When Kylie (Perleberg) Holland first stepped into Luther Hall to work as a Behavioral Health Specialist, she had no idea what to expect.
“You’re not even sure what residential treatment entails,” Kylie says. “You have to jump right in and figure it out, and before you know it, it’s second nature and it’s what you love doing.”
So much so that Kylie worked at Luther Hall for four years, wound up marrying one of her Luther Hall colleagues, Tyler Holland, and continues working in behavioral health at the Anne Carlsen Center in Fargo.
The Hollands’ tie to Luther Hall has remained so strong that when they heard the COVID-19 pandemic was preventing its residents from enjoying off-site field trips and activities, they immediately wanted to help. The couple started a Facebook fundraiser, hoping to raise $300 for ice cream gift cards and maybe a new video game to spice up the residents’ on-site activities.
It didn’t take long to learn that a lot of people care about Luther Hall.
The Hollands invited former co-workers to join the fund-raising group. The fundraiser was shared, shared and shared some more. By Thursday, more than 100 donors – including some people with no connection to Luther Hall – had given $3,100. And the money is still coming in.
When they presented the check to Ryan Daniel, Behavioral Health Services team lead at Luther Hall, he was speechless.
“I was anticipating maybe four or five Dairy Queen gift cards,” Daniel says. “And then it turned into this.”
It’s like ‘they hit the lottery’
The money will still be used to buy ice cream, and plenty of other goodies besides. The “Fun On-Site Fund” may pay for things like special delivered meals for all staff and residents, new recreation gear and new books for Luther Hall’s book club.
Staff have discussed buying a new Nintendo Switch so that the kids don’t have to wait as long to take turns. Once the outbreak is contained, there will likely be enough left over to fund off-site adventures, such as trips to the trampoline park or the zoo.
“It’s just the excitement that they’re going to get new art supplies or a new video game or iTunes gift cards,” says Tyler, who oversaw activities during his time at Luther Hall and actually was part of the interview team who hired Daniel in 2014. “Some of these kids are coming here with a garbage bag; they don’t really have a lot of stuff. They’re going to feel like they hit the lottery.”
Daniel says the gift will help bring a sense of teen-age normalcy to the lives of residents, who don’t have as many opportunities to do the everyday activities so many teens take for granted. Something as simple as a chance to see a new-release movie can help them feel more connected to their peer group.
Residents also got a boost from realizing their community hasn’t forgotten them. During a staff-resident meeting this week, staffers mentioned the fundraiser. Residents were overwhelmed. “Their eyes kind of told the story of exactly what we’re talking about. This is a pretty strong message that people you don’t even know care about you,” Daniel says.
The helpers are helped too
But as usual, this relatively simple act of kindness helped the helpers as much as those they were helping. Kylie and Tyler say former staff used the fundraising site to start sharing their memories of working there and how it impacted them. Some said they still had pictures and trinkets that former residents had given them.
“For people who work in this field, with all those sentiments the staff had, they still feel that level of connection personally,” Daniel says. “The culture was real. It meant something to them.”
For the Hollands, their Luther Hall experience taught them indispensable lessons about human behavior, communications and emotional control. Tyler says he finds himself using skills honed at Luther Hall every day in his current job as an employee engagement officer at Great Plains Transport in Mapleton.
Kylie, now a program coordinator with the Anne Carlsen Center, agrees. “While you are there, it’s such an emotional investment. You care on such a deep level for the kids, you want them to succeed and you see all the struggles they encounter. Such a big learning part of the job is understanding the reasons behind a behavior. I’ve always felt that once you understand that, you are able to empathize with kids and make a connection with them.”
It was sometimes difficult work, which required a level of teamwork not found in many other organizations. “It’s cool to know that once you’re Luther Hall staff, you’re staff forever,” Kylie says. “You never forget about it.”
For now, the “Fun On-Site” project reminds us that, even in a world of social distancing, we are still at our best when we work together.
“When you’re going through such a global crisis, we see so many negative things,” Kylie says. “The reality is how people can still come together to make incredible things happen, and it just blows me away.”
Note: Luther Hall staff say they have more than enough in their recreation fund but encourage people to use this time to give to other programs at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (www.lssnd.org/donate) or to another deserving nonprofit.
– By Tammy Swift