Working Poor Families Left Behind

New Study Shows Uneven Economic Recovery Leaving Some Behind

A new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that $1.7 million more  children are living in poverty than during the Great Depression. And even more distressing: the recent economic recovery seems to have side-stepped children and families of color.

The study should concern all of us — and especially policy makers — because these families are actually working. Generally called “the working poor,” these people are the fuel that makes our communities what they are. They make necessary the contributions, providing the needed labor, and contribute to our quality of life. They are your mechanics, your wait staff at restaurants, your construction company’s receptionists, your dental hygienists, your bank tellers, your custodians, your your customer service attendants and first point of contact almost anywhere that does business with the public.

North Dakota overall ranks seventh in child-well being, down one from a steady sixth place each year from 2012 to 2014. While our state leads the nation in growth of gross domestic product and per capital income, there has been little change in the overall child poverty rate since 2001, according to the North Dakota Kids Count Fact Book.  In Insights on Children publication, released in September 2014, Kids Count also reported that:

  • North Dakota has had the lowest annual unemployment rate of any state in the nation since 2009, suggesting that most children, including children living in poverty, have working parents.
  • In 2012 (the most recent reporting period) 76 percent of very poor children had a parent in the workforce.

Drilled down even more, North Dakota legislative districts 36 and 37, serving the city of Dickinson and Stark County (and parts of surrounding counties), had almost one-fourth of its families living in poverty, below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, in 2013. And this is during arguably one of the most prosperous times in southwest North Dakota’s history.

The 2015 Data Book, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, measures child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The Casey Foundation report finds that the rising tide of recovery, with both increased employment and more concentrated wealth, has left stagnant pockets of low-income, struggling communities and families, where a child’s future is anchored in scarcity and hardship.

Family assets make a difference to a child’s future and to the future of our communities. According to Kids Count, while a basic level of income enables parents to provide for their children’s day-to-day needs, assets — such as savings, home equity, life insurance and stocks and bonds — allow parents to offer their children a better future. Research shows that family assets (defined as total net worth and liquid assets such as savings and mutual funds) positively impact academic achievement in grade school, as well as college attendance and completion.


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Small Deposits=Big Gains

By Mark Billings

Especially when working with youth, we never know when something we say or do will be modeled and replayed — either for the positive or negative.

As a youth volunteer and parent with three teenagers, I’ve seen the impact both ways. Sometimes when I have too many things on my mind, I’ll forget a detail only to remember it in my sleep or days later. Ironically, I see this quality in one of my sons. While preparing for a long road trip, we agreed he was to mow our lawn front and back the morning of our departure. The morning arrived, I raced into work to wrap things up in the office and bolted home. As I pulled into the driveway, my excitement quickly faded as I saw the uncut lawn in the front. Like something I may have done, my son had forgot to mow the entire lawn and only finished the back.

On a positive note, I was leading a youth class discussing servant leadership several years ago and suggested the teens memorize this acronym: Selfless, Empathetic, Resolute, Virtuous, Authentic, Needful, Thorough. I racked up our 20 minutes together as one more youth session until I ran into one of the teen boys at a high school last year, where I was substitute teaching. He said, “Wow, Mr. Billings, I haven’t seen you in a while.” We updated each other briefly on what we were doing and then he pulled out a torn piece of paper from his pocket with the SERVANT acronym on it. “See, I kept it,” he said, reciting each of the words.

Acting as a role-model, friend and confidante for someone doesn’t necessarily guarantee dramatic returns. But rest assured, young people are watching and listening to us. In some cases, they shine even stronger than us in some areas of character development. I have watched this video featuring the Olivet Eagles middle school football team with numerous groups of people. Did one of these players come up with their idea by watching a mentor engage in a powerful, virtuous act? How did the SERVANT character quality of Selfless take shape in a group of middle-school boys, who by nature can be self-centered? I hope this story inspires you to keep building positively into the young people in your life — as a volunteer and a parent, no matter the age of your children. Cheers!


