Redwood area organizations bring life to community, adjust to serving during pandemic

Deb Moldaschel
Redwood Falls Gazette

This is the second in a series of articles about how the pandemic has affected Redwood area businesses and organizations. The Gazette is working with Anne Johnson, Executive Director, Redwood Area Chamber & Tourism, to present this information.

This article features four local non-profit organizations which were asked by Johnson to provide comments and “news” about how their activities and future plans have been impacted by COVID-19.

“The Redwood Area is a great place to build your career and raise a family,” said Johnson. “One of the many attributes that supports that is our active network of community organizations and non-profits. COVID-19 has been hard on non-profits across the country and just like other organizations, Redwood Area non-profits are working through reformatted or canceled fundraisers, and learning how to adjust.”

Celebrate Redwood Falls 

Cindy LaBrie, Celebrate Redwood Falls Board member spoke about the four annual events her group organizes each year.

A scene from last winter’s Fire & Ice Festival — while it won’t be the same, the Celebrate Redwood Falls has come up with a plan for this winter — a fireworks show in Memorial Park on Saturday night, Feb. 6.

“We have four annual events: Fire & Ice Festival in February, NightFalls in May, Summer Splash in June and The Francois Haunted Hotel/Monsters on Main Street in October,” said LaBrie. “The last event we held was Fire & Ice, nearly a year ago, in February 2020. Since then, we have had to cancel the others. We also cancelled our annual fundraising drive in May/June knowing that many of our sponsors were facing economic hardships.”

Celebrate Redwood Falls didn’t give up on serving the community though. They made adjustments and found ways to bring some fun to Redwood Falls since the pandemic shut down so many things people enjoy.

“We adapted our NightFalls event and created an At Home Edition,” said LaBrie. “We had over 50 homes participate by decorating their homes and yards with lights. Then our board selected winners in several categories.” LaBrie said the organization also created four lighted displays in the park to add to the festivity.

Next up for Celebrate Redwood Falls is a fireworks show a week from Saturday.

“We just announced a fireworks show at Memorial Park on February 6, in lieu of our regular Fire & Ice Festival on Lake Redwood,” LaBrie said. “This will allow safe, socially distanced viewing of a great show by the same company that has been doing our fireworks shows since 2014.”

Celebrate Redwood Falls continues to evaluate each of their events, as they get closer to the dates, to determine whether they will be able to safely hold them. For more information see: celebrateredwoodfalls.com

A.C.E. of SW MN

With a mission of creating strong, involved communities focusing on volunteerism and active living programs for adults age 55 and above, A.C.E. (Advocating, Connecting, and Educating) of SW MN serves people in seven counties, including Redwood County.

“Since we serve mostly people 55 and older, we have had to go to online formats for most of our classes at this time, via zoom,” said Ann LeBrun, Redwood County Aging & Volunteer Services Coordinator, who works with A.C.E. “We have a ‘Session 0’ for those who are not familiar with zoom.” 

Classes include: Living Well with Diabetes, Living Well with Chronic Conditions, SAIL, Building Better Caregivers, Powerful Tools for Caregivers, and Support Group for Caregivers. 

“The good news is that anyone with a computer/tablet or phone can join from anywhere in the world,” said LaBrun. “Also, all of our food programs have been active since the beginning of COVID-19 with most sites drive through only.”

LeBrun said something new they offered are online Virtual Area Dementia Awareness programs and also have introduced the Remember Project. These are one act plays depicting dementia family-related scenarios and all classes are free.

Looking ahead to better times, LeBrun said, “We are all very excited to get back to in-person classes, having our Volunteer Appreciation Event, and continue with Station Visits throughout Redwood County. Learn more at aceswmn.org

Friends of the Library 

Gwen Bohlke, President of Friends of the Library and Connie Lechner, Director of the Redwood Falls Public Library, said  a difficult thing about COVID-19 was their decision not to hold their spring and fall book sales. 

“We do very few fundraisers each year, but our spring and fall book sales are very successful,” said Bohlke. “We accept donations of books from the community, as well as the books the Library withdraws each year. These fundraisers help sustain our support of the Library. In addition, we have had so many patrons inquire and request these events. It has been a challenge to turn them down and not accept donations.” 

