Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center celebrates 20 years of promoting child safety

For the past 20 years, the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center has been a safe place for custodial and non-custodial parents to exchange their children and warm, open space for non-custodial parents to have supervised visits with children.

Patty Wetterling (left), child safety advocate; Angie Plantenberg, co-founder of the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center and mother of Alex and Brandon; and Louise Seliski, founder of the Mid-Minnesota Women's Center, chat with one another during an open house to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Alex and Brandon center Friday, Dec. 13. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

What was born out of tragedy now helps prevent the very thing that inspired it.

Twenty-three years ago, 5- and 4-year-old brothers Alex and Brandon Frank were killed by their father during an unsupervised visit while their parents were going through a divorce. The boys’ mother, Angie Plantenberg, used that devastation to create a place that would prevent other parents from having to experience her tragic loss. She helped start the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center in Brainerd, an arm of the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center that provides a safe place for child exchanges and supervised parental visits.

On Friday, Dec. 13, the Alex and Brandon center celebrated its 20th anniversary.

“It’s amazing to me that it’s been 20 years and we’re still here,” Plantenberg said to a crowd during the anniversary celebration. “... We want to keep saving lives, and we’re on the right track, and I’m very glad that we’re still able to do that.”

Plantenberg was joined Friday by Louise Seliski, who founded the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center in 1978, and Patty Wetterling, a national child safety advocate whose 11-year-old son Jacob was abducted from St. Joseph and killed in 1989.


Seliski wrote a grant through the Minnesota Department of Corrections in 1978 to develop a battered women’s shelter, as there were only two in the state at the time, both in the Twin Cities.

That grant helped launch the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, which ultimately became the fifth shelter of its kind in Minnesota.

“I know I get an awful lot of credit for the work that was done here,” Seliski said, “but there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that were responsible for the women’s center and for Alex and Brandon, and for all of you, I thank you most humbly.”

Today, the women’s center provides a 24-hour intake to emergency shelter for both men and women experiencing domestic violence, along with their children and pets. In addition to physical safety, the shelter provides personal advocacy, information and referral, support groups and community education. It also operates the Alex and Brandon center.

“Louise and Angie, I would like to thank you for doing what you do, being who you are and making so many lives better in so many ways, including mine,” Shannon Wussow, executive director of the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center said. “I admire and respect all that you have endured and accomplished. There are no words for me to tell you just how much of an impact you’ve had on our community, but the fact of the matter is none of us would be here if it weren’t for both of you, so on behalf of Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center Board of Directors, staff and all of our volunteers, thank you.”

Vicki Flor (left), program director at Mid-Minnesota Women's Center and Shannon Wussow, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Women's Center give an award to Angie Plantenberg, co-founder of Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center and mother to Alex and Brandon, during the open house to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the center Friday, Dec. 13. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

At the Alex and Brandon center, custodial and non-custodial parents can exchange their children without having to see one another. It also provides play rooms and a full kitchen for non-custodial parents to visit with their children in a safe, supervised place. The center facilitates more than 100 exchanges each month.


“I’m so proud of the staff that work here,” said Vicki Flor, program director at the Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center. “It takes a lot of empathy and a lot of nonjudgmental and just a lot of kindness in order to do this job, and so all of the staff that work for Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, I’m proud of all of them.

“...We’re trying to make a horrible, horrible situation into something that we can talk about, that we don’t just sit and cry. We have words that we need to talk about, and we’re listening to other people’s voices.”

Wetterling is one of those voices that continues to be a part of the national conversation on domestic violence and child abuse. She and her husband Jerry co-founded the Jacob Wetterling Foundation to educate communities about child safety issues in order to prevent child exploitation and abductions. She helped pass the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, which requires states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. Wetterling presents victim impact sessions for law enforcement training programs, Amber Alert and technical assistance training and joined the Zero Abuse Project Speakers Bureau in 2015.

“This is the heart of what the world needs, to build community to all be here for one another,” Wetterling said Friday.

“I love it here; it’s a happy place,” she said of the Alex and Brandon center, which she first visited during an open house for its opening 20 years ago.

Wetterling spoke of how the world has changed in the last decades and how that has impacted the safety of children.

“Our children are growing up in a different world than the one that we knew and the one that I grew up in and the one that Jacob knew, and I think it’s important to hold on to the good part of that world. The world that Jacob knew was good and was safe. And same with Alex and Brandon. This is the world we’re fighting for, and we can do it,” she said.

If we can imagine that world, we can take the necessary steps to get back to that place, she told the audience. One of the steps, she noted, is the Alex and Brandon center, which might be the only safe place for some of the children who come through its doors.


“When they walk in, they can be safe. They know people care. They can have people to turn to if something comes up,” Wetterling said, later praising the community support behind the center and expressing her gratitude that there are local places like the Alex and Brandon center where she can refer parents in need.

“Going through domestic situations, there’s a really big sense of loneliness, and the important thing is you’re not alone,” she said. “There are people here who know what to do and how to help, so that’s a huge gift to the community.”

Lt. Chad Kleffman of the Brainerd Police Department expressed the importance of a place like the women’s center and the Alex and Brandon center from a law enforcement standpoint, noting how often he suggests them as resources for those involved in domestic situations.

Lt. Chad Kleffman, Brainerd Police Department, speaks at the open house to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center Friday, Dec. 13. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

While looking through years of case files recently, Kleffman said he came across very few calls for service at the Alex and Brandon center and almost none in the last 15 years.

“What that tells me is they do a great job for a lot of people,” he said. “That’s huge for a community.”

Not only is Kleffman forced to deal with domestic and child abuse nearly daily in his line of work, it’s one reason why he went into law enforcement in the first place, he said, revealing he grew up in St. Cloud and was in St. Joseph the day Jacob Wetterling went missing.


“It really affected us in a way actually towards me going into this field,” he said. “I still think about that night often.”

Anniversary celebration

Snowmen constructed out of balloons, sporting orange hats and scarves in honor of supervised visitation awareness, adorned the Alex and Brandon center for the anniversary celebration Friday. Cake, pizza, prizes and even Santa and Mrs. Claus were on hand for guests, along with representatives from Toys for Kids and the Brainerd Fire Department. Tiny Kix dancers from Just for Kix provided entertainment later in the afternoon.

Prior to the entertainment, women’s center staff presented awards in the shape of stars with the words “in honor of your humble service” to Seliski, Plantenberg and Wetterling.

Balloons decorate the open house to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center Friday, Dec. 13. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The day’s events would not have been possible, women’s center staff said, without the hard work of dedicated volunteer Tammy Ebertowski.

“She is so passionate and believes in what we do so much,” Flor said. “...We are very, very thankful to consider you one of our volunteers and our friends.”

Ebertowski thanked those at the women’s center for all they do.


“I and my family stayed at women’s shelter a long time ago, and that’s always stayed with me,” she said. “And I’ve had the honor and privilege and pleasure to host events and give of my time, and I’m just grateful to the advocates and the women’s center for just being a part of my life.”

Wussow said she enjoyed being able to gather with with so many people who support the Alex and Brandon center and those who want to learn more about it.

“I am proud and honored to be a part of it,” she said. “We are so fortunate as a community to have this here. It’s the only safety center in Region Five, and if it wasn’t here, people would be going elsewhere … or they wouldn’t be going anywhere at all, and that’s their safety that’s in jeopardy.”

For more photos, go to .

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.
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