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Chaska police raise funds for Minnesota Special Olympics at Cop on a Rooftop

The Chaska Police Department participated in the seventh annual Cop on a Rooftop event on May 19.

Special Olympics athletes and select law enforcement officials across Minnesota collected money for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which benefits Special Olympics Minnesota.

The nonprofit raised more than $36,000 this year, which put it right in its goal range of $30,000-$40,000 for 2023. A total of $2,046.54 of that was raised at the Chaska Dunkin’ Donuts, according to Lou Ann Kelly, executive assistant at the organization.

The past six years of the event raised $90,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota, according to a press release from the organization.

“We appreciate all of our law enforcement officers and our athletes who are here today and helping out,” Kelly said. “It really changes their lives to be involved with Special Olympics.”

Each guest who visited the Dunkin’ Donuts in Chaska from 6–11 a.m. and made a donation received a coupon for a free donut. Those who donated $10 or more received a coupon for a free medium coffee.

“There’s no access to get up on the roof at this location … the cop on the roof thing is optional,” Kelly said. “Some stores don’t want the liability of officers on the roof. Some don’t have easy access. And I actually think officers enjoy being on the ground where they can interact with the community more.”

Chaska Police officers were in and out throughout the fundraiser, but Officer Julie Janke was there from start to finish. Kelly said that while it was a slower fundraiser than in previous years due to the Downtown Highway 41 Construction Project, it was still a successful day.

Several Special Olympics athletes were at the Chaska Dunkin’ Donuts to help raise funds, including former track athlete Megan Brueggemeier, of Waconia. She’s now on a bowling team with Alicia Deraad, of Victoria, who also helped raise funds at Cop on a Rooftop.

“It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun,” Deraad said. “It gets me to meet a lot of different people, a lot of friends, especially Megan.”

Mark Ewald, father to swimmer and bocce player Josh Ewald, noted how important Special Olympics has been for building community. He has found that “you don’t have a lot of friends when you have special needs. People are really nice, but their kids don’t play with your kids.”

Minnesota offers 16 official sports for its Special Olympics, including alpine skiing, basketball, bocce ball, bowling, equestrian, flag football, golf, gymnastics, poly hockey, powerlifting, snowboarding, snowshoeing, softball, swimming, tennis and track and field.

“You get to interact with other people and make sure that you’re not alone in the world,” said athlete Ryan van Arsdale.

Special Olympics Minnesota is currently gearing up for the Summer Games at the end of June, which includes track and field, basketball and swimming.

“It’s really all about inclusion. We’re trying to build a better world,” Kelly said.

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District 112 students, community petition against graduation venue, Grace Church

For more than a decade, Eastern Carver County Schools has held graduation ceremonies for Chaska and Chanhassen high schools at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, but this year some students, parents and community members are urging the district to reconsider that venue.

Chaska High School sophomore Eli Frost started a change.org petition to garner community support and bring attention to the church’s stances on LGBTQ+, divorce and other hot-button cultural issues.

“These things take time to happen and it’s good to get the ball rolling as soon as possible, to have the least amount of kids affected as possible,” Frost said.

Nearly 300 people had signed the petition as of May 23.

A main point of contention has been around divorce. The church’s website states that, “some scenarios may require separation for the physical safety of a spouse and/or children in cases of physical abuse, but these situations do not justify divorce.”

Some of the church’s sermons posted online last fall include titles such as “Marriage vs. Gay Marriage,” “Gender vs. Gender Confusion” and “Creator vs. Evolution.”

Grace Senior Pastor Troy Dobbs, in a prepared statement for Southwest News Media, said that as a Christian church, “we do affirm the teaching of the Bible regarding gender, marriage, and divorce.”

“BUT we do not discriminate against anyone,” he added. “We welcome EVERYONE. Additionally, the claim that we support or somehow affirm domestic violence is false and categorically untrue. We have vital ministries trying to protect women and children while advocating for their well-being and safety.”

