Shelby Weckwerth, left, and Morgan Morgenstern are both employees at the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, and both Bemidji State graduates. (Micah Friez / Bemidji State)
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By Micah Friez

Published 10:56 a.m. on March 14, 2024

Every day, the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area is flooded with kids. And welcoming them with open arms are some of Bemidji State University’s finest.

The organization’s staff has strong BSU ties, ranging from alumni working as full-time employees to current students serving as volunteers, interns and work study staffers. The partnership makes sense proximally – each campus being a stone’s throw away from the other – but it’s also been a strong fit philosophically.

“Most of our staff are BSU students,” said Morgan Morgenstern, a 2017 Bemidji State graduate and now the club’s unit director. “Many of them are looking for experience working with kids, so we’re able to give them that and they’re able to help us with our staffing needs.”

Their wheelhouses often mesh with the needs that the children bring in. The club exists largely for at-risk youth and its walls provide a place where they can be cared for by those Bemidji State role models.

“It’s about meeting each kid where they’re at,” said Shelby Weckwerth, a 2018 BSU grad and the club’s grants director. “Some of them, it’s just a safe place to go after school, where their family knows they’re safe. I’ve had teens come to me and say, ‘I would not be alive if not for the club.’ The care can really range and it’s really about giving each kid what they need.”

In all, about 90 percent of the staff are current BSU students, and they work closely with the five Bemidji State alumni serving full-time roles at the Boys & Girls Club. Alongside Morgenstern and Weckwerth are assistant director Talaya Kautz (class of 2017); vice president of business operations Karl Mork (2007); and marketing and events coordinator Trish Ritchie (2000).

And while much of the focus is on the children, Weckwerth also relishes the opportunity to mold BSU students who are trying to turn this work into a career.

“My work here is greater than just me,” she said. “It’s that long-term impact that I really like: developing those kids throughout the year but also, as I moved into a supervisor role, developing our staff. They’re new to youth development. What they’re learning in the classroom there, they get to apply here. We really get to help them build their skill sets for their future careers.”

And, more than anyone else, the club’s children are reaping the rewards of an organization – and community – invested in them.

“In 10 years, you can grow a lot. And we have,” Morgenstern said. “A lot of these kids wouldn’t be able to go to the science center, but we have a partnership with them. … We can send them on field trips and do all these things. It’s such a community-driven place. And you can see the kids, how they build these relationships with the staff in a whole new way now.”

Morgenstern and Weckwerth both started at the club as Bemidji State students themselves, working six hours a week long before advancing to their current roles. They’re now entrusted to raise up the next wave of recruits, some of whom may follow closely in their footsteps.

“These two have undersold the impact that they have made on BSU students,” resource development director Emily Fairchild said. “They do amazing work for the little kids who are here, but for these big kids too.”

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