She said they have an overwhelming number of items in storage that they need to move out of their building space.

The Friends of the Library came up with a creative way to offer books, despite the pandemic.

Bohlke and Lechner described their current ‘Grab Bag Sale.’ The decision was made, for the safety of volunteers, not to have anyone in the Library to handle any materials, so just a couple volunteers and staff gathered books eight to 10 books and sealed them in paper bags for sale. 

“This sale is still active, so any patron or visitor may buy a grab bag for $5,” said Lechner. “They are sold by genre — Romance, Western, Seasonal, etc.”

One future consideration is to display a couple of tables of books for sale so library patrons may choose books and make an appropriate donation, with self-distancing—possibly in the meeting room.

The Friends of the Library do important work for the library by providing for items not covered by the budget each year. They would like to plan on having a book sale this spring, which means deciding on a format that is in the best interest of the volunteers, as well as patrons and the community.

Learn more about the Friend of the Library and the Redwood Falls Public Library at redwoodfallslibrary.org

Friends of the Park

Redwood Falls Friends of the Park mission is to raise funds to help preserve, protect, improve and enhance Ramsey Park. Brenda Joines, President. said the pandemic affected their fundraising efforts substantially.

“Due to COVID-19, the Ramsey Park Jamboree, Friends of the Park’s annual prime fundraising event, which was to be held in June 2020, was cancelled,” Joines said. “We were hopeful that by June of 2021, the Jamboree would return. At present, we know we still can’t plan to host the large, indoor event as we have in the past. However, we are committed to supporting and celebrating Ramsey Park and are planning innovative ways to do so in the coming year.”

Joines said the Friends of the Park’s current large project is an inclusive, interactive and accessible playground addition at the Zeb Gray shelter area in Ramsey Park. This play space features equipment that able-bodied children and adults and those with special needs may enjoy together. In addition to the adaptive equipment, there is a structure designed specifically for younger children, ages 2 to 5. The surface is a smooth, poured-in-place material that allows wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers safe, clean, and easy access to the playground.

“Friends of the Park had been raising funds for this project for a year prior to the pandemic, and just weeks before the shut down in March were awarded a sizeable donation which would allow the city staff to begin site preparation and install the playground equipment in the summer of 2020,” Joines said. “The equipment had been purchased and was in storage and plans were in place to begin the project. Unfortunately, due to the unsettled and uncertain economic situation, the organization that was to have awarded the funds was forced to halt all donations until further notice. This caused the Friends of the Park to have to put the playground project on hold until the funds are released, as we need them to purchase the surface material.” 

Joines said the group has been assured by the organization that they will receive the funding, but don’t know when that will be. 

“We are so eager to see it completed for all to enjoy,” said Joines. “Many supportive local businesses, civic organizations and passionate community members have generously contributed to this wonderful project through sponsorships, donations, and attending the Jamboree.” 

Joines said the River Walk brick project is an ongoing fundraiser. People may purchase a brick in honor or memory of someone and design it as they wish through the following website: www.thatsmybrick.com/ramseypark. Bricks are displayed across from the animals in the zoo area.

Redwood Falls Lions Club

Teresa Rossow, Club President and Cindy LaBrie, Past Club President said the Redwood Falls Lions Club has been significantly affected by COVID-19, as it prevented them from gathering together for meetings, service projects and fundraisers.

They said club members miss the fellowship, but continue to support the community with the funds they have available, and hope they can start up again soon with meetings and in-person activities. 

“We are continuing our 300 Club fundraiser, as it is all done remotely,” said Rossow. “Our final $1,000 grand prize [was] awarded on Jan. 24 and we start our new year on Feb. 7, with our first weekly $100 prize. We have helped many organizations this year with donations to Redwood Area Food Shelf, Redwood Falls Community Youth Foundation, Imagination Library Redwood Area, Redwood County 4-H, Redwood Library Storybook Trail (an Eagle Scout project), and many others. Being able to continue to help organizations in our community, especially during this difficult time, is very rewarding.”