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10 Ways to Show Kids You Care

Emily BrenSearch Institute lists 150 ways to make a positive difference in the life of a young person at Here’s a sampling published in the June 2015 issue of Thrivent magazine:

Give them time to relax.

• Notice when they’re acting differently.

• Delight in their discoveries.

• Create traditions and keep them.

• Give them a special nickname.

• Build something together.

• Ask them about things they love to do.

• Celebrate their firsts and their lasts.

• Follow when they lead.

• Apologize when you’ve done something wrong. 

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The Power of ONE

You can be the change a child needs to succeed!

Thrivent Financial recently published “It Just Takes One,” an article by Michelle Crouch on the power of mentoring and the difference caring adults can make in the lives of children:

“In Phoenix, two high school students have upped their grades and missed fewer school days. In Fort Pierce, Florida, a foster child has more supervision in a better home. And in St. Louis, a teen found her career goal. Their stories may seem unrelated, but these children have one important thing in common: an adult who cared about them. A growing body of research has found that an adult role model can make all the difference in the life of a young person…..

“Any caring coach, teacher, aunt, uncle or—of course—parent can help put a young person on a path to thrive, experts say. Search Institute, a nonprofit research center that studies young people, outlines five key actions that can help you help kids.Match at the lake fishing

1. Show you care.

Tell children you care—and show them, too. Be consistent and dependable, especially if you’re working with at-risk youth. They don’t have a lot of constants in their lives, says Jean Rhodes, Ph.D., a mentoring expert and professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. And pay attention when you’re with kids, says Kent Pekel, president and CEO of Search Institute. That means putting aside your smartphone and focusing on what the child does or says. Thrivent Financial Representative Carl Etzler coaches high school softball in Convoy, Ohio. He invites players to share what’s going on in their lives. “A lot of young people don’t have an adult they can talk to, so I do a lot of listening,” Etzler says.

2. Challenge growth.

Kids do best when you set high expectations for them, pushing them out of their comfort zones while still supporting them. “No matter how good they are, we must push them to continuously improve,” Pekel says. Challenge them to give up a bad habit, ace a test or learn something new. Thrivent member Lindsey Schwartz mentors two at-risk high school boys in Phoenix. She started with a simple challenge: Go to class every day. Then she texted them daily as a reminder. Already, both boys’ grades have jumped. Schwartz says she’s working to change the way they see themselves. “I like to tell them, ‘You’re not a bad kid. You’re a good kid who made some bad choices. I can see the potential in you.’” Pair such encouragement with limits, Pekel says, whether it’s banning curse words or setting a curfew. Remember, kids—even teenagers—need clear boundaries. Establishing limits allows kids to feel safe, creates predictability and reduces anxiety. Most important, it shows you care.

3. Provide support.

You probably already praise the child in your life for efforts and achievements. Unfortunately, not all kids have someone to praise their work—or fight for them when they need it. Thrivent member Felicia Bruce serves as a Guardian ad Litem in Fort Pierce, Florida. In that role, Bruce serves as a foster child advocate in the court system. In one instance, Bruce learned that a teenage girl in her charge hadn’t been to school in five weeks, yet the school didn’t take action. Bruce got the school to draft a plan to better meet the girl’s needs. She even drove her to school on occasion. “She could easily have been one of those statistics about foster children who get lost in the system,” Bruce says.

4. Share power.

Here’s a simple yet powerful step: Give kids a voice and a choice. Listen more, let them direct the conversation occasionally and take their ideas seriously. “It sounds easy, but, in fact, it happens shockingly seldom these days,” Pekel says. “A lot of kids have their lives very heavily structured and scripted by adults.” For Schwartz, sharing power means letting the boys she mentors help choose the activities she does with them. For Etzler, it means getting team input on community service projects.

