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We’re Behind Bresciani

September 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

craig whitneyheadshotDean Bresciani has been North Dakota State University’s president since 2010, and during these years, he has transformed the university into a nationally recognized institution for education, athletics and research. An institution that is vital to the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo metro, the state, the nation and the world. And his leadership and vision has never once wavered.

Bresciani may be under fire, but the facts speak for themselves, and the facts show that the university has never been stronger, thanks in large part to the wisdom and experience from this seasoned leader.

Just one of many indicators of Bresciani’s success lies in the university’s fundraising efforts. Through the end of May, the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association’s fundraising totaled over $33 million. To put this into perspective, that number was just under $7 million at the same time last year, which was the fourth highest fundraising year ever.

The university also secured more than $176 million in current and deferred gifts from July 1, 2010 through June 16 of this year. In the five years prior, (fiscal years 2006 to 2010), the total was $58 million. Numbers like that don’t increase without solid leadership from the top.

Moody’s Investors Service released a statement on July 6, 2016, which read: “NDSU’s strategic positioning is good, reflecting excellent long-term planning, strong investment in core programs and facilities, and careful financial oversight enhancing financial flexibility. The university carefully calibrates its expenses to revenue volatility, which is essential given high competition for students, variable state funding and pressure on federal research funding. Management continues to successfully capitalize on Fargo’s economic growth, with industry partnerships for education, job placement and research.”

Another fact is that North Dakota State University plays an important role in the ongoing issue of workforce in the metro. Not only is the institution the second largest employer in Fargo Moorhead West Fargo – only after Sanford, with over 4,000 FTEs as of December last year – but they produce highly educated and trained employees, many of which stay to work in the region.

In fact, according to a recent graduates survey from NDSU, 77% of North Dakota students are working in the state, and 34% of Minnesota students are now working in North Dakota.

Bresciani has been involved in the recent workforce collaborative and has shown his strong support of efforts to attract, train and retain qualified workers in the region. Quite simply, our work in solving the workforce gap would be much harder without the backing of our higher education leaders.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that NDSU has upward of an $884 million annual economic impact on the regional economy. These are no small figures.

While colleges and universities around the country struggle with enrollment, under President Bresciani’s leadership, NDSU continues to grow and prosper.

It’s also hard to ignore the incredible athletic accomplishments. Bison pride booms through this community, and the university boasts five consecutive NCAA D1 football championships and four visits from ESPN. Getting national sports coverage on this level promotes not just NDSU, but the community and state. While this kind of exposure could be a million-dollar marketing campaign, we receive it for free because of NDSU’s accomplishments. Knowing that Bresciani hired the athletic director and football coach shows that he picks the kind of staff and provides the vision and leadership that they need to succeed.

It’s clear that the president has his heart and head in the right place when it comes to serving the citizens of North Dakota and the students of the university. It is inspiring to watch as he and his team continue to pursue excellence in academics and research, with an eye toward the economic success of our region.

I have to applaud Bresciani’s commitment, leadership and vision, and I stand behind him with confidence.

craig's signature

Craig Whitney
The Chamber


The State of Technology in North Dakota

August 16th, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

Yesterday, about 300 people joined us and Senator John Hoeven at the Hilton Garden Inn for the 2016 State of Technology event, in which we highlighted local innovators that are solving global challenges through incredible tech innovation.

Camille Grade and Jake Joraanstad from Myriad Mobile served as emcees for the morning and provided a great overview of just how connected we all are through smart devices, the Internet and exponential technologies.


state of technology 2016

Hoeven talked about the waves of innovation in the state, counting ag as the first, energy as the second, technology as the third, noting that North Dakota is “absolutely hands-down, unequivocally, without question, one of the leaders in agriculture.”

Seth Arndorfer, CEO of Dakota Carrier Network, took the stage to offer an overview DCN’s fiber infrastructure and share an exclusive announcement to event attendees. Every 12-15 months, North Dakota’s Internet consumption doubles, he shared. That’s a lot of growth to support, and DCN is working on an initiative to establish a secure WiFi network across all of North Dakota with access points throughout the entire state. The goal? To give you the same speed and experience on your mobile device like you would get wired in to the network.

