Infrastructure isn’t just roads

The Wilkin County Family Services Agency has a quiet headquarters, relatively unknown to many residents in the county. The agency offers a multitude of resources and aid to those in need, welcoming citizens with open arms.

An unassuming, one story building sits quietly on the corner of Mendenhall Avenue and Fourth Street North in Breckenridge, Minnesota, nestled between a small town church, a postal office and a local grocery store.

Many years ago it was home to the Wilkin County Law Enforcement Center. The unit has since transferred hands, while remaining a helping hand as the operating arm of the Wilkin County Family Services Agency.

During trying times as a freelance journalist, I reached out to family services for advice and assistance on many occasions. When it comes to obtaining and maintaining health insurance, or making sure families can put food on the table, family services is a no-judgement zone that assists individuals and families in getting to and staying on their feet in Wilkin County, Minnesota.

Family services helps with a variety of aid including the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), health insurance placement, elderly assistance and chemical dependency services.

“We can’t lose our focus. Our whole point is helping people,” Human Services Director David Sayler said. “Everyone goes through difficult times and has challenges, that’s why we have a family services agency, to provide assistance to them when they’re trying to become self-sufficient. Why would you not want a social safety net in which people can get the assistance they need when something unexpected happens?”

Sayler is a longtime member of the Breckenridge community.

“My wife and I have lived here for 37 years. We’ve been around the horn a few times and a few rodeos, too,” Sayler joked.

The agency employs a number of case workers who handle different target populations, allowing them to place necessary focus on the needs of each case. There’s typically no hustle and bustle or bunched up traffic at the office. Those in need can often walk straight to the front desk and be put in contact with a case worker in a timely fashion. During busy times, however, visitors are still met with compassion by Annie Boesen at the front desk.

“That’s where it starts and Annie’s great, I can’t say enough about her,” Sayler said. “We had a long Labor Day weekend, and come Tuesday morning, between the front desk and the telephones ringing unbelievably — it was just wild in here. Come Tuesday morning when reality comes back to light, if you need to come in to discuss services, we’re here.”

Expecting the unexpected and meeting challenges with calm preparation is a gift that Sayler and many social workers have. The human services offered by the agency makes meeting crisis an obstacle, not an end game for those in need.

“Some people work all their lives until they’re 65 or 66, then something happens to them and they have very little resources to live on. It comes down to what we can do to support them so that, at some point, maybe they don’t need our help and they can get back to doing what they want,” Sayler said.

The Family Services Center is home to Life Transformations, a private outfit that offers intensive outpatient treatment services in the agency’s basement. Life Transformations also provides clinical supervision to a number of the agency’s other programs.

The need for outpatient services arose five years ago when the county as a whole was struggling with not having enough providers to help with chemical dependency. It was a major concern, not having enough providers to offer the services so that people could still work but also attend the treatment events. Wilkin Country agreed to host a provider to hold those events in-house.

“I haven’t heard of any county agency in Minnesota that has those services in the basement of their family services center. We try to be innovative and we try to meet the needs of families in the county,” Sayler said.

Helping elderly and disabled residents in the county live a long, comfortable life is a focal point for family services.

“We’re trying to keep people in their own home. Whether you’re disabled or elderly, you should be able to live in your home as long as possible,” Sayler said. “Whether that means delivered meals or whatever it is you need. It’s challenging, but I always tell people, ‘There’s never a dull moment,’ there’s always things changing every day.”

Ending the stigma around human services and county assistance is a crucial aspect of infrastructure. Reaching out and receiving help is humanity at its finest, which is why Sayler encourages those suffering or struggling to walk through those doors.

“I think sometimes the issue we have is we need to tell our story more often and make sure people are aware of all the services we provide,” Sayler said. “We try doing that through Daily News and talking through our friends and families. Sometimes it’s just easier for people to come in and discuss things face-to-face. Sometimes we have two or three people walking you through what to expect. If we think everyone understands all of our rules, regulations and programs — that’s just asking too much.”

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