5. Expand possibilities.

Introduce kids to new possibilities and ideas— through outings, books and even conversations. That’s what Thrivent member David Kober of Edwardsville, Illinois, aimed for when he took the softball team he coaches to help with the Special Olympics last year. The event inspired one player to choose social work for her career. She later thanked Kober for helping her find her passion, reminding him why he’s stuck with coaching kids for 17 years. “I like being there for them. I can help them when they need it, show them what’s out there and encourage them to pursue their goals,” he says. “And when they come back and say I made a difference, that makes it all worth it.”

Michelle Crouch writes about finance, health and more for outlets such as Real Simple, Reader’s Digest and The New York Times.

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50 States, 100 Days: Welcome to Dickinson!

Today we hear from Chris Strub, an incredible young man taking an incredible journey to all 50 states and volunteering at one youth serving organization, who spent Tuesday morning at Best Friends Mentoring Program. Read more:

Hi there!

My name is Chris Strub, and this summer I’m visiting 50 states in 100 days. Today’s Day 54 — and I’m thrilled to let you know I’ve made it to NORTH DAKOTA!


Everyone gets to sign Chris Stub’s car when he finishes his volunteer work. Here he’s pointing to Best Friends’ message.

It’s been an incredible summer, visiting 24 states in 54 days — with lots more to come — but I’m extra excited to have been able to visit the Best Friends Mentoring Program here in Dickinson today.

I heard many of you ran or walked in the Family Fun Day 5K this past weekend. I’m sorry I couldn’t quite make it here in time — on Saturday, I drove solo from Missoula! — but I genuinely hope you take the time to learn more about the Best Friends Mentoring Program.

My work today can also help you learn more: you can add me on SnapChat, @ChrisStrub, and check out my interviews with the staff; you can ‘like’ my Facebook page to see photos and video from my experience; and you can go on my YouTube channel later tonight (@ChrisStrub) to see a full interview with Kris.

I hope you’ll stay tuned throughout the rest of my journey! There are so many wonderful organizations around the country making a difference with our nation’s youth, and I look forward to sharing with those organizations the lessons learned here today at BFMP.

I’ve gotta run — off to South Dakota! — but keep up the good work here!

Chris Strub's July travel and volunteer schedule!

Chris Strub’s July travel and volunteer schedule!

Talk to you soon,


Chris Strub
Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, Meerkat: @ChrisStrub


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Bush Foundation Innovation Grant

Only grantee in western ND plans to improve client services in southwest

On May 27, the Bush Foundation in Minneapolis announced its award of a two-year grant to assist the nonprofit communities in southwestern North Dakota in planning new ways to better serve their clients—especially the ever-expanding numbers of “newcomer” and lower-income clients.  Most of the nonprofits and local government agencies in our eight southwestern counties lack the infrastructure and staff to adequately provide needed services for their expanding populations;  the Bush Foundation’s grant award will assist our own local nonprofits in finding new, more “client-centric” ways to improve their service delivery by working together collaboratively—possibly from one central location, housing representatives (or even offices) from many agencies and organizations in one building.  The City of Dickinson and several local government agencies will be joining Dickinson’s nonprofit community in this joint planning effort; the Bush Foundation has named the Western Wellness Foundation, Inc. as the lead agency.  (Founded in 1995, Western Wellness Foundation is the parent organization of the Dickinson Recycling Program and the Best Friends Mentoring Program.)

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The Real Mentoring Gap

According to a recent study, children from affluent families have more informal mentors and the relationships last longer than youth from “bottom income sectors.” While that makes us uncomfortable, we can still do something about it by employing new strategies and learning more about this disparity. Read more in this article by Jean Rhodes from The Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring.
By May 18, 2015

The real mentoring gap—and what to do about it

Concept Vector Graphic- Two Hand Silhouettes Touching Each Otherby Jean Rhodes

If you haven’t already read Chapter 5 of the new book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”  you’re in for a big surprise. The author, Robert D. Putnam, is a Harvard sociology professor who made “social capital” a household word with his best seller, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”  This time he has turned his attention to class-based segregation and the widening opportunity gap between the young people in wealthier versus more impoverished communities.  To do so, he drew on data that were originally reported in MENTOR’s “The Mentoring Effect”.

