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Community swings into action: New playground helps heal relationships

Andrew Ostlund, Mikinzie Fox, Chris Pederson and Sarah Kinkeade joined forces while participating in a leadership class through the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Ox Business Academy.

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Chase Paulson and Richard Roubal get to spend time each week with their children at the playground.

What may sound like a simple activity for some parents is so much more for Paulson and Roubal, who are residential clients at Central Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.

New playground equipment at the Brainerd facility, which treats those battling substance use disorders, has been a blessing for the two fathers when their children come to visit. The credit for the shiny new playthings goes to a community-wide effort led by four business leaders who just wanted to help.

Andrew Ostlund, Mikinzie Fox, Chris Pederson and Sarah Kinkeade joined forces while participating in a leadership class through the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce’s Blue Ox Business Academy.

The four came together in January 2020 when they were tasked with completing a community service project and realized they had a passion for those struggling with addiction. When they started asking around to see what they could do, Sam Anderson, director of Adult & Teen Challenge in Brainerd, had just the thing.

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“A lot of our guys have children. And because of addiction, those relationships with their children have been damaged over the years. And so for them to be able to have a safe place for them to interact with their kids in a healthy way and rebuild that relationship with their children, it’s critical to their recovery,” Anderson said Friday, Oct. 29, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground.

Parts of the last playground at the facility were 40 years old, with equipment made out of wood, often giving kids splinters and not creating a very safe, fun atmosphere.

For Fox and Kinkeade, who have young kids themselves, one look at the outdated equipment told them it was not something they would even let their children play on.

“We wanted to be able to give the guys something that they could be proud that their kids could come and play on and be also excited about,” Fox said, noting the playground is great, too, for when the guys at Teen Challenge want some one-on-one conversation with their significant others during visits.

The new playground definitely fits that bill.

“My kids played on the old playground, and it was in rough shape. I mean, there were 4-by-6s that were holding the swings, and they were bending, and it was really beat up,” Paulson said. “We’re lucky to have this one. My kids love it. I’ve got four kids, and every one of them can enjoy a different part of the playground, which is awesome. … They really knocked it out of the park.”

There aren’t a lot of activities for kids to do inside the facility, explained Roubal, who also has four children. Having a safe playground for his kids to use and burn off energy is a blessing.

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And it’s nice to have something the men can do with their kids as well.

“It used to be just … coloring books or throwing a football around,” Paulson said. “... Now being able to be on the playground, being able to just interact with the small things, you know, the swing set, the slides — even us being bigger guys, being able to get on the playground with our kids is just amazing.”

The four organizers seeing all their hard work coming to fruition is also amazing.

“We were in tears,” Ostlund said of the August day when the equipment went in.

The journey was so emotional, in part, because of how long it took. Momentum on the project stalled not long after it got going, as the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 drastically hindered fundraising efforts. With face-to-face meetings mostly out of the question, the group turned to grant writing and managed to secure a $15,000 grant from KABOOM!, a national nonprofit that helps build playgrounds. Teen Challenge already had some seed money for the project, and help also came from the group’s four employers — CliftonLarsonAllen, Franzen Bank, Crow Wing Power Credit Union and Bremer Bank.

“The hardest thing for me was the time it took — having to be persistent and really keep asking people for money, think outside the box and all that,” Ostlund said.

They slowly but steadily used their local connections to collect more donations, eventually raising nearly $65,000 to spend on designing and building the playground.

“I don’t think any of us knew exactly how long it was going to take, how much work it would be, but it was definitely all worth it, and it just — I think — means so much to all of us,” Fox said.

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The other emotional piece of the project comes from the effect addiction has had on the lives of the organizers themselves.

Pederson said his ex-wife went through a similar rehabilitation program in the Twin Cities, and Ostlund has seen his dad, brother and other family members battle addiction.

“Drug addiction runs rampant in my family. So it was pretty emotional for me because I felt like I was able to give back to the people that are trying to help,” Ostlund said. “... These guys that are going there are parents, and they are someone’s brother, and they are someone’s son.”

And now those parents and siblings and kids at Central Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge know that there are people out there rooting for them and willing to put in the time, money and effort to help improve their lives.

But the Teen Challenge clients assisted in the initiative themselves as well, by volunteering to help install the equipment and saving money on construction workers. A job that was supposed to take a day or two was done in just a few short hours with all the extra help.

With the playground now in place, the last piece of the project is to erect a plaque in the spring with the names of all who donated to the cause — no matter how much.

“Ultimately,” Ostlund said, “it just was a grassroots campaign to do something good in the community, and it worked.”


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: EVERYDAY PEOPLE
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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