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Tracy Frank, Published April 20 2010

Stepping Stones aims to help kids reach independence

Stepping Stones Resource Center gives at-risk young people between the ages of 14 and 22 a place to go for help, support or just to hang out during the day.

The drop-in center is located in the Fraser Ltd. building at 2902 S. University Drive in Fargo. It offers young people who may be homeless or transitioning between homes help with things such as access to meals, clothing and personal care products.

Stepping Stones also helps young people set employment and educational goals, manage personal finances, develop skills for independent living and receive peer support, mentoring and counseling.

The center, a joint partnership between Youthworks, an alternative agency for youths and family services, and Fraser Ltd., a social service agency for people with disabilities and special needs, opened Sept. 1.

“It’s just a really positive environment,” said Christopher Johnson, Fraser Ltd. director of community services. “It’s welcoming; it’s nonjudgmental. Everyone who’s involved with the center has had extensive training on being an advocate for youth.”

Billiard tables, computers, video games and a large television fill the center. The walls are decorated in murals painted by the youths. There is also a kitchen where youths can make food. A large storage closet is filled with donated clothes, food and personal hygiene products.

Cheri Gerken, Youthworks program manager, said they would ultimately like to see a homeless shelter for people under age 18 because unaccompanied minors can’t stay in a regular shelter.

“We do have kids sleeping in the parks, sleeping in their cars, bouncing around from couch to couch,” Gerken said.

Johnson and a therapeutic case manager staff the center during the day. After 3 p.m., AmeriCorps volunteers from Youthworks help out.

Kristie Eschen, an AmeriCorps volunteer for Youthworks, has worked at the center since October.

“This has definitely been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done,” Eschen said.

She usually plays games or sits and talks with the young people.

“We’re trying to establish relationships so they feel like they can come back,” Eschen said.

Thirty-four people used the center in February and 54 in March, Johnson said.

“The goal is to assist someone toward independent status,” he said, adding that the role of the center is like what parents do for children transitioning out of their home.

“A lot of this is just really about connecting young people with someone who they know will consistently be there,” Gerken said.

Nonprofit profile

What: Stepping Stones Resource Center

Run by: A joint partnership between Fraser Ltd. and Youthworks

Where: 2902 S. University Drive

Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. Donations can be dropped off during center hours.

Contact: (701) 356-8585


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526