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Akeley to launch community action phase of Horizons leadership program

Previously untapped energy is being harnessed in Akeley, with projects aplenty on the "Horizon."

Members of the lakeside village have teamed up via Horizons, a community leadership program that aims to reduce poverty and increase prosperity in small rural communities.

Now a year into the program, members of the teams unveiled ideas this week to be launched in the final "community action" phase of the 18-month program.

Horizons is a partnership between the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Northwest Area Foundation, Susanne Hinrichs of the Extension coordinating the initiative.

"Horizons facilitates connections," explained Vern Peterson, who was among the corps of initial participants and now a facilitator.

Tuesday, representatives arrived from the community and state and federal agencies to offer assistance and information.

Four teams have formed in Akeley to address specific community goals, based on perceived needs.

-A quarterly newsletter may hit the stands, come March.

Randall Morrison said the Akeley Helping Hands committee researched projects such as a Safe House and a voucher system but learned liability and other issues precluded the ambitious goal.

The committee, he said, also discovered churches and other groups - such as UCAN (United Churches of Akeley and Nevis) are committed to connecting residents with resources.

So the idea of communication via newsletter emerged, the Akeley Angle likely to debut in mid-March.

The publication, Morrison said, will hold a community calendar, updates on Horizons ventures and news on organizations, such as the Akeley Housing and Redevelopment Authority's partnership with the county HRA to seek grant funding.

Helping Hands squadron members include Morrison and Bruce Patton.

-Team Chameleon is attempting to change the "color" of the city by increasing business activity.

"Akeley Chameleon is dedicated to making Akeley look better in order for people to feel better about the town," the summation states.

A primary goal is to spruce up the Highways 34 and 64 corner lot, with negotiations under way with the landowner. The plan is to include a sign informing visitors of area events and attractions.

Team member George Lueck noted the city has faced some notable declines in business in the past few years, citing the grocery and hardware stores closing.

"A long-term goal would be to find the best use of the former hardware store," he said.

A Horizon-sponsored community garden will likely sprout next summer near the Akeley Regional Community Center, with space tilled and fertilized for all to share. Contact Bea Dybsand at 652-2736 for more info on reserving a plot.

Elaine Kelsey and Johnny Steward also serve on the team.

-The Greater Akeley Youth Council is a product of the Tots 'n Teens team. Since its inception, the youth have hosted dances and other events and are now in the midst of planning a Community Christmas Celebration.

A collaboration between Akeley Horizons and Minnesota Folklore Theater, the festival will be held Sunday, Dec. 20 at the ARCC, with a free ham and turkey dinner served beginning at 4 p.m., music and gifts for all at 5 p.m. and a special show at 7:30 p.m.

The Tots 'n Teens team plans to start a computer lab "with teens teaching old folks," Peterson said, and possibly host an after- school program for children. The team is also discussing working with a college to offer courses.

A skating rink may be established across from the ARCC.

The ARCC, housed in an antiquated building that at times has been considered an albatross, has become a phoenix.

Uses for the building continue to evolve.

The used clothing store is a key component to keeping the building financially afloat and apartments in the building may soon be available. The library continues to grow in usage and selection.

And Minnesota Folklore Theater director Fred Rogers has engaged the community in theatrical productions, as an audience and performers. The theater has received several grants since its inception.

"A Christmas in the Pines," featuring Akeley area musicians Fran Gack and Frank Lamb, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, 18 and 19 at the ARCC. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

Tots 'n Teens team members include Janna Kietzman, Peterson and wife Beverly and Shelly Steward.

-Arts and Attractions - "dedicated to keeping and increasing community-wide and individual assets of Akeley" is planning a Taco and Tires-Plus learning night.

Participants will be treated to tacos while gaining an understanding about simple car maintenance Saturday, Feb. 27 at Akeley Auto.

Come spring, a bike maintenance course will be offered.

The group is discussing a volunteer network to assist Akeley residents with simple home repair and snow removal.

Neighborhood block parties may be sprouting in the spring, as a means for neighbors to become acquainted.

Team members are Peg Davies and JoAnn Schroeder.

As the 18-month Horizon time period winds to a conclusion next year, plans are for the initiative to continue.

Peterson intends to establish an office in the ARCC, where people can share ideas and expertise. As Horizons "alumni," the city may tap Extension staff for assistance.

Akeley has become a bedroom community, Peterson acknowledged.

But with its recreational opportunities and other amenities, he wants the community to be viewed as "a good place for young people, a great place to live," he said.