Rosy Hjermstad transitioned into the role of the new Executive Director for Kinship of the Park Rapids Area in February after Jennifer Therkilsen, who had served as Executive Director for 10 years, retired.
Hjermstad has lived in the Park Rapids area for nearly 22 years. Born in Venezuela, she came here as a foreign exchange student in 1994, she left for a time and moved back in 1999. She attended college at Bemidji State University and worked as a teacher directly after college. She then began working at Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC) in Detroit Lakes for nearly five years.
"They had a subsidiary company on the White Earth Reservation and I was very interested in working on the reservation," she said. "I became program manager for their housing services doing counseling and education."
For the next five years, Hjermstad traveled quite a bit covering Wadena, Otter Tail, Mahnomen and Becker Counties as well as the White Earth Reservation while earning her Master's Degree in Nonprofit Management which she obtained from Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
She then starting working for Mahube-Otwa as the Housing Case Manager.
"I applied for that and I worked for them for about a year and a half. I was hoping a higher level nonprofit administration job would be available but in this area it's difficult because people stay long term," Hjermstad said.
Therkilsen announced her retirement in November and Hjermstad felt the position would be a great fit with her work experience and education background.
Most of Hjermstad's experience is in community asset building in nonprofit administration, program development and management and housing and economic development.
"When the job became available, it just seemed to be a perfect fit for me because at the time I was working in case management at Mahube and I'm familiar with many of the families in the area," she said. "I thought youth mentoring would fit perfectly with my career background and the experience I had with the local families."
According to Hjermstad, a lot of the Kinship mentees do come from single low income families and a large majority of them come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Having worked with multicultural groups for many years, Hjermstad feels she is more comfortable approaching those issues that are present in the community.
"I personally feel there is a group of people in this community that have not been served and they could be by a program like this, and I believe I could help with that," she said. "I think that Kinship provides good opportunities for kids."
Hjermstad has spent the last few months trying to familiarize herself with funding, writing grants, the board of directors, the mentors and mentees and the operations of the program rather than expanding.
"There is a lot to learn. And there is a lot of responsibility with the fundraising," she said, adding that her first big fundraiser will be the annual Kinship Fish Fry coming up May 12.
Hjermstad said she has been feeling a lot of stress coordinating her first big event but made easier by the support from the Kinship board of directors and several volunteers.
"Right now I haven't decided to make any changes. We're talking about an organization that's been here 25 years and it's been very conservative and it's very important to keep our local supporters," Hjermstad added. "Change can be scary and we've been very cautious with the transition. Of course with change there comes challenges but there also comes growth and I'm hoping to bring in new ideas and whatever resources I can to make things better. I would like to focus on learning the program first and supporting the current needs that we have."
According to Hjermstad, one of the biggest challenges the Kinship program faces is funding.
"There is not a lot of funding available to support youth mentoring nationwide so we depend all on donors, fundraisers and local community support either by other organizations or small businesses," she said. "And that makes it very difficult because we still have to do our job everyday and the case management is so important to continue working with not only the mentors and their mentees but also to provide the resources that they need to build that relationship, and when there's a lack of funding it's tough."
Hjermstad added that the Kinship program applies for smaller grants that she says most likely all of the other nonprofits in the area are already competing for. There are very few bigger federal grants and those available don't necessarily fit the profile of this community. Therefore, Kinship depends heavily on the support of local donors, mainly through fundraising.
"We have great support from local donors but to continue the program and at some point grow, it's very important for us to find a sustainable source of funding," she said.
Hjermstad added that the Kinship mentors are great supporters of the program, because they are not only mentors but donors as well.
"Not just financially. They donate the most important part of their lives, which is their time," she said. "And they're willing to make a difference by creating a relationship with these children."
Hjermstad is looking forward to picking up where Therkilsen left off and continue supporting mentees and mentors to build lifelong meaningful relationships.
"It's been interesting, it's been fun. There's quite a bit to learn," she said. "Just the mission in itself makes me excited to come to work everyday to make a difference."