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A gift for grants, heart for kids - MessAge Media: Features

Cheryl Meld was selected the 2018 person of the year.”

A gift for grants, heart for kids

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Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2019 8:22 am

It’s hard to measure the breadth and scope of influence this year’s person of the year has had.

Cheryl Meld was selected the 2018 Aitkin Independent Age “person of the year” for her copious efforts, many of them “behind the scenes.”

Meld, Tamarack, has honed grant writing skills to see much success and her heart for children led her into the fields of teaching, juvenile justice and the McGregor Kids Plus program.

Meld’s children became increasingly aware of their mother’s contributions to the school, community and area youth as they grew older. They were frequently, sometimes enthusiastically and other times begrudgingly, involved in or helped with many of their mother’s efforts in their younger years. They all noted, while busy helping others, Meld was also an attentive mother who provided them with love and many opportunities to pursue their individual interests.

“Because of my parents, my siblings and I had a great childhood,” recalled Meld’s son, Clint. “In looking back now, I realize we were lucky to have people who got us involved in many, many positive things. Anytime we needed something as kids or thought we needed something, mom did her best to make it happen and oftentimes exceeded our expectations.”

“Really, she’s been a part of so many different things aimed at making peoples’ lives a little brighter,” continued Clint. “What makes her very unique is that she’s never sought recognition as the person behind any of these things and she’s never lost the desire to keep bringing opportunities for learning, entertainment and community bonding to this area.”

“My mom has dedicated her life to making others’ lives better, not because of a conscious decision, but because it’s who she is,” added Meld’s other son, Levi. “Many of us can talk about how we’d like to see things change for the better, but she has truly made all attempts to put her ideas into action with consistency for decades.”

Levi said his mother was always a “great parental guide” from when he was a small boy interested in dinosaurs to adulthood. “She took me to museums, bought me books on different aspects of paleontology and has helped me find places I could go to hone my skills and work in the paleontological field. She has no idea how much doing those little things have meant to me and how much they’ve helped me.” Because of Meld’s support, Levi now works for a world-renowned museum called the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont. He prepares fossil specimens for research and helps to find new fossils during the field season. “I owe a great deal of it to my mom and her never-ending quest to help feed my passion.”

“She has always been there when I need her with her love, humor, valued advice and support,” continued Levi. “She inspires me to be kind and helpful to people with her tireless dedication in providing great after-school programs and special events for the youth of the community and the love she gives to her family. I hope that one day I can be as great of a parent as she is. There’s also a song that comes to mind when I think of her, titled Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant, which describes my feelings for her. Thanks mom for continually being such a big person in my life! You’ve earned and really deserve this recognition!”              

Meld’s oldest son, Trent, said many of his mother’s initiatives helped shape him into the person he is today. “I grew up doing projects in 4-H, developing myself and helping the community. In Kids Plus, I spent summers doing community service for the elderly and disabled,” said Trent.

Through Meld’s involvement with the Tamarack Activities Club, she plans, coordinates and executes events like Hey Day, the School of Screams and July 4 fireworks according to Trent. “With the 21st Century Grant, the funding she has generated goes into technology for the McGregor School classrooms, guest speakers, field trips and an abundance of after-school programming through the years,” explained Trent. “Her work with the Aitkin County Historical Society helps to preserve the rich history of the county. I’ve learned that while it can be taxing on a person in time and energy, the gratification from fulfilling the simplest needs to completing the most labor intensive projects is quite worth it in the end.”

“Cheryl has inspired me to always look for the best quality in people, especially youth,” said daughter, Bridget Bohn. “She seems to always see the gifts that others possess and knows how to help people use their gifts to the best of their ability. She believes in the youth of her community and our world, and it shows in her everyday work.”

Comments from familiy members, co-workers and associates:

Steve Frauenshuh, husband and McGregor High School science teacher: “Cheryl does what she does simply because she really truly cares about her community and the people in it. It’s how she was raised and how she’s lived her life. The things she does are because she knows they are part of the job God has given her to do. She knows she can do it, so she does.”

