by Jim Boyle
If things work out as they are being planned, Elk River-area men and women in the military and their families will have a convenient place to turn for help when they need it.
A Beyond The Yellow Ribbon program is being organized to help military families in the Elk River area.
“(Servicemen and women) have unique problems and require unique solutions,” said SSG Aaron Hoska, a Yellow Ribbon outreach coordinator who led an informational meeting on Yellow Ribbon communities at the Elk River American Legion.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, billed as an organization “united to bring service members all the way home,” is a state-wide program designed to coordinate agencies, organizations, resources and employers to meet the needs of service members, military families and employers.
Ralph Donais, an Elk River man who is also the chairman of the United Veterans Legislative Council of Minnesota, got Elk River Mayor John Dietz interested in pursuing it. Dietz then tapped Don Heinzman, the former editor of the Star News, to help organize it.
“I think it could be a great deal for Elk River,” Dietz told the Star News. “I don’t see how anybody could say ‘no.’ ”
A steering committee has been organized and 35 people either have expressed an interest or volunteered to help carry out a plan. More volunteers are needed.
The plan calls for organizing resources in six key committee areas for which volunteers with specific skills are needed. The areas are business and employers, city leadership, education, faith-based, public safety and judicial, social services and medical and veterans and civic organizations. The chairs for each group are:
•Business/Employers: Kayla Stai, Minnesota School of Business, co-chair, 763-367-7013.
•City Leadership: John Dietz, Elk River mayor, 763-441-5783.
•Education and Youth, Charlie Blesener, District 728 Community Education director, 763-241-3522.
•Faith-Based: Robert Koehler, chaplain American Legion and VFW posts, 763-441-1633.
•Public Safety and Judicial: Capt. Ron Nierenhausen, Elk River Police Department, 763-635-1200.
•Social Services and Medical: Mary Jo Cobb, Sherburne County Public Health and Human Services supervisor, 763-765-4055.
•Veterans and Civic Organizations, Gene Graff, Sherburne County veterans service officer, 763-765-3100.
“Once the resources have been identified, each committee will develop a plan, which will become the master plan for assisting military families, particularly those who are deployed,” Heinzman said.
Eventually Elk River can earn certification as a Beyond The Yellow Ribbon Community.
A kick-off open house is being planned by the group.