First, Putnam highlighted the fact that, of the 66% of surveyed young people who reported having a mentor, over half had an informal mentor only.  Some (11%) had both an informal and a formal mentor while only 4% had a formal mentor only.  That bears repeating! Of the two-thirds of youth who reported having been mentored, fewer than 5% derived their mentoring solely from a mentoring program. What’s more, informal mentoring lasted about 30 months on average, compared to roughly 18 months for formal. So, combining frequency and duration, American kids get about eight times as much informal as formal mentoring.

This is a bit of a wake up call for those of us who have devoted so much of our careers to improving the quality and reach of formal mentoring programs.  We have been spending too much time under the street final-mentoring-chartlamp, and would do well to turn our gazes toward the caring adults who have been there all along. Indeed, mentoring has never been the sole province of formal programs.  After-school programs, summer camps, competitive sports teams, religious youth groups, and other positive youth development programs have always represented rich contexts for the formation of strong inter-generational ties.  Adults in these settings are often afforded extended, ongoing opportunities to engage youths in the sorts of informal conversations and enjoyable activities that can give rise to close bonds.

On the face of it, these data can be taken to suggest that there are already plenty of caring adults out there and that young people are perfectly adept at enlisting them as mentors.  And, that would have been a fair conclusion, had Putnam not revealed another important trend.  In his re-analysis of MENTOR’s data by social class, Putnam showed that, by an uncomfortable margin, affluent youth were far more likely to have informal mentors.  Indeed, with the exception of extended family members (which Putnam characterizes as typically strong but not as helpful in supporting new pathways), youth in the top socioeconomic status (SES) quartile report dramatically more informal mentoring across every category of adult.  The implications of these large disparities are profound.  Caring non-family adults are vitally important, helping youth navigate their identity, and opening doors to educational and career paths.  Yet, as budgets for teachers and extracurricular activities shrink, it is the youth in the bottom income sectors that suffer the most.  No one institution—whether families, schools, church, or positive youth development programs—can completely compensate for the social isolation that disenfranchised children and adolescents are increasingly experiencing, and each institution is stretched by the limitations of the others.  Wealthier communities can supplement their diminishing availability with private sources of support, but not so for those who need them most. As Putnam observes:

If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for American Children isn’t good: in recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we’ve shirked collective responsibility for our kids. And most Americans don’t have the resources to replace collective provision with private provision.

This is the real mentoring gap—our nation’s most vulnerable youth have less access to caring adults outside their families, and fewer opportunities to engage with such adults through academic, community, and extracurricular activities.  To redress this gap, we can and should continue to expand the reach of formal mentoring programs. Indeed, although it is tempting to argue for a more caring society that would render formal one-on-one mentoring relationships unnecessary, it is a mistake to be anything less than vigilant in supporting a full array of resources for caring relationships with adults. This approach, however, is unlikely to ever keep pace with the widening mentoring gap.

Instead, researchers and practitioner are exploring new strategies to span this mentoring gap–most notably by empowering young people with the mindset and skills to identify and recruit caring adults from within their social networks. In a series of studies, my colleagues and I have demonstrated the efficacy of youth-initiated mentoring models.  This and other “connected mentoring” strategies can expand youth’s social networks and help them to make better use of the teachers, bosses, guidance counselors, clergy, and others that they encounter in their everyday lives.  Likewise, we are developing strategies to “stock the pond” –encouraging adults to approach everyday encounters with youth as opportunities for informal mentoring, and to support them with training that is grounded in research evidence.

Although more privileged youth and their parents have wider social networks, caring adults are out there, especially in schools. Unfortunately, many youth have neither the sense of entitlement nor the strategies to approach them.  Likewise, the adults who are in contact with youth do not always feel the moral imperative to serve as helpful guides. We need a campaign to mobilize adults to seek out opportunities to mentor the youth they encounter in their everyday lives. Research is also needed to refine and identify the strengths and challenges of these and other new approaches, and to evaluate their impacts.  By embracing such models, the field of youth mentoring has the potential to expand its reach and move towards a strength-based, empowering approach to promoting the well being of all youth.