Kris Sylvester, McGregor Elementary School librarian and friend: “Cheryl gives so much of herself and her time to try and help make a better life for all around her without asking for anything in return. She gives with all her heart to so many different areas  such as Kids Plus; Kids Club; field trips, including a recent bus trip to Bentleyville followed by a movie; day trips on non-school days to go skiing and to basketball games, Twins games, museums and more; snack packs for kids and food packs for high school students; fruit and veggie snack grants, Homework Help and tutoring programs; Scholastic books fairs that raise thousands of dollars for books for our elementary library; Readers’ Club, which puts a monthly free book into the hands of any student signed up; operating the McGregor NeighborGoods Store, which features hand-crafted items from local residents with proceeds directed for community improvements; young entrepreneurs; grant writing for the school; involvement in the Historical Society and Tamarack Activities Club.

“I don’t know how she keeps up with it all, but she is amazing and makes our community a better place.”

John Cyrus, Tamarack mayor: “Cheryl works in many capacities helping the city of Tamarack. She helps with the July 4 fireworks and Tamarack Hey Day in August. Through her Kids Plus program, she gets youth involved in helping many people in Tamarack. Cheryl is an impressive person.”

Ellen Cyrus, Pay it Forward project coordinator: (Cyrus works as the project coordinator for the Pay it Forward program, which Meld oversees. Pay it Forward engages youth in community service projects, which provide assistance to area residents, such as yard work. Cyrus has known Meld for many years and has helped her with many other events and projects in Tamarack). “Cheryl has a huge impact on the youth in the McGregor Schools and surrounding communities. She helps kids develop their educational and social skills through the programs she oversees. Aside from her position as the McGregor Schools’ grant coordinator, Cheryl oversees a massive number of programs, which she administers single-handedly. She is capable of switching from one role and project to another without missing a beat. Through it all, I’ve never seen her frazzled. She always has a calm demeanor.”

Paul Grams, superintendent McGregor Schools (from a 2017 article in the Aitkin Independent Age): “Cheryl Meld is not only tuned into the needs of students but also of the communities in which she works and lives. She has touched the lives of countless children and families throughout the years. Cheryl is a team player - a collaborator who works with others to incorporate their expertise into many of her successful grant proposals. She engages both students and community members, from youth to seniors, in efforts and initiatives that make our area a better place in which to live. It is hard to put a numerical value on Cheryl’s contributions to our school district and the community because they extend far beyond that.”

Jack Brula, McGregor Schools Information Technology director: “I have collaborated with Cheryl on many grants and projects in the past. Because of her efforts, our school has been able to keep up with technology and our students have been able to participate in all kinds of extracurricular and after-school activities. Cheryl is also responsible for all kinds of activities in McGregor and the surrounding communities.”

Lynn Haglin, vice president/Kids Plus director, Northland Foundation: “I have known Cheryl for 24 years when she was funded by the Northland Foundation as the McGregor area Kids Plus coordinator. This was a part-time position focused on developing youth after-school programs, which she has been very successful at doing ever since 1994.  Cheryl has also served as our AGE to age coordinator for the community since 2008, linking adults 55 and older with children and youth in a variety of intergenerational activities. In this role, she has developed a Reading Pals program, linking older adults with children to help them develop their reading skills, encourage their love for reading and help build their communication skills.  Through this program, she has provided thousands of books to children in the McGregor School. She has developed the NeighborGoods store which engages both young people and older adults in management, sales and merchandise development.

“Cheryl has served as a mentor on the Northland Foundation Youth in Philanthropy Board since it was developed in 2000. This is a grant-making board composed of young people from the seven-county region of Northeast Minnesota, along with four adult mentors who serve on the board with the young people. Together, they make grants up to $1,000 per project for a total of $25,000 per year.  Cheryl has not only served as an adult mentor for several years since 2000, but she also transported youth board members who represent the McGregor area to the meetings.   

“Over the past 24 years, Cheryl has developed and coordinated countless programs for young people in the McGregor school district through the Kids Plus and AGE to age programs.  She has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to children and youth, especially those who are often overlooked and uninvolved.  

