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Tracy Frank, Published November 26 2013

Her Voice: Fargo woman dedicates more than quarter-century to helping others

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

FARGO – Sandra Leyland moved a lot as a child, and says those experiences taught her some valuable lessons.

“When you’re a little kid in grade school or middle school and you have to pick up and move and go into new situations, that first day walking into the classroom as a new kid several times over, you develop a very keen sense of who you are and your surroundings,” said the 57-year-old Fargo woman. “It made me very empathetic to the needs of people around me.”

That compassion is something she continues to utilize as executive director of Fraser Ltd., a non-profit organization that provides services for children with special needs, at-risk youth and vulnerable adults.

“The services we provide are lifelong,” said Leyland, who’s served in her position for the past 21 years and has been with the organization for 26 years. “I get to see someone come in and follow their progress over the years. It’s such a reward to go to work and see that we can have such a positive impact.”

Established in 1893, Fraser Ltd. is the longest-serving non-profit organization in North Dakota, according to the group’s website. The organization has nearly 250 employees serving more than 1,000 people in three major programs.

The child care center serves children with and without special needs ages 6 weeks to 12 years.

“What makes it unique is it’s inclusionary,” Leyland said.

The adult services program provides housing, support services, and life planning for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Stepping Stones Resource Center helps youth ages 16 to 26 at risk of homelessness with things like finding work, food, and medical and mental health assistance.

Fraser is also working on a supportive housing program for at-risk youth located at 711 S. University Drive in Fargo. Participants will pay for a portion of their housing while working on becoming independent. It will be the first permanent supportive housing project for youth in the state, Leyland said.

“There are a lot of kids on the street,” she said. “Twenty percent of the kids we see spend one or more nights in a car.”

In addition to not having adequate food or shelter, homeless youth are at risk of being physically and sexually assaulted, Leyland said.

She hopes the facility will open in February, but she said Fraser still needs to raise $1.5 million to complete the project.

One of the organization’s major fundraisers is the Festival of Trees, which is set up at the Fargodome now through Dec. 6.

It features 155 Christmas trees adorned in everything from traditional decorations to unique or functional styles. One tree is covered in kitchen utensils and recipes.

Area businesses and families sponsor the trees. The event is free and open to the public during the dome’s business hours.

“It’s a very uplifting experience,” Leyland said. “A lot of creative minds went to work on putting those trees together.”

All trees will be given to area families after the event is over.

Fraser is also sponsoring a free holiday event, Cookies with the Claus Family, from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday. It features sleigh rides, a magician, cookie decorating, Games Galore, balloon animals, and free photos with Santa.

“We wanted to have an event where anyone could attend regardless of their ability to pay,” Leyland said.

As rewarding as her job is, Leyland says it can also be emotionally draining.

“As professionals we learn how to compartmentalize so we can deal with some of the sadness in life and put it aside and keep going,” she said.

One thing Leyland does to keep herself going is to paint, draw and work with clay. She also has a very strong faith life and prays regularly.

“I have a tremendous amount of faith that I’m going to be directed to wherever it might be that I’m needed,” she said. “I try to listen for that calling.”

Leyland said she also works with a committed staff and Fraser Ltd. has a very tenured board.

“If I don’t have good staff, nothing happens,” she said.

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

If you go

What: Fraser Ltd. Festival of Trees and Cookies with the Claus Family

Where: Fargodome, 1800 N. University Drive

When: Festival of Trees through Dec. 6; Cookies with the Claus Family 1 to 4 p.m. Friday

Contact: (701) 232-3301

Online: For more information, go to: www.fraserltd.org.