Crow Wing Energized profiles Brooks, Sjodin

The two women look at how health and fitness impact their lives and what they see as barriers to making healthy changes and tips to overcome them.

Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service.

As one of the largest employers in the county, Crow Wing County understands the importance of health and wellness with their employees and the greater community they serve.

They partnered with Essentia Health and the Statewide Health Improvement Program to create Crow Wing Energized, a grassroots effort to improve health and wellness in Crow Wing County.

In addition to the work they do as a whole, many of the staff provide health and wellness connections to the county residents they serve.

Kaylo 3.JPG
Kaylo Brooks. Submitted photo


Profile: Kaylo Brooks, senior social worker

What is your role at the county? My title is child welfare social worker. I am a licensed social worker and have been at Crow Wing County for 12 years.

Who do you primarily work with? My main clientele are teen and young parents who are experiencing barriers to having stability in their lives for a variety of reasons. I mostly visit with families in their homes. The families and I work together to try to remove barriers so the parents and their children can have healthy, stable futures.

I am very fortunate because I am working my passion! I love engaging with families in their homes and working with them to create stabilization. I also do a weekly group with young moms in order for them to have support from other moms who may be in similar situations, and also for them to get resources regarding concerns that they may be having. We always have a topic for this group and many times those topics revolve around healthy living. Group is typically the highlight of my week because it is so rewarding and inspiring to watch the young moms connect, give each other advice, and lift each other up.

How do you connect with people who have needs in the community? I connect with the families I serve in a variety of ways. I may get a referral from a public health nurse, or I may be connected to a family who has been identified through our child protection team as needing some preventative services so that they do not fully enter into the child protection system. I also do what is called the minor parent assessments. When a baby is born to a mother under the age of 18, the state of Minnesota requires that a social worker visit the home and complete an assessment with the mother (and father if he is available). Sometimes, depending on the age of the mother or the family situation, further interventions are required and then I will continue to work with that family.

How does health and wellness tie in to the services you provide? Being healthy and well physically and mentally is fundamental to having safety and stability within a family. When there are physical health deficits or mental health struggles with a parent or child the entire family is affected. It is important to assess what a family’s needs are in the area of health and wellness in order to create a plan for stability moving forward. Once the needs are assessed I will work with the family to connect them to resources that will address their health and wellness concerns.

What specific resources do you provide around healthy living? After I meet with a family several times and am able to assess their needs I will make referrals accordingly. I make referrals for mental health resources via our area counseling agencies, referrals for chemical health assessments and services, referrals for mental health medication, and referrals for physical health assessments if needed.

I encourage all of my families to identify a primary care practitioner who can get to know them to best meet their physical health needs. Having a primary practitioner gives them a more personal, holistic approach to health care rather than using Urgent Care or the Emergency Department unnecessarily. I also request that most of my families work with the Crow Wing County WIC department in order to get nutrition education for their children. As topics arise during my home visit around health and wellness, I try to provide families with referrals, accurate information, and encouragement to make healthy changes for themselves and their children.

How does the above impact the people you serve? My services are only as good as the resources I have at my disposal. I am very grateful to live in a community where we have a variety of resources, not just to address health and wellness, but other areas of need as well. Families are negatively impacted when we have a resource deficit in an area, and positively affected with we have a variety of resources in our community to meet their needs.


Making healthy changes isn’t easy. Can you think of some barriers people have, or maybe some tips people have found to overcome barriers to create healthy change in their lives? One barrier I see is that many of the families I serve do not know how to make healthy meals. Some people have been raised in homes where their caregivers didn’t cook or where their caregivers relied heavily on fast food, and therefore they don’t know how to make many meals.

Another barrier is people’s lack of education on nutrition. Many people don’t realize that eating healthy is not just good for a person’s body but their mind as well.

Transportation can be a huge barrier for people to create healthy changes. It can be difficult for families to get to medical appointments and mental health appointments or appointments to address their chemical use concerns. Lack of child care can be a difficulty for some families to be able to be physically active or to meet their mental health or chemical health needs.

And, lastly, I see time constraints being an issue for families to exercise or eat healthy. It can be very difficult for families to carve out time to meal prep or to get exercise scheduled into their day. One tip my families have found that is useful is incorporating exercise into time with their children such as going for a walk or doing a workout video with their kids (and the bonus is that this tires out the kiddos!).

Some of my families have found that creating a consistent bedtime routine for their kids gives them time to workout or work on their mental health after they put their kids to bed. Some of my families have worked on their cooking skills by searching online for easy meals to make. A simple Google search can provide a plethora of easy options.

What role does health and wellness play in your life, personally and professionally?