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Mentoring is like Gardening

gardening photo for blogIs spring finally here? Last week we were trying to complete the first mowing of the season before the forecast of rain mixed with snow arrived in time for the weekend! That’s North Dakota: if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours and it’s bound to change.

Today’s commentary comes from our friends, Jean Rhodes and Belle Liang, at the Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring:

On Mentoring and Perennials

By Jean Rhodes and Belle Liang.

Spring is in the air in Boston and the flowers are finally beginning to bloom, so it seems like as good a time as any to share with you a commentary on mentoring that draws inspiration from gardening. It’s an updated version of a column that was written with my friend and colleague Professor Belle Liang, and a version appeared in Applied Development Science. As we note, since the goal of mentoring is the establishment of an enduring relationship with lasting benefits, a mentoring relationship is more like a perennial than an annual. With this in mind, we draw on the wisdom of perennial gardeners to set forth six principles of mentoring – akin to preparing the soil, seeding, weeding, feeding, persevering, and evaluating for the next growing cycle as set forth in Strauss’ (2006) The Gardening Analogy.

Lesson One: Prepare the soil – “As with most gardening projects, planning and preparation is best begun well ahead of planting time” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

In mentoring, preparing the soil involves pre-match preparation and training for volunteers, as well as for youth. Pre-match preparation may start with early identification of individuals who are not a good fit for mentoring work. That is, close, effective mentoring relationships seem to be facilitated when adults possess skills and attributes including: prior experience in helping roles or occupations, an ability to demonstrate appreciation of salient socioeconomic and cultural influences in the youth’s life (Hirsch, 2005), and a sense of efficacy in mentoring young people.

Besides pre-screening and selection, programs can also act proactively by setting appropriate expectations for the mentoring role, processes, and outcomes. For example, many mentors expect that an immediate bond will develop with their mentees and that the balance of the experiences will be more “fun” than work, or they assume their mentee will be grateful for the many sacrifices that the volunteer has made on his or her behalf. Such expectations can lead mentors to feel disappointed, unappreciated, and even exploited, especially early in the relationship. Young people are often brought into a mentor program because they have had unsatisfactory relationships in the past, and they may not know how to engage in a mutually satisfying friendship. Alternatively, adequately conveying to volunteers what they can expect from their mentee, the relationship, and the roles of each partner, as well as the difficulties that they might encounter can prevent some of these disappointments. Some practitioners have argued that such “full disclosure” might amount to scaring away potential volunteer recruits and, indeed it would be a mistake to delve into every possible way that a relationship can go awry. Yet, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, where, in an effort to recruit more volunteers, many programs overemphasize the enjoyable, social aspects of the endeavor. Despite these messages and expectations emphasizing the “fun” aspects of mentoring, the fact is, volunteers who work on youth development issues have reported other motivations for their involvement, especially the desire to increase their understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them. Ultimately, when the actual experience of mentoring aligns with their motivations or expectations, volunteers are less likely to drop out prematurely.

Lesson Two: Seed – “Plant the seeds and seedlings in the soils that match variations in their conditions” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Finding the right fit between volunteers and youths is critical to the longevity and outcomes of the match. Mentors and youth come with different backgrounds, personalities, expectations, and skill levels; matching and training should take these differences into account. Mentees typically represent diverse demographics, including boys and girls who differ by racial and ethnic minority background, socioeconomic status, disability, and religion. Although the research does not necessarily indicate that mentors must be matched on these dimensions, studies do show the importance of a basic compatibility between the youth and mentor in their personalities, interests, and expectations or goals for the relationship.  In addition, close emotional connections between youth and mentors appear to be fostered by factors resembling those identified as important in effective therapeutic relationships – mutual empathy and authenticity as well as basic compatibility and enjoying each other’s company.