Next up was a keynote from Microsoft’s new company-wide president Brad Smith, who shared a fascinating look at the growth of technology historically and how it brought it to where we are today, referencing the industrial revolutions of physical, biological, digital and now the cloud. He offered a glimpse into how Microsoft is leading the way in making the Internet more accessible around the world. This includes a major data center in Pennsylvania that is larger than NDSU’s campus, and a giant fiber optic cable that will connect all of us across the world. “I think it is our responsibility to make the fourth wave as big as the second,” he said, showing his passion for equality and accessibility for all.

Smith also brought to light a concerning statistic — that nationwide there are 600,000 computing jobs but only 40,000 computer science graduates, and locally 900 jobs but only 116 grads. To fix this, Smith says we shouldn’t just focus on higher education, but also on high schools. Of all the high schools in America, very few are offering AP computer science courses.

To learn more about Microsoft’s solar cafe in Kenya, check out this video:

To learn more about how eye control technology helps ALS patients, check out this video:

Two other presentations from local companies offered attendees a closer look at what initiatives are in the works right here in the metro. Michael Chambers, CEO of Aldevron–a company that works to prevent, treat and cure diseases–shared plans of an expansion and a focus on workforce. Examples of their advancements include a DNA-based malaria vaccine that is in phase 1 of clinical trials; CAR-T cells that fight cancer; and cell gene therapy that can cure things such as inherited blindness.

Neil Brackin of Weather Modification, a company currently housed locally inside the Fargo Jet Center, is making advancements in cloud seeding. This technology can literally make it rain, though Brackin made sure to clarify that its use is for healthy water management rather than fixing drought. Water is a critical resource around the world, and this technology is game-changing with proven success. In fact, they’ve seen an average 16% additional precipitation in three particular projects.

The Information Technology Council of North Dakota also joined us to present their annual North Dakota IT Awards. The recipients were:

  • Premier IT Business: Marco
  • North Dakota IT Champion: Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation
  • Technology Innovator: State Historical Society of North Dakota

In the end, Joraanstad offered a challenge to the room to be the leader in autonomous technology. Help embrace this technology, invest in it and build the exponential technologies to make North Dakota and our country great.

Check out our photo album on Facebook HERE.

To see what The Forum took away from this event, CLICK HERE for their recap article.

Check out some of these tweets from event attendees!


Impact of the New Overtime Regulations

August 5th, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

Last week at Eggs & Issues, we learned the details of the US DOL’s new overtime regulations and its impact on both employers and employees. John Kirchner, executive director of the Midwest region for the U.S Chamber of Commerce, joined us to share what Chamber members need to know to be prepared for the change.

Aug Eggs on DOL overtime regulations

On May 23, the U.S. Department of Labor released its final overtime regulation, which was a radical change from the previous rule and increased the salary threshold under which most employees will be automatically eligible for overtime pay.


Currently, employees are eligible for overtime compensation unless these three criteria are met: Must be paid a salary; salary must be more than the threshold of $455/week ($23,660/year); and they must qualify under exemption category and meet primary duties test.

The new regulations are effective December 1, 2016, and increases the salary by 100% to $47,476/year. Up to 10% of that salary can come from non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments.

The salary level will be adjusted every three years.

Teachers and doctors are not included.

The new regulations also include compensation for working remotely or from home, so employers should think about employees tracking time even answering emails from home.

Kirchner says this will result in a loss of workplace productivity. For instance, new employees likely under this threshold often try and prove themselves by working extra hours, but these rules will now inhibit their ability to set themselves apart. There’s also a loss in flexibility for workplaces that allow lighter workloads one week to compensate for another heavier week.

The DOL estimates that around 5 million people will be affected by the rule, but thinks 1.2 million will see a raise from it.