I have been physically active most of my life and find it is a huge stress reliever for me. For the last seven years I have been lifting weights and have a special love for lifting. I find that I can really get my frustrations out over a good deadlift or bench press. I know personally how much better my mental health is when I am being physically active, and therefore I am not just talking the talk when I talk with the families I serve about the importance of physical activity for both the body and the mind. I also live a chemically free lifestyle and have for the last 25 years. I am proud of my sobriety and am certain that abstaining is beneficial to my overall health and well-being. I also hope that my chemically-free living can inspire hope in others that it can be done.

Have you had any specific training around health and wellness you want to let the readers know about? As a licensed social worker I am required to have a certain amount of continuing education credits and many of my educational opportunities are around health and wellness, specifically mental health wellness.


Is there anything else you want to add? I want the readers to know that prevention really does work! I have worked in the area of prevention my entire career at Crow Wing County and have many wonderful examples of families who have been given preventative resources and who have thrived because of it. I am grateful to work in a community that values prevention because it truly makes a difference for kids and families in Crow Wing County!

Denise Sjodin. Submitted Photo

Profile: Denise Sjodin, public health nurse

What is your role at the county? I am a public health nurse and team lead for the Crow Wing County Public Health. I have a variety of roles in this position, including coordinator for Child and Teen Checkups program (CTC), family home visiting, and providing services in the Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) program.

Who do you serve? I serve all of Crow Wing County in many ways. In my family home visiting role, I work with pregnant women, moms and babies, high risk infants, and children. In my work as coordinator for CTC, I mainly work with families birth to 21 who are on medical assistance. In WIC, we serve pregnant women, postpartum women, and children up to age 5.

How does health and wellness tie in to the services you provide? We are Public Health — everything we do is about the health of our community. Through CTC’s outreach, we remind parents about the importance of preventative medical, vision, and dental appointments. Making sure children, birth to 21 years old, are going in for their physicals with their medical provider is one area of focus. We provide assistance for families that need help scheduling an appointment, finding a provider, or using their insurance benefits for transportation. We partner with medical and dental facilities to make sure the families are being seen and that they get a complete Child and Teen Checkup.

What specific resources do you provide around healthy living? Through the Child and Teen Checkup program we provide outreach to families in a variety of ways:

1. Mailings with information on their child at their current age level. These can include growth


and developmental milestones, information and guidance on parenting, and healthy lifestyle

tips (like avoiding sugary drinks, or dental health).

2. Phone calls to answer questions and provide information.

3. Community events where we do face to face conversations with people about several health

care topics and /or answer questions and provide assistance.

WIC provides healthy foods via the new E-WIC card. This will make shopping much easier for families. In WIC we provide education on many different nutrition related topics, like ways to help their child try new foods, offer reassurance if struggling with a picky eater, and give community resources if needed. We offer breastfeeding education, support, and assist with problem solving. All staff in Public Health are trained as certified lactation counselors.

How does the above impact the people you serve? Ongoing communication helps to remind families to make sure to bring their kids into the doctor. We especially want to focus on the 12-21 age groups this year. When the young kids no longer have regular checkups and fewer immunizations are needed, we find this age group just doesn’t go to the doctor unless they are sick or they need a sports physical. Sports physicals can be done as part of the child and

teen checkups. It is important to allow this age group time to discuss their own health concerns and have questions answered during one on one time with their doctor is important and models the importance of health and wellness.


There are many families that utilize public health’s resources like WIC and home visits. Getting nutritious foods into the mouths of the kids who are developing and learning will help them to grow up healthy and strong and ultimately encourage healthy eaters as they grow. This will set them up to have good lifestyle skills to carry into adulthood.

Making healthy changes isn’t easy. Can you think of some barriers people have, or maybe some tips people have found to overcome barriers to create healthy change in their lives? Transportation is a huge barrier for rural communities like Crow Wing County that has limited public transportation. Making sure people are aware of Medical Assistance benefits for transportation is a big part of our role.

Access to healthy, low-cost food is another area of need. We refer families to community resources for affordable healthy foods like Ruby’s Pantry, Pop Up Produce events, farmers markets and for those that qualify the SNAP program.

What role does health and wellness play in your life, personally and professionally?

As a nurse I am passionate about the individual’s overall health, and the health of my community. I try and stay active, like many our long winters can make that very challenging! I love the outdoors and what a perfect place to live to be able to enjoy camping, hiking, fishing (currently I have been spending many weekends on the lake) and turkey hunting. I also serve on several committees like the Tobacco Coalition (T-21) and the Child Protection Team.

Have you had any specific training around health and wellness you want to let the readers know about? I have been a certified lactation counselor for over 10 years. Supporting and educating women on the benefits breastfeeding is one of the joys of my job.

To learn more about the programs and resources offered through Crow Wing County, visit


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