Lesson Three: Weed – “Remove weeds and other competitive threats” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Not everything that sprouts in a garden belongs there and, likewise, mentors and their case workers need to be on the lookout for insidious problems that may arise at any point in the match. Vigilance against such negative influences requires reasonable ratios between case workers and mentors, so that case workers are not overwhelmed by the number of cases and are thus able to provide adequate supervision to mentors. Mentoring relationships, like other types of relationships, are constantly at risk for misunderstanding, conflict, and various types of communication breakdowns, particularly in the early, vulnerable stages of the relationship. As Shakespeare observed, “Sweet flowers are slow and weeks make haste.” If not handled well, relationship problems can compromise the bond before it has had a chance to take hold. Whatever the source of dissatisfaction or unmet expectation, communication is always critical.

Lesson Four: Feed – “Amend the soil and keep plants cared for — pruned, fed, and strong — so that threats can’t harm them” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

In many mentoring programs, training efforts are uneven and fall largely in the realm of passive approaches (e.g., information packets to mentors) rather than active technical assistance. Furthermore, many programs spend minimal time with case management, which often takes the form of monthly perfunctory phone calls or emails. Taken together, these approaches have reduced the burden that is placed on the agency and volunteer in order to facilitate shifts in priorities toward volunteer recruitment, intake, and matching. Yet, research indicates that comprehensive orientation, supervision, consultation, and volunteer staff development, are all critical to promoting growth.

In addition to relationship-building skills, mentors must be trained regarding ethnic and cultural issues as well as developmental issues, and how these intersect with power dynamics that are particularly relevant in mentoring youth. For example, because most youth entering mentoring relationships are still minors and live at home where struggles for autonomy and control prevail, mentors need to attend to the subtle dynamics of the parent-child dyad. Furthermore, because youth are simultaneously undergoing multiple developmental changes in biological, psychological, and social realms, their mentors must have a solid grasp of developmental issues and cultural issues that may shape the needs, values, and perspectives of youth. In addition to these important areas of training and growth, volunteers and youth need adequate contact with supportive individuals who provide encouragement and feedback conducive to establishing strong roots for mentoring relationships.

Lesson Five: Persevere – “Don’t give up on a dead plant” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1)

Mentors need to be encouraged to persevere in maintaining the relationship given that most youth mentor relationships take time to evolve and their benefits accrue over time. Even seemingly disinterested protégés or unfruitful relationships may spring up or begin new growth unexpectedly. Thus, mentors should be made aware of research documenting the relatively slow pace of a youth mentor relationship as its most natural course, so that they come to expect a period of early dormancy similar to that described by Edward Payson Roe: “Look at us, said the violets blooming at her feet, all last winter we slept in the seeming death but at the right time God awakened us, and here we are to comfort you” (1876).

Lesson Six: Evaluate – “Watch the garden to see soil changes, to know what plants will continue to flourish and to know what new plants to introduce” (Strauss, 2006, p. 1).

Because it is generally assumed that mentoring benefits young people, programs may be hesitant to spend precious resources on expensive program evaluations. Choosing not to evaluate, however, is shortsighted. Effective program evaluation can provide vital information about a program; this enables informed decisions regarding what is working as well as where resources and efforts might be re-directed. Indeed, not all mentoring programs, or interventions within mentoring programs, are equally beneficial and much is still to be learned about the newer types of mentoring programs (e.g., site-based, group, peer, internet). Moreover, much is to be learned about which aspects of mentoring programs are beneficial and transformative and which are less so.

Final Thoughts

To be effective, mentors need to tolerate all kinds of uncertainties, to address ethical dilemmas and disappointments as they arise, and to know whom to turn to for consultation and how to work through uncharted territories. Yet, naturalist Frederick Frye Rockwell (1917) provided a useful caveat regarding the limitations of such principles:

“The gardener who imagines that his work can be reduced to a set of rules and formulae, followed and applied according to special days marked on the calendar, is but preparing himself for a double disappointment.”