While Frost understands that it’s too late to change venues this year, he’s hopeful that by the time he graduates in 2025 the location will have changed. Frost’s mother, Annah, has also been an advocate for a change of graduation venue over the past year.

“We’re spending money to support these folks who have these viewpoints who are not inclusive of all our students,” she said. “I don’t want to support that with my tax dollars.”

Celi Haga, director of communications and community relations for the school district, said district officials hear those concerns.

“The use of the facility is not an endorsement of any of their beliefs,” she said. “We have a number of needs that we look at when we select a venue and are continuing to look at other options. But in terms of cost and access, it is what has worked the best.”

The 2023 Chaska and Chanhassen graduation ceremonies cost about $28,000 for the venue, which holds at maximum 4,100 people, as listed in the Grace Church Hospitality and Events Contract with District 112.

The contract lists costs for use of individual amenities — the chapel, chapel commons, green room, auditorium, four entrance doors, lobby doors, terrace doors, grand commons, front dining room, back dining room, music room, Senior High Café, children’s terrace hallway and garden level hallway — for a total of $11,250.

Additional charges include $6,000 for public safety, $5,000 for tech media, $5,150 for facilities fees and $250 in radio rentals — for a total of $16,400. There is also an additional catering cost.

The contracts are usually finalized in June the year before, according to Haga. The 2023 contract was authorized by Karen DeVet, finance and operations director.

“We don’t have to ticket, we have reliability because it’s indoors, we don’t have to worry about rain or ticketing or last minute changes,” Haga said. “You’d have to go to Minneapolis or to St. Paul to have a venue that can accommodate that same level of people.”

Haga added that she’s seen negative exchanges on social media regarding the petition and “is hopeful that our community continues to be thoughtful and respectful around this.”

“Remember that these are kids that are bringing their concerns,” she said. “It’s important that we listen to them and hear them out, even if you disagree with them. We’re allowed to disagree, but I hope we stay respectful and kind to each other.”

She reiterated that the district is “always open to suggestions” and “we want everybody to feel comfortable at the graduation ceremony.”

Dobbs, the Grace pastor, said “misunderstandings” have led to the venue protest.

“At Grace Church, we welcome conversations clarifying our position and our heart for the community,” he said. “We believe talking to each other is a better strategy than canceling one another. That said, we hope and pray we can continue to be a gracious neighbor to the Eastern Carver County School District.”

Community support

Students and parents in support of the student-led petition appeared at an open forum at the Eastern Carver County School Board meeting on May 22.

“After listening to hours of (Grace’s) sermons, I don’t think the venue can align with the strategic plan that the district has published,” said Chaska resident Pam Wentink. “I will preface: I totally support Grace Church’s right to their closely held religious beliefs, but the district is not a church. It’s not a religious school and all students deserve to graduate in a setting where they are accepted and not demonized.”

Jay Jacobsen, a Chaska High School senior who is transgender, shared at the board meeting that he will not be walking at the graduation ceremony because “something that should be celebrating me is not,” urging the board to “think of your grads.”

“Think of who you are celebrating and if they can be fully celebrated in this spot,” he said. “While some in this county may never see me as equal to them, or understand why a venue change matters, there is no denying that when harmful rhetoric is spoken against minority groups it kills.”

While the district assures that all religious symbols are removed from the space for the graduation ceremony, it may not be enough to quell discomfort.

“If you remove a cross from a church that you would normally have during mass, it’s still a church,” Frost said in an interview with Southwest News Media.

Chaska resident Jonas Sjoberg also spoke during the open forum, pointing out the church’s support on social media on Nov. 1, 2022, of then-school board candidates Svetlana Kolesnikova, Greg Petrie, Dean Waymire and current school board member Joe Scott.

“Grace Church is an active political powerhouse in the community that is actively trying to influence what the school district is doing, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for the school district to, at any point, also support the same organization with money,” Sjoberg said.