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Helping the homeless: Dickinson teen uses post office box, phone service to help transients find jobs in Oil Patch

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Karina Perusquia stands near rows and rows of post office boxes at the Dickinson post office on Thursday. Perusquia was inspired to begin fundraising for a project to give homeless people the use of a P.O. box and phone number to use for job searching purposes.

An ancient Chinese proverb encourages people to enable each other, rather than provide handouts.

A Dickinson High School senior is proverbially trying to teach homeless men and women to fish, rather than giving them fish.

“I grew up with it, so for me it’s just a normal, daily thing,” Karina Perusquia said. “To me it’s not a career, it’s my daily life.”

Perusquia has started a fundraiser with a post office box and phone service so people coming here looking for work can have an address and phone number, two important job searching tools.

The teenager has social work in her blood — her mother and grandmother were social workers and her mother is now a professor of sociology at Dickinson State University. While Perusquia’s career goals do not include social work, she does want to incorporate helping people into her daily life.

Perusquia grew up in Texas, but moved to North Dakota in 2011 during her sophomore year of high school. Rather than creating a shelter or a meal program, she felt providing the necessary tools for job searching would create a sense of self worth, rather than charity.

“It’s aimed to be a resource,” Perusquia said. “It’s almost like a trial to see how it goes, what it does, in a view of how it helps the community.”

She brought her idea to Tana Johnson, the North Dakota Department of Human Services homeless caseworker for southwest North Dakota.

“Someone that young with that much drive, you need to take the time to listen to what they have and try to support them to keep their motivation and dreams alive,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to help her out.”

Perusquia couldn’t remember Johnson’s name at first but tracked her down through Stark County Social Services, who referred Perusquia to Badlands Human Services.

“I told her, ‘I want to make this idea a reality. How do I do that?’” Perusquia said. “‘You’re the person — this is your job — so you’re kind of the only person who can tell me how do I start this, where do I go, because I can’t do it alone. I’m only 17 years old.’”

That was about two weeks ago.

The pair brainstormed, and thought the first place to start was funding. Perusquia had used when she was Miss Teen Hebron.

The initial goal is to raise $150 to fund the P.O. box and figure out something with the phones.

Being able to list a local address and to have a phone number are critical for job searching, said Mary Urlacher, customer service office manager for the Dickinson office of the Job Service North Dakota. Another necessity is an email address, which can be found free through several providers.

Each company has a different standard and application process — some are have online processes while others prefer a paper application, Urlacher said.

“You could just lump all of that contact information together,” Urlacher said.

For some employers, not having a local address could be a deal breaker, Urlacher said.

“They invest a lot of time and money and training into new employees and they don’t want them to just take off,” Urlacher said. “Then they’re stuck with that whole cycle of hire, train, then they’re left empty handed again.”

To contribute to Perusquia’s project visit

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206