Kris Fehr sees “model” community in Dickinson
In Dickinson, Kris Fehr has seen a community willing to invest in its future.
"Our community has a great model of working together and trying to solve problems," Fehr said. "When I started reporting here it never ceased to amaze me of the forward-thinkingness of almost any person in leadership positions."
Fehr came to Dickinson in the early 1990's, then serving as a newspaper reporter for the Bismarck Tribune. For the past 17 years she has served as the director for the Best Friends Mentoring program, which serves to provide role models and guidance to at-risk youth.
"Kids can't help what happens to them. Kids can't help what situation they are in, so if they need a little extra help ... could we provide that," Fehr said. "That's in a nutshell what Best Friends is."
In her time in the Dickinson community, Fehr has witnessed and participated in much of its civic workings, serving at one point as president of the Dickinson school board. She said that much of the success and vibrancy of Dickinson comes from the foresight of its leaders.
"A lot of the leadership back then, so in the 90's, they had connections outside of the state,
Fehr said. "Like with the manufacturing sector here, it started really small but it started as a way to diversify the economy because they were all depending on agriculture and farming."
Now that manufacturing sector is run by local entrepreneurs, Fehr said, who keep people working and families supported during times when North Dakota's staple industries lag.
The school district as well, Fehr said, demonstrated remarkable foresight—they purchased ten acres of land back when they first built Heart River Elementary School. Years later, Fehr said that investment of acreage came in handy during a population boom.
"When I was on the school board, we kept seeing increasing enrollment ... people keep having babies," Fehr said. "We're going to need a new school. And Prairie Rose Elementary ... we have land for it, ten acres! Think about the planning and the foresight."
She said that Dickinson's "can-do" spirit could be traced back to its days as a railroad town, where hungry workers needed feeding and a town needed building. Or, perhaps it was the remoteness of southwestern North Dakota that inspired such industry out of the community.
"(Maybe) it came along from the spirit of 'we are out here on our own, nobody's going to come help me,'" Fehr said, noting that neighbors had to band together to keep themselves alive. "They'd come in family groups or cultural groups, so it was community community community...if you look into the history of how Saint Mary's Church in Richardton was built ... people were bringing stuff on horse and cart from Minneapolis to build the church. It's an interesting and inspiring thing."
That stubborn will to prosper remains strong in Dickinson, and Fehr sees more communities investing in the future—and to that end, in mentorship programs.
"We were asked by the Dunn County Commissioners to bring mentoring to Dunn County," Fehr said. "We made a presentation, they liked the idea. A group in Bowman County contacted us and they wondered if we would help them start a mentoring program. That is going, that group is just so excited and energized so they're going to help kids in their community."
Mentorship can be vital, Fehr said—the difference between an at-risk child turning out for the better or the worse.
"The results are staggering when you see what happens to a child who was mentored as opposed to an at-risk child who was not mentored," She said. "They don't engage in the risky behaviors ... they refrain from the alcohol and drug use ... they contribute to their communities and families. It's a great benefit to communities."
Fehr herself had enrolled one of her children into a mentorship program to help him cope with the absence of his father, who was deployed overseas by the U.S. military. She said that the relationship her son—who is now 21-years-old—had impacted both his life and his mentor's.
"My son is now 21 and he's in college and he still talks about (his mentor.)," Fehr said. "'Do you remember how I taught him how to play chess, Mom?'"
Fehr acknowledged that running the program, which serves all of southwest North Dakota with four staff and about 300 volunteers, has its challenges. However, it also proves very rewarding.
"The best thing is, when you look at a child and you realize that that little intervention of a mentor, way back when, helped them graduate, kept them on the right path, kept them from doing destructive things," Fehr said. "You make a little investment in a mentoring program now ... it'll pay dividends."
Those who would want to support Best Friends Mentoring can do so by participating in their regular fundraisers, which at this time of year includes the regular presence of Santa Claus at the Prairie Hills Mall all season. Fehr said that those who would wish to be mentors themselves can reach out via phone or via the group's Facebook to begin the process.
"There's no obligation, we won't keep calling you—it has to be right for you," Fehr said. "If it's in your heart or if it fits your schedule."