Thirty four years ago, Shellie Bueng walked through the doors of Luther Hall as a pregnant 16-year-old, scared, lost and wondering what to do next.
A couple of weeks ago, Shellie returned to Luther Hall as a skilled and experienced registered nurse, ready to help young residents who are scared and lost and wondering what to do next.
Luther Hall has many success stories, but Shellie’s transition from former resident to Luther Hall’s newest medical professional especially stands out. “I’ve always been honest with my story,” Shellie says. “Not to brag, but just to show others you can get through it. I am excited to see where it goes.”
Early on, Shellie had her share of hardships. Her parents divorced when she was just 2 and her mother died when she was 9. This left Shellie to live with the birth father she barely knew – an elderly farmer who lived near Twin Valley, Minn.
While in high school, Shellie started dating the young man who would eventually become her husband. But then she found out she was pregnant.
She was an unworldly 15-year-old who had no one to confide in. Resources were limited back then for pregnant teens. There were no social workers or counselors in school. She was living in a small town where, at the time, pregnant teens were gossiped about and stigmatized. She had never felt more alone.
At one point, Shellie seriously considered running away as the only feasible option.
So as the baby grew in her belly, Shellie held the secret in her heart. Then she developed a kidney infection so severe that she wound up in the hospital. Now it was no longer possible to keep her secret.
A representative from Birthright, a nonprofit organization that offered pregnancy support services, reached out to Shellie and recommended Luther Hall.
At the time, it was a residence to both pregnant teens and teen girls who had displayed high-risk behaviors such as running away or getting in trouble with the law.
At Luther Hall, Shellie felt supported and accepted. There were counselors to talk to, Lamaze
classes, skill-building activities such as cooking or childcare classes and recreational outings too. She never felt judged or shamed.
Still, there was plenty to think about for someone so young. Her roommate also was pregnant, but decided to place her baby for adoption. It was an eye-opening experience to witness that.
Shellie finished out the school year at Woodrow Wilson High School in April of that year and had her baby, Korey, a month later. She married Korey’s father the next fall and finished out her junior and senior years education at Twin Valley. It wasn’t always easy for a teen-ager who knew little about babies and didn’t have her mom around to ask. But Shellie kept pushing forward.
“I just know part of it was that I was determined to be successful, I had to further my education to support my family,” Shellie says.
She already felt like a natural caretaker. Even as a little girl, some of her earliest memories were of nursing her mother, who had asthma and emphysema. She later took a StrengthsFinder test and found that empathy and compassion were her two greatest strengths. Nursing seemed like a natural fit.
After high school, Shellie worked as a CNA at the Twin Valley Nursing Home. She attended Thief River Falls Area Vocational Technical Institute, graduating with a Practical Nursing degree, and continued working at the nursing home. Ten years later, she returned to college and completed her associate’s degree in nursing from Northland Community College.
Shellie had two more children and became a school nurse in Mahnomen, Minn. While working there, she earned her bachelor’s of science in nursing from Minnesota State University Moorhead. She would bring a special level of understanding to her job as a Family Home Visiting Nurse with Nurse-Family Partnership, which involved coaching teen moms on parenting and child development.
After many years in nursing, Shellie found herself wanting to try something different. Then she spotted the ad at Luther Hall.
“I thought, ‘Isn’t that ironic?’” she says, smiling. “I would have never guessed 34 years ago that I would come back. But when I thought back to that tough time, I thought of the support, empathy and assistance I received. Luther Hall had always held a special place in my heart. This was almost like divine intervention or something.”
Since her time here, Luther Hall has become a 24/7 residential psychiatric facility for adolescents and teens. Yet Shellie found some similarities, like the front entryway and even her old room.
She has been impressed by the dedication and skill of her new colleagues, as well as the comprehensive team approach that ensures staff are looking at every possible facet of a client’s health. “You can’t separate the physical from the mental,” says Shellie, who once worked with high-risk, high-need students on the White Earth Reservation. “It all goes hand in hand.”
Shellie hopes her own journey will give her an empathy that will enable her to be as helpful as possible to Luther Hall residents. “I feel like I can sit on the same bus seat on the bus in which they’re traveling,” she says. “I don’t know if you can truly understand something until you’ve been there yourself.”