Legislative Responses

How could we stop or modify these regulations before they go into effect? Kirchner did reference a couple of legislative responses:

Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act (S. 2707/H.R. 4773)

  • Would nullify the overtime regulation
  • Requires that any new proposed reg be more responsive to small businesses, nonprofits, regional economies, local governments, Medicare and Medicaid dependent health care providers, and academic institutions
  • Would prohibit any future proposed regulation from including any form of automatic update

Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act (H.R. 5813)

  • Would phase-in increase: about $36,000 on December 1, then each December 1 until 2019, to full $47,476
  • Would remove the automatic update provision

Kirchner suggests that employers be able to demonstrate how the new regulations will affect their workplace productivity by showing, for example, how much less charitable work will get done because they have to comply with the new rules.


To make sure your workplace complies with these new regulations, Kirchner suggests the following steps:

  • Identify employees who are currently exempt and being paid between $23,660 to $47,476. Reclassify them or increase their salary.
  • Develop a new compensation plan for the reclassified employees. Consider the same income in hourly format, a change in benefits and earned OT.
  • Communicate the changes to employees. Explain that reclassifying is NOT a demotion.
  • Train the reclassified employees and their managers. Define what will now be compensable time, how to track time, and define use of electronic technology, remote access, etc.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, though, and there’s a lot of questions left as December 1 comes closer, and how we respond to the changes once they’re in effect.

What Else?

At the Eggs & Issues event, we also invited North Dakota’s congressional delegates to provide comments. Emily from Senator Hoeven’s office said that when it comes to passing legislation, everything comes down to numbers, and they need help from the business community. Reach out to your elected officials to voice your concern about issues like these and show your support of pieces of legislation. She says we could potentially see some change in at least a slow-down of the rule’s implementation.

Ryan Nelson from Congressman Cramer’s office echoed similar sentiments and encouraged attendees to reach out to members of Congress.

Contact us for a copy of Kirchner’s presentation slides!


Member Profile: Rape & Abuse Crisis Center

August 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead (RACC) offers crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling and education to all persons affected by sexual and domestic violence and to provide prevention programs to create a society free of personal abuse. Last year, the agency served 3001 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, including 501 children, throughout west central Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota. RACC is dedicated to offering hope, education and support to those affected by violence and committed to the vision of safe and healthy communities for all.

RACC team

RACC has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the lives of victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence since its inception in 1977 when two local agencies—WomenAbuse, serving battered women, and the Rape Crisis Center, serving victims of sexual violence—merged to provide comprehensive, accessible services for these crimes. RACC is proudly one of the earliest violence intervention centers to be established in Minnesota and North Dakota, and throughout the agency’s 39-year history has served over 83,000 victims, including 16,000 children.

The programs of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center utilize an integrated approach involving crisis intervention, advocacy, legal, medical and social systems assistance, trauma-informed, evidence-based individual and group counseling, and community education to provide comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child sexual abuse and their families in order to move the child or adult from victim to survivor. It is RACC’s goal for victims to feel safe, well-informed and emotionally supported as they move through the healing process.

RACC play therapy room

RACC’s play therapy room

“If you focus on the trauma that brings people in here, particularly for child victims, it can be pretty overwhelming,” said Dr. Christopher Johnson, executive director. “But when you have the opportunity to watch traumatized kids be-bop down to the Play Therapy room talking their counselor’s ear off, it’s rewarding to know that this kid is strong and resilient and with support and intervention is able to make sense of what happened and move on with life.”

In addition to serving victims, RACC is committed to its vision of making the community one where domestic and sexual violence are less likely to happen through its prevention and education programs. For many years, RACC, like many social change agents, invested the majority of its prevention efforts into educating youth. While these efforts were critical in identifying potential victims and increasing awareness of services available and remain so, educating youth is not enough to prevent violence and abuse from happening in the first place. RACC has worked strategically to develop, implement and facilitate primary prevention programming based on changing social norms through community engagement, policy work and macro principles similar to the successful models of the anti-smoking movement. RACC’s primary prevention efforts have been recognized by the Center for Disease Control as promising. Most recently, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) asked RACC staff to provide model primary prevention programming and training throughout the state of Minnesota.

