization, visit .

For more information about the organization, visit , call 218-454-4154 or email .

The nonprofit is located at 521 Charles St., Suite 102, Brainerd.


Andrews took over July 20 from John McGee, who served as director for the past year. Though he stepped down from his executive role, McGee plans to continue on with the project as a volunteer and believes he has left the organization in good hands with Andrews at the helm.

“I can hardly sleep at night just thinking about what the possibilities are under Brian’s leadership because he’s young and he’s hungry, he’s enthusiastic, he’s experienced,” McGee said while sitting down with Andrews and Program Coordinator Doris Krueger Aug. 6. “... I just think he’s going to have an understanding of kids. … I don’t think I can bring to the party what he brings to the party as far as being able to really understand kids in his head and his heart.”


For Krueger, it was a Zoom interview with Andrews that solidified him as her choice for the director position. The patience and gentleness she said he showed when one of his six kids interrupted the interview was inspiring.

“I think that’s so important working with kids, whether it be the victim or the offender, we need to be very open and patient and honest with them,” she said. “When you pick up personality on a Zoom meeting, it’s pretty dynamic.”

Brian Andrews, new executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, talks with Program Coordinator Doris Krueger Friday, Aug. 6, about the nonprofit's future. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Andrews joins the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project at an abnormal time, as the caseload has dwindled significantly during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the nonprofit handled 65 cases. McGee said they were on track for about 100 this year, with 30-40 under their belts by early March. The pandemic, however, halted that number.

But the downtime created a perfect transitional period for Andrews.

The Crosby native spent the last four years working at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge as well as volunteering in the community, like speaking to seventh graders each year about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“I have a little bit of background in that myself. So there’s been restoration in my own life, which adds to the fuel of my fire,” he said, noting he wasn’t looking for a job when the restorative justice opportunity came up but he has a passion for working with youths.


Before his time at Teen Challenge, Andrews spent nine years on disability, with no intention of going back to work. But one thing led to another, and before he knew it, the opportunity to apply at at the nonprofit fell into his lap.

“I just broke down,” he said upon receiving the job offer, “because I see it parallel so much with some of my vision in my life and in the way I see things in the world. And to have an organization be lined right up with my value system is just a great fit.”

The lull in cases also opened up the opportunity for new partnerships, like the recent collaboration with Crow Wing County Community Services.

Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project is located off Charles Street in Brainerd. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

“We had needs for work to do,” McGee said, “and the county had needs for work to be done, and we’re looking forward to exploring possibilities with them.”

Andrews hopes the partnership will help bridge any gaps in youth services in the community and allow the restorative justice project to branch out a bit, continuing its work beyond the group conference that occurs with each case by working on either side of the issue — prevention and follow-up.

“Without changing the main focus of our work, I think we can have a greater impact,” Andrews said.


Other organizations the nonprofit is exploring partnerships with are Upward Bound and Outward Bound.

Upward Bound is a U.S. Department of Education program that encourages high school students to pursue secondary education options and especially works with students from low-income families or from families in which neither parent earned a bachelor’s degree.

“Through Upward Bound, someone’s going to be meeting with that young person at least a couple times a month to see that academically they’re on course, to see that they’re not being truant and just really connecting into that educational part,” Krueger said.

Outward Bound is a character development nonprofit that uses high-impact activities in a wilderness setting to teach skills like leadership, communication and teamwork. The organization's Intercept program aims to help teens who struggle either at home or school by taking them on 28-day group wilderness expeditions to develop positive decision-making skills and create a positive self-image.

Whether it’s developing a scholarship program allowing a client to take part in Intercept, or just drawing inspiration from the Outward Bound model, McGee believes there’s opportunity to be had.

John McGee (left), former executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice, discusses visions for the nonprofit's future with new director Brian Andrews Friday, Aug. 6. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Andrews said he’s constantly thinking about opportunities, too. What he hopes, perhaps most of all, to accomplish in his new role is to spread the organization’s message throughout the community, increasing awareness and hopefully sparking future collaborations. For every person he meets who hasn’t heard of the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, he sees an opportunity.


“People that hear our story, hear our mission, want to be involved in some way or another or at least support it,” Andrews said. “And so one of the major impacts that I want to have with LARJP and with the community is to get out there and share it so more people have it.”

The organization has community volunteers from all backgrounds and walks of life, with the goal of pairing offenders with someone who might share an interest or an experience.

“If kids are getting into scrapes, we have facilitators that can step in there that have walked that walk. And I think that’s really important,” Krueger said. “That’s a big part of our program. It’s the heart that we have for whatever it might be. We all bring our talents to the table.”

As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And LARJP wants to help create that village.

“If we want to see these big changes in our community and in our state and in our country, it’s going to have to start with youth. We’re going to have to start working with the youth, pouring into the youth,” Andrews said. “... It’s not an overnight thing obviously, but if we want to see the big changes in all those sectors, it’s going to start with the youth.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads