It’s shortly after 7 a.m. on a recent Friday morning, and a small group has gathered in a Minnetonka High School workroom.
This assortment of students and adult advisors quickly call the meeting to order, and one by one, each student runs down a to-do list with a brief update. These students are the planning committee for an upcoming fundraising event called “Show of Hands.” It’s an effort to raise awareness of the Hope House, a local six-bed emergency shelter for teens in crisis. They also hope to raise funds to support the shelter’s mission.
While adults in the meeting make suggestions, it’s the students who are running the show.
Similar student committees in Chanhassen and Eden Prairie high schools are also helping with the planning and marketing of the event. It’s an all-out effort by teens for teens, to highlight Hope House and the resources it has to offer to teens in Carver County and western Hennepin County.
Show of Hands is described by organizers as a “fun-raiser.” It is free and runs 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 26 at Minnetonka High School. Students and parents from the communities of Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Waconia are invited to an evening of entertainment, games, live music and drawings for prizes.
And underscoring the lighthearted fun is the message that local teens in crisis have a place to go — Hope House, an emergency shelter at 3010 78th St. W., Chanhassen. It’s where teens can find a bed, meal, counsel and support.
Since Hope House opened in November 2015, it has sheltered more than 300 teens ages 14 to 19, according to Pam Langseth, a member of the Hope House Board of Directors. An additional 1,200 teens have been helped, through counseling and assistance, via a help line provided by Hope House staff in partnership with 180 Degrees, the Open Hands Foundation and Friends of the Hope House.
This event has been in the thought process and the planning process since last April, Langseth said. While she and Michele Seetz, MHS activities coordinator, have provided guidance for the MHS teen planning committee, the “students have taken hold of this event,” Langseth said.
The initial idea developed from a feeling that not enough teens in eastern Carver County and western Hennepin County were aware of Hope House and the services it offers teens in crisis.
“We pulled together a group of kids, and ran the concept by them,” Langseth said. “They said, ‘This is really cool.’” To date MHS has about 30 students involved in planning and execution; Chanhassen has six and Eden Prairie has six. Another offshoot is that a Hope House student club has formed at MHS; another is being planned for Chanhassen.
Another key component is raising teacher awareness. In Minnetonka, teachers will receive in packet of information about Hope House and its services, and a small poster of a hand that a teacher can post in the classroom signalling that his or her classroom is a safe space, and the teacher is approachable for any teen in need of help.
NEED IS REAL
Currently, Langseth said, many of the teens who’ve come to Hope House are from elsewhere around the Twin Cities. “I think that we all suffer from the belief that there aren’t any kids that need help in our community,” Langseth said. “But we know there are. Of the kids who come to Hope House, two-thirds have some mental health issues. Some have eating disorders, it runs the gamut.
“Unfortunately we live in a part of the community where the feeling is, ‘It’s not OK to be different.’ Kids who are hurting don’t want to stand out. They want to fit in and not ask for help. So we feel strongly to connect them to resources that are helpful like Hope House and its resources.”
Macie Anundson is the student co-lead and leader of the MHS Hope House Club. She feels it’s an important cause because, “There is not very much awareness around this issue in our area and I believe that it is imperative that we change that and make resources available and easily accessible for all who need them. Students should be involved because it is their peers who are struggling and it is important to be understanding of what is going on in our community. Anyone can go through hard times at any point and it is important that people have each other’s backs.”
Sarah Stoler, also an MHS senior, admits that, before joining the group, “So many people, including me, don’t realize that homelessness or a troubled home life is a real issue among teens in our community, even in an area as wealthy or privileged as ours appears to be. Awareness of this issue should be spread to all in this community, and students, whose peers are the main victims, are key to positive change.
Aftyn Brenke is a Chanhassen High School junior, and is on the marketing team.
“I know many people who have never heard of Hope House,” Aftyn said. “Every teen in our community can benefit from knowing about Hope House and its resources. Even if someone doesn’t need to go to the Hope House themselves, they can spread the word about the help they give and possibly help someone who actually needs it. It may not seem like it, but there are teenagers struggling right here in our own community. Some don’t have a place to sleep, an adult to go to, or any other place to go.”
“Awareness of this issue should be spread to all in this community,” said Stella Buselmeier, a Chanhassen High School junior, “I feel that more people need to be aware of the Hope House and its benefits. When I ask fellow classmates if they have ever heard of the Hope House, the majority of them say no. This deeply concerns me due to the fact that the Hope House is a resource for teens!
“Teens are the ones who need to be aware of this amazing resource we have right in our backyard. The community should care because the Hope House helps these kids in our community. We should want every teen to have the best life possible despite the tough situations they may encounter in their lives.”