As for receiving the 2016 Chamber Choice Non-Profit of the Year award, “More than anything we’re grateful,” Johnson stated. “Just truly grateful to the community and The Chamber for honoring survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse by choosing the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center for this prestigious award. It tells our staff, this work you’re doing is important and needed and we as a community are here for you. More importantly, it sends a resounding message to victims and their families- you matter, your safety and well-being matters, what you’re going through isn’t OK and we as a community have your back.”

Save the date for RACC’s Harvest Moon Fling event on October 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott with wine tasting, live and silent auctions, food and entertainment.


Big Changes Coming Soon!

August 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

craig whitney headshot

As we enter August, which is the last month of The Chamber’s fiscal year, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.

We completed our first Young Entrepreneurs Academy class and are busy recruiting and planning for the next. We hosted our biggest-ever Women Connect and Voices of Vision events. We advocated for the F-M Diversion and are thrilled that the project keeps advancing. We witnessed the most candidates ever vying for two open seats on the Fargo City Commission and helped our members learn about the issues. We hired a few new Chamber staff and welcomed many new businesses to the Chamber family. Our workforce collaborative is already making strides. And the metro just keeps making more and more top lists from around the country. We love to see how much our Chamber, and our community, has grown and thrived in the past year.

As we continue to improve member benefits and launch our new fiscal year in September, you will see some exciting new things happening around here. It is our goal to move ourselves to the next level, and we believe our plans will do just that.

New Website
It’s no secret that The Chamber’s current website is showing its age, and we are thrilled to have a new one in the works. HASH Interactive and our awesome Chamber staff have been busy the past few months populating all new content, graphics and design to refresh our web presence. The new fmwfchamber.com will launch soon, and we can’t wait to unveil it.

New eBridge
We can’t change our website without updating our emails! Once the new website is launched, you’ll see a new look for all Chamber email marketing.

New Database
We’re getting an all-new database as well, which means we’ll be able to do better member tracking, and you’ll have a new look when browsing the member directory, registering for events or accessing our members-only portal.

New Logos
Don’t worry, our main Chamber logo isn’t going anywhere, but new event and program logos will be debuting soon, with a more consistent look to tie The Chamber brand together.

New Faces
This year, we have four outgoing Board of Directors, and we’re welcoming four new faces. These individuals bring a diverse set of background and experiences, and we’re excited for their fresh take. Find out who they are in next month’s Bridge.

Refreshed Bridge
Speaking of next month’s Bridge, we’ll be rolling out more changes to our monthly printed newsletter. Some sections will be staying, some will be going, some will be changing, and some new features will hit the pages. The September edition will be one you don’t want to miss.

Stay tuned next month to see all these changes take effect! I invite you to contact me or any of the Chamber staff to let us know what you think, and as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Please let us know how we can better serve you!


2016 Legacy Leader, Roger Gilbertson

August 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

roger gilbertsonWe’re honored to name our 2016 Legacy Leader, Dr. Roger Gilbertson, who has a storied career in medicine in the region. Gilbertson’s interest in medicine sparked as a boy growing up in Minnesota. In 1959, he graduated from Concordia College and the University of Minnesota Medical School, serving his residency in radiology at the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis VA Hospital.

In 1971, he joined Radiologist Ltd., which was then affiliated with The Neuropsychiatric Institute (TNI) and St. Luke’s Hospital. During his time, TNI acquired the organization’s first CAT scan and became a key player in establishing neuroradiology as a medical subspecialty in western Minnesota and North Dakota.

Gilbertson and his partners realized the strength in numbers, and in 1987, Radiologist Ltd. merged with Fargo Clinic. He served on the Fargo Clinic Board of Directors from 1988 to 1992. He also became a clinical faculty member of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

In 1993, St. Luke’s Hospitals and the Fargo Clinic merged to form the MeritCare Health System, a large, integrated health system designed to deliver health services and negotiate with insurers. Gilbertson served as a top executive and crucial leader during the transition. He then became president and chief executive officer of MeritCare Health System, a position he would retain for 17 years.

