Turning a corner in Frazee: CornerStone community and youth center now in development
Cor·ner·stone (noun): 1. An important feature on which a thing depends or is based. Synonyms: foundation, mainstay, core, backbone, heart
A community and youth center is in the works on Main Avenue in Frazee, and the project is raising the bar on what it means to have a "heart" of downtown.
Called CornerStone, the intent of the center is to provide a safe and welcoming place for people in the community to gather. It will have a healthy farm-to-table bistro and coffee shop, plus a wide array of educational programs, social activities, entertainment options, and other opportunities designed to empower youth to learn and grow.
The project is all heart. Located on the corner of Main and Lake Street, in the former Hostel Hornet building, CornerStone will be right in the heart of downtown Frazee. The development is being led by community members who have their hearts in the right place, seeking to make a lasting difference in the lives of their fellow residents. And if the project lives up to its promise, it could easily become the new, true heart of the town.
As an informational flyer about CornerStone states, it's expected to be "a thriving Main Street attraction that brings people to our community and builds on tourism," with indoor and outdoor spaces that support recreation, arts and cultural opportunities, skill building and healthy living.
"I think it'll be a wonderful thing," said Frazee Mayor Ken Miosek. "People have been looking for places for their kids to go, and kids have been looking for places to go where they can feel safe and belong somewhere. And we'll be...getting that big building right on Main up and going, instead of sitting there empty. We (at the city) believe this'll be good for the city. There's good programs that can come out of this. It's just an all-around good thing. It meets a lot of needs in a lot of areas."
Recent studies have shown that kids in Frazee are exposed to abuse, neglect and other Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, at a higher rate than in any other community in Becker County. Not surprisingly, given that statistic, a higher percentage of them feel like no one cares about them. Almost half of all junior girls at Frazee High School do not feel good about themselves, and as many as 30 percent of all juniors there have seriously considered suicide.
It's a sad situation, and one with no single, simple solution. But CornerStone is already providing a ray of hope.
"I think there's a need for students that goes beyond the school setting, something in the community that shows there's people in the community that care about kids," said Ta Fett, a counselor at Frazee High School. "I see kids that aren't involved in school activities — we provide a lot, and a lot of kids are involved — but if they're not, how can we get them involved in our community, and get them connected to their community? I think this is one way to do that... I think it's all about hope, really. I think it just gives people hope for the future."
Some of the finer details of CornerStone have yet to be set, but it's expected to offer things like: indoor and outdoor movies; social opportunities and games (like pool and darts); entrepreneurial programs; group outings like hiking, biking and kayaking; mentorships and tutoring; arts and crafts; STEM programming; the bistro and coffee shop; and more.
"Our goal, really, is to make Frazee the best place to raise youth," said Karen Pifher, the president of the CornerStone board of directors. "People are excited about this."
"I think it's going to be really, really great that we have these kinds of opportunities, especially in a smaller town," said Mekiah Johnson, a Frazee 17-year-old. "I will definitely be going down there. For me, a big thing will be socializing, getting to know other kids... When you have a youth center, it can be easier. Other kids are more accessible."
The board has moved forward with the purchase of the old Hostel Hornet property and expects to close on it around July 15, Pifher said. It'll then take an estimated 3-4 months to renovate and remodel the space to fit its new intent. There should be a soft opening by late fall or early winter.
Pifher is the coordinator of Becker County Energize, which is supported by Essentia Health St. Mary's and has been a key organization behind the CornerStone project. Essentia conducts Community Health Needs Assessments every three years to determine the greatest needs in communities around Becker County, and then takes action to address those needs.
The CornerStone project, Pifher said, is a direct response to some of the top concerns revealed by recent assessments, including ACEs and mental wellbeing, especially in youth.
Pifher is also a resident of Frazee and a mother, and she said she felt the time was ripe for a project like CornerStone. People in the community, including school, faith and city leaders, "were all talking about what to do about youth, so it seemed to be a good time to pull everybody together and figure out how to make a lasting impact on the community."
Project planning started about a year ago, with a CornerStone steering committee holding their first meeting last April. They've since met regularly, applying for nonprofit status, shopping around for a building, and talking to other people and groups from the area to gather input and ideas. They've held three community listening sessions, and they're now working to compile and hone all the suggestions they've received.
A nine-person board of directors is leading CornerStone, representing many different sectors of the community — a youth pastor is on the board, for example, as is Mayor Miosek and school counselor Fett. They plan to hire an executive director for the center soon, as well as a culinary manager for the bistro. They'll also be creating a Youth Advisory Council, which will allow kids in grades 7-12 to help make important decisions about CornerStone.
The board has also been working to put a solid, financially sustainable plan in place for the center, and is focusing on fundraising. A capital campaign is ongoing, and they've been applying for grants and garnering private donations.
The cost of getting CornerStone up and running — purchasing and renovating the building, buying any necessary equipment or furnishings, etc. — is $800,000. That's no small fundraising feat to achieve for a town the size of Frazee, population 1,350. But Pifher said they're already almost a third of the way there, and they're optimistic that, between the generosity of the Becker County community and the possibility of more grant money coming in, they'll reach their goal before too long.
Once the $800,000 is raised, Pifher said CornerStone will be 100 percent financially sustainable under the board's plan. They intend to rent out the eight apartments that are on the upper level of the building, which will bring in a significant monthly income for CornerStone. The bistro will also bring in revenue. Donation pledges will come in over the first five years of operation, and at that point any debt CornerStone has will be paid off. Financing during those five years is being handled by the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation.
"If this is done, and done right," said Pifher, "we're hoping to look at that data (from the next Community Health Needs Assessment) after a couple of years and see a drastic drop (in troubling numbers). When kids are happy and healthy, they tend to be more happy and healthy adults."
The board is planning to hold a community kickoff for CornerStone sometime this summer. Anyone who would like to know more about the project, get involved, or make a donation, may contact Pifher or any of the CornerStone board members, or visit the project's Facebook page,
"CornerStone: Frazee Community and Youth Project."