Likewise, although the mentoring guidelines presented here and elsewhere are useful, an individual approach to each youth should be crafted. Guidelines can only touch the surface of the intricacies involved in mentoring someone. They are likely to be most effective when they are used as a framework that leaves room for volunteers
to apply their intuitive wisdom and allow the relationship to grow and thrive in all of its complexity.


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What a great evening!

More than 200 people attended the Best Friends Mentoring Program’s 6th Annual Chocolate Affair Plus on May 2, raising $20,000+ for youth mentoring in Southwest North Dakota.

Winners of the People’s Choice Chef Awards included: Abbey Filzen in first place for her pulled pork sliders with a chocolate and wine-infused barbecue sauce on homemade chocolate buns; Kodi Polensky of the BrickHouse Grille in Dickinson came in second for her Childhood Dream Roll; and Kevin Colliton of the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson ranked third for his Brazilian brigadeiro.

Other participating chefs included Janeen Nichols, Sabrina Breeck, Sara Cox and Jayme Calhoun, Dr. Ashley Stark, and Melissa Bjerken.

“Our guests gave rave reviews on each of the chefs for the quality of their product and their enthusiasm,” said Kris Fehr, executive director of Best Friends. “We were so fortunate to have such a talented team of chefs, which ranged from professionals with years of experience in the food and beverage industry to community volunteers with a passion for pastry-making.”

The event united dozens of sponsors and supporters, including a team of event committee participants. Those individuals included: Alicia Erickson and Pam Rudolph of the Dickinson State University Foundation; Nancy Caine and Colleen Spears of UCP Staffing in Dickinson; Daun Schaff of DaunsPlanit, Mark Billings, Pamela Bumgardner and Fehr with Best Friends; Meagan Hitchner, a student at Dickinson State University, Wendy Wilson of Dickinson State University; Pat Pender of Town & Country Liquor in Dickinson; Rachael Ramsey and Amelia Savage.

Hitchner, a Dickinson State University graphic design student, compiled the program book. Schaff provided complimentary decorating services and Pender, owner of Town & Country Liquor, worked with Best Friends in supplying more than 30 varieties of premium wine and beer for the event.

“Each one of our committee members provided a niche talent,” said Fehr. “We could not have done the event without each person.”

Mark your calendar: The 7th Annual Chocolate Affair Plus is tentatively scheduled at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 7 at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson!

a_filtzen_aca_15  Abbey Filzen, a product development manager for Baker Boy, placed first in the People’s Choice   Chef Awards for her pulled pork sliders in a chocolate and red wine barbecue sauce served on
homemade chocolate buns.








Kodi Polensky, a lead chef for the BrickHouse Grille in Dickinson, placed second in the People’s  Choice Chef Awards for her artfully prepared Childhood Dream Roll.








Kevin Colliton, an executive sous chef with the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson, placed third in the People’s Choice Chef Awards for his creamy smooth Brazilian brigadeiro.


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Taking the Stress out of Feeding Kids Healthy Foods

Brussels Sprouts Chips? No Way…brussels sprouts chips

One day back in 2011, Jennifer Tyler Lee tried a fresh, new approach to getting her kids to try different foods: She turned her dinner table struggles into a game.

Using index cards and craft paper, Lee created a game in which her children earned points for trying colorful veggies and fruit, plus bonus points for brand new foods. (This story recently appeared in the magazine Relish.)

In 2012, she launched The 52 New Foods Challenge to get the kids to try an unfamiliar food each week. Together, they shopped for groceries to cook together. In November 2014 The 52 New Foods Challenge cookbook debuted with activities and recipes like Brussels Sprouts Chips.

Lee found that turning a struggle into a game brought her and her children closer together. She offers these tips for parents of picky eaters:

  • Set aside 30 to 60 minutes a week to cook with your kids, not for your kids.
  • Thing of meal preparation as a craft activity. Set up a low worktable with ingredients arranged like project materials.
  • Focus on the fun, not the food. You don’t have to end up with a perfect recipe at the end. Explore with your kids and all the rest will fall into place.

Read more about the challenge and Lee and get some great recipes at

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