Gilbertson’s leadership allowed MeritCare to succeed and grow, and he steered the merger of MeritCare and Sanford Health to its successful completion. Shortly after that merger was announced in 2009, he shared his plans to retire.

Sanford and the UND Foundation honored Gilbertson and his work in 2010 by establishing a $1.5 million Dr. Roger Gilbertson Endowed Chair of Neurology at the UND medical school, permanently recognizing his commitment to quality medical education in North Dakota.

But it’s not just his medical accomplishments being celebrated around the region. In 1997, Gilbertson’s athletic contributions were honored when he was inducted into the Concordia College Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2005, Concordia also honored him with the Alumni Achievement Award.

Gilbertson also served the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo community through his involvement in numerous organizations, such as the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Downtown Community Partnership, and more.

Join us to celebrate recent accomplishments, look ahead to our new fiscal year and honor the 2016 Legacy Leader at The Chamber’s Sixth Annual Meeting on Thursday, September 22 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Ramada Plaza & Suites.


Regional Workforce Update

July 5th, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

One year ago, we kicked off a major initiative to solve a regional workforce gap in the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo community (catch up on that HERE). In collaboration with the Economic Development Corporation, Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, the FM Area Foundation and the United Way of Cass-Clay, along with investors, volunteers and committees, the past year has been dedicated to digging into the recommendations that consultants TIP Strategies provided us.

Workforce Presentation June30 Why

Individuals were separated into four different groups, each one dedicated to one of the four study pillars: cultivate, attract, build and innovate. Over the past year, these groups have met to not just evaluate the suggested strategies, but come up with more ideas and action items to start implementing them. The result was a 30-page action plan that was unveiled to all at the event on June 30, 2016.

Interestingly, there were a couple strong themes from each committee. These were to have consistent messaging and to develop a central clearinghouse website that would contain all relevant information on the community.

Workforce Presentation June30 Overarching Idea

To achieve this, a RFP will be sent out this month, the firm will be selected in August, and we plan to begin work on it in September.

Other Updates

To build more awareness to attract workers, we’ll capitalize on social media and feature short videos that promote the area (such as THIS one) and utilize the EDC’s Social Toaster program, as well as engage with alumni networks and work on welcome kits.

One thing that has already been done from the study was a winter festival, which was hosted by the CVB in January, and we’re proud to see how big of a success the Frostival was.

The Build group has been focusing on removing barriers in transportation, housing and childcare to make it easier for those in the lower-income ranges to be able to work. The F-M Area Foundation has already made efforts in housing, and is looking at hosting a housing summit for builders, developers and planners to finance more multi- and single-family housing units. They’ve also been able to revive a local homebuyer education program that previously had been cut.

Next steps for this group will be to lobby state and city planners and kick off a housing collaborative.

Also a part of the Build pillar, the United Way has been pushing for more and better child care in the region. The three tactical ideas they’ve been working most on are employer-supported child care co-ops, scholarships for working families and encouraging conversations with state legislators to increase child care spots.

As far as the Innovate pillar, two areas were identified: a central job listing and information site and a solution forum. For the former, we’re looking at integrating with 1 Million Cups’ already successful live job board; and for the latter, an event in which we’d challenge individuals to come up with ideas to solve specific regional issues over a weekend, provide incentives and pick a winner.

We know that continuing to make and show our progress in these workforce efforts is critical, and we look forward to really getting to work now that our action plan has been identified.

Workforce Presentation June30 timeline


At the update event, John Richman of NDSCS also spoke up on of using area higher education systems to further attract workers to the region. However, the problem he says is with out-of-state tuition that detracts people from coming here, and is encouraging support of a modified tuition model.

For more on this event and update, check out THIS Forum article, or the EDC’s blog post.

If you’d like to get involved in these workforce efforts, please contact any of the five organizations.


