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Detroit Lakes social club has been providing 'A Place to Belong' for 25 years

Detroit Lakes social club for those living with mental health issues reaches its first quarter century.

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Penny Willette of Repurposed Pennies, center, helps members of A Place to Belong with a project to make their own refrigerator magnets out of wood at a recent class held at the Detroit Lakes club.
Vicki Gerdes . Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — It's been 25 years since A Place to Belong, the social club for area residents living with clinically diagnosed mental health issues, first opened its doors.

A special birthday celebration for the club's members and staff was held on Friday, May 27, drawing a steady stream of visitors to the club located on the second level of the Graystone Annex, next door to Godfather's Pizza.

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The staff and members at A Place to Belong in Detroit Lakes held a birthday bash in honor of the club's 25th anniversary on Friday, May 27, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

According to the club's program director, Kayla Fagre, it's one of many ways that the staff tries to make the members feel welcome and let them enjoy socializing with each other.

"We do a lot of different outings — bowling, miniature golf, fishing, shopping at thrift stores and garage sales — as well as activities at the club like card games, arts and crafts, and some educational classes," she said. "We have mental health professionals come in and teach classes on different (mental health) diagnoses and triggering symptoms, as well as how to control different things that can cause them."

Other class topics might include medication management as well as how to file for various types of medical and financial assistance, she added — though some are geared more toward artistic and creative activities as well.

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One night, Fagre invited Penny Willette of Repurposed Pennies in to teach a class on making refrigerator magnets out of wood, glue and cut-out pictures, phrases and logos chosen by the members.

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Members and staff at Detroit Lakes' A Place to Belong proudly held up the refrigerator magnets they had made during a craft class held recently at the club.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Willette, a Frazee resident, said she was happy to donate her time for the class.

"My husband is a veteran," she said, "and I'm happy to volunteer."

Willette said her business is focused on the idea that just about anything can be recycled or repurposed.

"I enjoy 'dumpster diving'," she said, adding that she finds a lot of things she can use that way. "I try to keep stuff out of the landfill and recycle as much as possible."

In addition to all the activities for its members, the club also serves lunch every week day they're open, and sometimes supper as well, if they have late activities scheduled.

"We're open every Monday through Friday, and then there are members, called key holders, who volunteer to come in and open the club during evenings and weekends," Fagre said, though meals aren't served when the club isn't staffed.

Besides Fagre, who is employed full-time, the only other non-volunteer is a part-time member liaison, William Wegscheid, who helps out wherever he is needed.

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The club draws its membership from Becker, Otter Tail, Clay and Wilkin counties, with a current roster of 163 members, though many of them only show up intermittently, while others are there every day.

"We have about 15 people here on any given day," Fagre said, though popular activities can draw "way more," she added.

Though it may seem like A Place to Belong covers an unusually large service area, the nonprofit also has a Fergus Falls location, Fagre said — in fact, the Fergus Falls club came first.

Though they are always open to new members, A Place to Belong isn't for everyone.

"We serve people who have a serious mental health diagnosis," Fagre said.

According to information on the organization's website: aplacetobelongmn.com , it is intended to provide "a safe, comfortable and supportive environment for persons with serious mental illness who are working on their recovery while living the community, by means of voluntary recreational, educational and community service opportunities."

For more information, call the club at 218-846-9022, hit the "contact us" button on their website, or check out their Facebook page.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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