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Legislators tour Elmore Academy

By Staff | May 27, 2012

From left, state Rep. Bob Gunther, Sen. Julie Rosen, FCDC?executive director Linsey Warmka, Faribault County Commissioner John Roper and Elmore Mayor Keven Sullivan stand in front of the Elmore Academy sign that will soon be replaced.

In less than two hours, four elected officials and an economic development director got a glimpse of how the lives of at-risk, troubled teens can be changed for the better.

It was part of a tour District 23 Sen. Julie Rosen, District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther, Faribault County Commissioner John Roper, Elmore Mayor Keven Sullivan and Faribault County Development Corporation executive director Linsey Warmka took of Elmore Academy on Wednesday afternoon.

“We are constantly trying to install a good work ethic all the time here. We have a lot of community services and chores they need to take care of while they’re here,” says Karen Klabunde, administrator of the facility.

Roper arranged the visit to the residential treatment facility operated by Youth Services International (YSI) at the former high school building.

The academy is for males and females ages 13 to 19 who have chemical abuse and behavioral problems.

“I want people to see that YSI is a positive thing. They’re doing a good service to the community, for the students here and they hire local people,” says Roper.

Klabunde says there are currently 55 youths at the academy, which employs nearly 75 full-time with an annual payroll of nearly $2 million.

Jeremy Hough, group living director, and Angela Dannebringer, clinical director, assisted Klabunde with the tour of classrooms, offices, dorms, cafteria and gymnasium.

The group met with students and staff, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

When American history teacher Mark Haase introduced Rosen to his students as the author of the recently passed Vikings stadium bill, she was greeted with a standing ovation of claps and cheers.

“You work hard,” Rosen told a student.

Gunther offered his own words of encouragement to another student.

“If you want to go back to a public school, you have to get better grades,” he says.

In addition to doing their homework, students work in the cafeteria, do laundry and help with upkeep of the facility.

“We run a pretty tight schedule,” says Klabunde.

Students who are eligible are given a chance to work offsite at the Wildcat Cafe, which serves the public.

“It’s a big part of our vocational program for the kids,” Klabunde says.

Also part of the educational program are extracuriccular activities like basketball, football, volleyball and cheerleading.

In a rec room, Klabunde explains how students helped decorate and paint.

Rosen notices the nice furniture in a lounge area on a dorm floor.

Hough says the boys wanted new furniture but he told them they would have to refinish what they had.

“They did a real good job,” says Rosen.

Hough says a student is making a new Elmore Academy sign for a project he’s working on.

In a lighter moment during the tour, Rosen poses in front of the school’s gymnasium for a picture named after former Democrat Vice President Walter Mondale.

The Republican explains she promised Mondale’s son, Ted, she would take a picture for him.

Gunther, also a Republican, recalls when Mondale came to Elmore when he was running for president.

“It was one of the most profitable days I had at the grocery store. I tripled my prices,” he jokes, referring to Gunther Foods that operated in the city for years.

It’s not the first time the four elected elected have been at the academy.

Gunther says the school has improved since opening its doors 15 years ago.

“I think they’re doing an amazing job. There are children with special needs and I think they address them,” says Rosen. “They have a wonderful program.”