Military Appreciation Night 2016 a Sell-Out Event!

July 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

Last night, we were honored to host yet another incredible Military Appreciation Night at the RedHawks. With a sell-out crowd of over 5,000 in attendance during the game, we gave out tickets to 1,000+ military families for a pre-game picnic that featured hot dogs, inflatable games and a special photo opportunity with the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. RedHawks players and Hawkeye also stopped by to spend time with the families and sign autographs.

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Kicking off the baseball game against the Sioux City Explorers, iconic country musician Lee Greenwood hit the field to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” while a parachuter brought in the American flag.

Delivering the first pitch was Sargent D. J. Guerrero, a retired Marine who served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was awarded five Purple Hearts.

The night also featured another appearance from the Clydesdales, new military recruits taking oath, and Lee Greenwood’s performance of “Stars and Stripes” in the 7th inning stretch.

While the RedHawks did not end up pulling out a victory over the away team, all the attendees were in great company for a winning evening of patriotism and family-friendly fun.

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Check out THIS great recap article from The Forum: “Country music icon Greenwood helps RedHawks honor military at Newman.

Thanks to everyone that came out for the event, thank you to D-S Beverages for sponsoring the event and bringing in the Clydesdales, and a huge thank you to all the military men and women that have served our country.

Here are a few social media posts from the event!

Another awesome #militaryappreciationnight at the @fm_redhawks with @leegreenwoodusa #thankyoumilitary #patriotic

A video posted by The Chamber (@fmwfchamber) on


June Primary Behind Us. But What Lies Ahead?

July 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

craig whitney headshot

My guess is that many Chamber members, like me, were tuned in to the news on the evening of June 14. The results of our June primary elections were critical for our metro and the state of North Dakota.

As the results rolled in that night, there were some surprises. Most notably, the race for governor, with many speculating that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem would pull a victory over our own Fargo businessman Doug Burgum. Yet as the precincts started reporting, and the night went on, it became more clear that voters wanted a change, and to the surprise of some, Burgum prevailed, clinching the GOP seat for the November general election.

Burgum received 59% of the vote statewide and a whopping 72% in Cass County, but he also pulled big numbers out West. While an earlier poll put Burgum largely behind Stenehjem, his heavy campaigning may be what won him over across the state.

As it now looks like Burgum will receive the title of Governor of North Dakota in November, the question for us becomes, what does this mean for the state? For the metro? For The Chamber?

That answer remains to be seen, but with Burgum’s business acumen, I have high hopes that he will lead our state in a positive direction. In his campaign, Burgum said that his priorities will be to cut runaway spending, reform the property tax system, support term limits, oppose Obamacare and create high-paying-jobs.

One of his first challenges in office will be to unite legislators. Once the dust settles from the campaign, he’ll need to start an endless list of meetings across the state with legislators on both sides of the aisle, as well as set an agenda for a productive 2017 session. Working closely with current Governor Jack Dalrymple and others to ensure a smooth transition will also be key.

Locally, I am excited to see where fresh energy will take the new Fargo city commission. The many years of legislative experience that Tony Grindberg brings will be an added boost on important issues like the F-M Diversion and economic development. With Grindberg, who is an active Chamber member and supporter, and John Strand taking the two open seats, I see these results as largely positive for the metro and for The Chamber.

In West Fargo, the two incumbents Mike Thorstad and Mark Simmons won re-election, and in a city that is seeing phenomenal growth, this can only continue to make West Fargo even greater.

With the primary election now behind us, I thank all the candidates for running, and I applaud everyone who got out to vote. It’s important that we as a business community express our opinions on those in elected offices and show up at the polls.

As November’s election now looms ahead, I am eager to see how both the national and local races and measures will play out. I once again encourage everyone to research the candidates and to vote informed. As a Chamber, we look forward to providing more opportunities to do just that.

