There is a universal need for words of love and encouragement, especially for troubled and hurting teenagers. These affirmations are strongly promoted at TreeHouse, the faith-based nonprofit providing support to at-risk teens ages 12–18 throughout the Twin Cities area. Since September 2012, the Mahtomedi chapter of TreeHouse has helped many local teens.
Former schoolteacher Fred Peterson founded TreeHouse in Bloomington in 1984. After the tragic death of a student involved in underage drinking, Peterson left his teaching position to start the work of helping hurting teenagers in ways outside of school. Through the years, the program has grown and spread to nine locations throughout the Twin Cities area.
One way TreeHouse is unique is in its multi-issue approach. The organization offers support to teens facing a variety of challenges ranging from bullying to addiction to depression, anxiety, self-harm and other issues. On any given program night, the Mahtomedi chapter has an average of 25 teenagers. Teens attend when they can, some attending more often than others. Statistics for the Mahtomedi TreeHouse quarterly report (December 2015–February 2016) show 101 teens utilized the services in that time period.
Operated out of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, TreeHouse offers two options for programming each week: Going Deeper and Support Group. Going Deeper meets on Monday nights and includes a community meal, games and activities, and a talk from a staff or community member about his or her faith. Support Group meets on Thursday evenings and begins with a story shared by a staff member or teen on a relatable theme. The night concludes with small group discussions with a staff member: teens will rate their weeks from 1–10, name emotions felt during that week and elaborate, but only if they choose to. “Many of them are dealing with some pretty tough stuff,” Mahtomedi TreeHouse area director Heidi Hall-Wermedal says. “It’s a safe way for kids to be able to express things and process that they are not alone in that.”
TreeHouse also offers teens one-to-one mentoring with staff, as well as opportunities to partake in group activities and outings, weekly bible studies, retreats and mission trips. “We do a lot of stuff together,” Hall-Wermedal says. “That’s good to get them out of their comfort zone to try something new.”
TreeHouse programs are sustained and funded through the local support of donations and volunteers. Currently, there are 30 volunteers filling a variety of roles, including serving meals, driving vehicles and mentoring teens. There’s even a volunteer-staffed community development team. Fundraiser and donor Bob Krusell has been with TreeHouse for three years and helps spread the word around town with his wife, Pat Krusell. The couple believes in the program’s ability to help teenagers. “The kids are taught that they are lovable, capable and worthwhile,” Bob Krusell says. “That’s always the theme—that’s what is so important.”
The message may be simple, but the impact is deeply felt. Teens helped by the program appreciate, among many aspects, the family-like atmosphere at programs, the opportunity to grow a support network and the safe space TreeHouse provides. “TreeHouse makes me feel like I’m not unlovable,” TreeHouse teenager Riana says. “When I am there, I feel like for once I fit in somewhere.”
For some, the program’s effects are even more life altering. “The biggest change that TreeHouse has made in my life is saving it,” TreeHouse teenager Sam says. “I know for a fact that I would have taken my own life two years ago without TreeHouse.”
No matter what the issue may be, TreeHouse keeps its doors open to teenagers who seek to enter. “It’s a really safe place to talk about their troubles,” says Wermedal, who would like to see more teens utilize the program. “There are so many kids who are hurting.”
To learn how to help or be helped, contact Heidi Hall-Wermedal at firstname.lastname@example.org.