Whenever faced with a new opportunity to bring resources or quality programs to the McGregor community that will benefit young people, Cheryl does not hesitate. Cheryl has had to work very hard to attain grants to support the youth programs in the community.  She has been tenacious in seeking local, regional, state and national resources and has written numerous successful grants that have resulted in significant funding, over $2.5 million, making programs possible in a very rural, isolated community.  She has been instrumental in receiving 21st Century Learning grants, a Kellogg Foundation grant, and several grants from the Northland Foundation, to name only some.  I believe her success is due to the high-quality programs that Cheryl has developed and organized.

“Through persistence and hard work, Cheryl has nurtured strong relationships between organizations and sectors within the community, which have resulted in greater awareness and support for youth. Collaboration has been central to Cheryl’s approach to making things happen. She understands the need to tap into a wide variety of resources in order to build strong, effective programs for young people. Cheryl has demonstrated excellent leadership and organizational skills, intuitiveness for communication and networking, an innovative and creative approach to community-based initiatives, and resourcefulness in finding funds for the development and implementation of projects and programs.  

“Underlying all of Cheryl’s hard work is her genuine commitment, respect and care for all people living in the McGregor area.  She engages community members of all ages in dialogue about the needs of young people and incorporates their thoughts and ideas into her strategic planning.  She shares her excitement about working with and on behalf of youth and verbalizes her concern about the need for young people to have out-of-school time opportunities.  Cheryl is a catalyst for youth, as well as older adults, who has managed to rally people, as well as organizations, to work together to make the McGregor area a welcoming and positive community for all ages. Cheryl always goes above and beyond in her work.  

“Cheryl has been an incredible partner with the Northland Foundation over the years. She is always willing to collaborate with us and says yes whenever we have new programs and opportunities to offer to the McGregor area. She has created programs over the years that other communities have replicated. She works very hard on behalf of the McGregor community, and her steadfast commitment is always so evident.   Working with Cheryl has been a pleasure and a privilege. We are appreciative of our relationship with Cheryl and recognize her many years of hard work and dedication to the people of the McGregor community.”

COLLABORATION

Meld quickly realized the importance of collaboration when she began writing grants to secure funding for the schools and other organizations within McGregor and the surrounding communities. Brula was one of the people Meld frequently worked with when applying for technology grants.

In a previous interview, Meld credited Brula for his help saying, “Without Jack’s advisement, those grant projects would never have been awarded. Working in partnership with others to write grants is a great learning experience since grants require more than just writing skills. Good writing depends on people having expertise in various fields.”

SETTING THE STAGE

Meld grew up in Tamarack and currently resides on the same homesteaded property her family settled on in 1902. During her early years, Meld was heavily influenced by neighbors, aunts and uncles, her parents and her grandmother. She says they instilled in her the values of hard work, the importance of learning as much as possible and applying that knowledge in positive ways.

She graduated from McGregor High School. She went on to obtain her teaching degree from the College of St. Scholastic and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Instead of entering the classroom as a science teacher, Meld opted to enter the field of juvenile justice as a juvenile diversion coordinator with the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

About the same time, Meld began coordinating the McGregor Kids Plus program and developing her grant writing skills to secure funds for a variety of programs and projects. “My first grant project on behalf of Kids Plus was with the Blandin Foundation. The objective was to create paved paths, wetland boardwalks and an outdoor classroom on Iverson Field,” Meld said in 2017. “It was exciting to find that my writing skills could help our community.”

Following the Iverson Field project, Meld collaborated with teacher Lon Baumgardt to pursue a number of grants for the McGregor School District. Meld and Baumgardt were hired by the district in 1998 to share part-time grant writing tasks.

Over the years, the grants that Meld has secured have added up and have not only provided many opportunities within the communities but equally important, have leveraged volunteer time and in-kind resources to help children and families.

By March 2017, Meld had secured an astounding $7.5 million in grant funds to support the Aitkin County Juvenile Diversion Program, Aitkin County School Districts, the McGregor School District, McGregor Area Kids Plus (now a 501c3 nonprofit also known as Something Cool, Inc.), the city of Tamarack and various civic organizations. The grants she has secured have ranged from mini-grant requests of a few hundred dollars to multi-year grants of $1 million. Meld has secured a significant amount of additional grants and funding since that time.

Meld has been married to Steve Frauenshuh, McGregor High School science teacher, since 1996. Between them, the couple has five adult children and four grandchildren.

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