Community members came together to celebrate another year of the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center and its importance in the lakes area during an informal ceremony Thursday, June 25.
An arm of the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center on Oak Street in Brainerd provides a safe place for child exchanges between parents and supervised parental visits. The name comes from 5- and 4-year old brothers Alex and Brandon Frank, who were murdered by their father in 1996 during an unsupervised visit.
Last year, the child safety center provided services for 1,452 families. That number is much higher for the duration of the center’s 21 years in operation.
Women’s center volunteer Tammy Ebertowski played a key role in orchestrating the event Thursday, which took place outside the center amid the many flowers around the property. Staff and volunteers add new flowers and plants periodically to add to the center’s bright, welcoming environment for visitors of all ages.
Ebertowski has volunteered with the women’s center for many years and said she considers the staff and other volunteers her family. She told the crowd of about 16 people it touches her heart to see the partnerships between the women’s center and other organizations, including area law enforcement.
Another key figure present Thursday was Angie Plantenberg, mother of Alex and Brandon.
“I am just so honored that we have this and that it’s succeeding and that everybody works together to continue to make it work,” Plantenberg said Thursday, attending the event with her daughters. “As a mom, I don’t want anyone else to go through this. … This has saved lives. I’m positive it has. And the women’s shelter has been amazing.”
Vicki Flor, program director at the women’s center, said Plantenberg has been a huge part of making sure what happened to her boys doesn’t happen to anyone else in the community.
“So we’re super grateful,” Flor said.
Jan Lambert, city council member and president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, told Plantenberg the Alex and Brandon center will always be a legacy to her sons.
The Mid-Minnesota Women’s Shelter celebrates 42 years of operation this year, offering an emergency shelter for those experiencing domestic violence. The shelter also provides personal advocacy, information and referral services, criminal justice and legal advocacy, support groups and community education.
“We wouldn’t be here without each and every one of you and what you do to help keep our staff, clients, community safe and supporting us,” said Shannon Wussow, executive director of the women’s center. “The outpouring of support that we have gotten from the entire community since — well before the pandemic — but even since then, has been absolutely amazing.”
A lot of support from the women’s center and the Alex and Brandon center, as Ebertowski noted, comes from local law enforcement agencies. Police chiefs from both Brainerd and Baxter attended Thursday’s event and noted how fortunate the community is to have a place like the safety center.
“We recognize that in a lot of cases it is important that children have the opportunity to stay connected with their parents, regardless of what some of the initial circumstances are,” Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said. “In the long range, it shows that kids have better outcomes when they’re able to.”
Even though parents can make bad choices, Plantenberg added, they can still be parents and should be given the opportunity to have healthy relationships and bond with their children.
McQuiston said he has spoken with other police chiefs who do not have facilities like the Alex and Brandon center or who do not have the strong relationships lakes are law enforcement officers have with women’s center staff.
“I appreciate everybody that works here and all the things that you do,” McQuiston said.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted echoed those sentiments, adding the child safety center has made the community and law enforcement better.
“We weren’t always the best in law enforcement in understanding and connecting with the advocacy realm, but over the last 20 years, I think we’ve made great strides,” Exsted said.
Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux appeared as well Thursday, to show his appreciation for the child safety center and everything staff and volunteers do.
“It takes a certain type of person to do this type of work,” he said, adding he is a big supporter of community organizations who help show people there are circumstances and issues that need to be addressed.
“This is a fantastic facility, and it’s a need that we have that most people will never see in their lives,” Badeaux continued. “They’ll never see it, but we need it, and I really appreciate that.”