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Kandiyohi County teens tackling issue head on after learning many who are homeless locally are peers

Corie Haverly has been telling this story for eight years, but the reaction is often the same.

"Really, there are homeless here? Why? Where are their parents?'' said Haverly of the response she hears so often.

She got a different response when she told her story to junior and senior high school students gathered at the "Rock on 8th" youth center in Willmar.

"We should be doing something to help,'' said Ellen Kleinhuizen, a high school student at Central Minnesota Christian School in Prinsburg.

Doing something to help is now the rallying call for Kleinhuizen and three fellow students at CMCS. They are taking their first stab at doing something for the homeless in Kandiyohi County by hosting a community-wide event from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 27 at the Rock on 8th, 1804 Eighth St. S.W., Willmar.

They are asking people to donate items or funds for the homeless. The students plan to put together 22-gallon tote boxes filled with essentials, like pots and pans and silverware and blankets and pillows.

They're also hoping people will be willing to donate their used, adult-sized bicycles.

Kleinhuizen and friends Shara Leininger, Brittany Blom and Justin Groen have just finished their junior years in high school.

They are part of a Service and Learning Team and join for weekly meetings at the Rock next door to the Willmar Christian Reformed Church.

They are not new to helping others. They volunteer through school and church to help others with jobs like yard raking; all four made a mission trip earlier this year to help flood victims.

Kleinhuizen said she and her friends were moved to do something more after hearing Haverly, who is working on the county's homeless issues with Lutheran Social Service.

What caught their attention most of all, said the friends, is who the homeless people in Kandiyohi are: Young people like themselves, with one difference.

"They have difficult circumstances,'' said Kleinhuizen.

"Homeless'' usually conjures up images of people fending for a living on the streets of major cities.

The reality in Kandiyohi County is much different. The homeless are often young people, ages 16 to 21; not wanted or cared for by parents, and consequently left on their own. Most do a lot of "couch hopping,'' or finding temporary places to stay with friends, said Haverly.

Some of the homeless are single parents with a child in tow. Some are people who have responded to their circumstances in bad ways, by getting into trouble with the law or dropping out of school.

Some actually do end up sleeping in cars. Haverly knows of a few who have even slept in ice fishing houses.

Most can do well, find jobs and turn their lives in the right direction, she said. To do so they need a place to call home and give their lives some mooring.

Lutheran Social Service is teamed up with the Salvation Army, Heartland Community Action Agency, and Kandiyohi County Family Services to help the homeless. Haverly is currently working directly with 13 homeless youths, and has a waiting list of 28 others seeking help.

Haverly said resources are always limited, and the help that the students are offering is much needed. On many occasions she has been able to find apartments for homeless young people, only to discover they lack all of the basics, pillow and blankets included.

That's what Shara Leininger said she remembered most of all from Haverly's presentation. "She talked about how they don't have the basic necessities,'' said Leininger.

Knowing that made it easy for the students to decide how they could help. Now, they're hoping the community will do the same. Persons interested in supporting the effort can bring items to the Rock on 8th on June 27, or call 320-222-7625 or 320-235-3060.