Craig Whitney
President & CEO
The Chamber


Small Operation, Big Impact: The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality

July 1st, 2016 by Amanda Hofland

For 33 years, the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Moorhead has been working tirelessly to change homelessness and hunger in the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo community. Staffed by a group with a passion to serve, the house represents a safe place for people to make positive changes in their lives. And for some, it’s an opportunity to change everything.

dorothy day house fm display

The Dorothy Day House started as an emergency shelter in 1983 and was founded on the spirit of hospitality and generosity. Since then, it has expanded to include two food pantries to better accommodate volume, as previously they would give out food baskets from the small house kitchen.

The Dorothy Day House currently has beds for 13 men – and while this makes them the smallest shelter in town – it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t make a big impact. With a staff of 13 employees and over 3,000 volunteers, they are able to empower people on their journey to self-sufficiency. Their food pantry serves nearly 2,000 people a month, and in the last five years, the house has helped 136 men move into homes of their own.

Sonja Ellner, executive director, was thrilled to learn that the organization was selected as the 2016 ChamberChoice Small Not-for-Profit of the Year. “For us, it was exciting to provide that visibility for homelessness and hunger. It was great for our staff to be recognized for the work we’ve been doing for so long and to be able to share that with our community.”

Days at the Dorothy Day House are busy. Visitors, volunteers, staff and the individuals they serve come and go throughout the day, but things are much more structured for those staying in the house. Wake up calls happen at 8 a.m., and breakfast and lunch is self-service from the kitchen and dining room. All current guests are out in the community between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and are expected to be actively working on goals they have set. Come 6 p.m., a family-style dinner is served to all.

dorothy day house fm

The staff at Dorothy Day House believes in each of the people they serve, and they work to provide and empower them, but also to hold them accountable. A case manager meets weekly with the guests to set – and check in about – each of their goals and talk through any issues they might be having, providing further resources when needed.

Goals vary for all the people they serve, but each is personalized to the individual. Some may be pursuing employment, job training, housing or battling addictions or illnesses.

While others might turn people away, the Dorothy Day House welcomes all with warmth and graciousness. Whether you need a bed to sleep in, a meal to eat, a load of dirty clothes to wash, or simply an ear to listen, you can expect to find an environment of people ready to provide just that at the house.

The people there celebrate victories large and small. Take Bart, for instance, a resilient man with a storied past and trademark suspenders. Bart had been homeless for the majority of his 56 years and suffered from PTSD. During his stay at the Dorothy Day House, he discovered he had liver cancer. After a series of close calls with his housing and health, at one point, the doctor said he had three weeks left to live, and things seemed impossible. But the staff worked some miracles and was finally able to set Bart back on his feet. A special apartment was secured, home health services and Hospice were set up, and Bart moved in. Turns out, the second chance at life was all Bart needed. Within days, he was walking, shopping and decorating, and his spirits were higher than they’d ever been. As the shelter director at the time said, “The transformation he went through from homeless and sick to housed and hopeful was incredible.” While Bart passed away last July, he is a shining example of the great things that can happen when a group of people who truly care come together to help.

This is the kind of work that leaves a lasting mark on the people who see these stories day in and day out. Ellner says what’s most rewarding is seeing people make positive changes in their lives. “I think we’ve broken down what success means,” she said. “We celebrate things like being sober for a week—maybe we’ll get a cake from the food pantry—or seeing people get the key to their own place, and coming back to tell us how they’ve decorated.”

Ellner is excited at the spirit of collaboration and care that is starting to happen around homelessness in the community. Part of that is the partnerships they have with other area shelters and care providers, even furniture and grocery stores. “I think there’s a lot of work still to be done, especially in terms of affordable housing, but there’s also been a lot of progress lately.”

The one message Ellner wanted to deliver through this article was to help change the stigma around homelessness. “I would challenge people to look at everyone as a human being,” she said. “Homelessness or poverty doesn’t define them as a person. Once we get through some of those layers, people can open their minds, and we can foster understanding about the issue.”

The Dorothy Day House has served a great community need for the past 33 years, and they hope to do the same for the next 30 by embracing the people they serve and adapting their programs to meet those needs.

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