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She Ascends empowers women through hiking and wellness events
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If you like the idea of a women-only group that "Strengthen bodies. Feed minds. Calm souls," you can't go wrong with She Ascends.

The Minnesota-based hiking and wellness nonprofit organization was first established in 2019 in Stearns County. From there, chapters were launched across the state including in McLeod and Meeker counties earlier this year. 

Jamie Broll of Hutchinson is the McLeod County chapter leader. She is part of several Minnesota hiking groups on Facebook when something came across her page from She Ascends. Broll liked that the organization brought women together who love nature, the outdoors and is wellness based.

“It's not just about hiking,” she said. “It's for all levels, even for people who go for walks. It's very inclusive. It's geared toward all types of women.”

While Broll and her husband, Steven, are avid hikers, she was looking for an opportunity to connect with other women who enjoy hiking. While She Ascends had chapters in a number of Minnesota counties, there wasn't anything in McLeod County. She also liked the idea of starting something new in this area that hadn't been done before.

One of the advantages Broll said of being part of a statewide organization is that marketing is in place and its a nonprofit organization. So far, the McLeod County chapter has three official members and at least 10 women who have signed up for hikes. It also has more than 50 women who have joined the McLeod County private Facebook group. 

"We've had a lot of interest," said Noelle Meyer, chapter leader for She Ascends Meeker County. "Our Facebook group is about 70 members, with eight to 10 regular people who come on the hikes. We're always looking for more women age 18 or older."

The best way to find out about local She Ascends events is to "Like" its Facebook page: She Ascends (McLeod County) and/or She Ascends (Meeker County). 


Meyer credited Broll, a coworker, for introducing her to She Ascends.

"She told me about her interest in this hiking group," Meyer said. "It got me interested too. We set up a Zoom meeting with the founder and the regional leader and we went from there."

Meyer said she connected with the She Ascends core values, which aim to connect women of all ages to each other, nature and to themselves so they can live happier and healthier lives. There's no comparisons, no competition and no judgment — only empowerment to ascend.

Meyer stepped up to launch the Meeker County chapter because "Meeker County doesn't have any groups like this," she said. "It's a great opportunity to help our community grow and for women to get out and meet new friends and share similar interests with them."

The two chapters conducted their first hike in January and have continued to meet monthly since then. In addition to scheduled events, Meyer said there are pop-up hikes, which are spur-of-the-moment events, which are announced on the chapters' Facebook pages.

"You only hike for about an hour, so it doesn't take up your whole night," she said.

On Saturday, McLeod, Meeker, Stearns and Morrison chapters will have their quarterly spring event: Find your HIKE(her) Within 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Glacial Lakes State Park, which is 30 miles south of Alexandria. Activities range from a three-mile hike to lunch at Rolling Forks Vineyards in Glenwood. (For more information, visit hikehoppers.org/she-ascends.html.)

While chapters are organized by county with local activities, the state organization is looking beyond its borders and is talking about hosting hiking trips outside of Minnesota as well as internationally. 

Like Broll, Meyer has always enjoyed hiking. The two women share a love of being outdoors, exercise and the support of women who share the same interests.

"I love hiking, going into the mountains," she said. "I've been in Australia and New Zealand hiking. I'd like it so we can switch it up with different activities such as kayaking with hiking. We haven't done that yet, but that's the goal in the future to do some kind of event."

As a newlywed and newcomer to Litchfield, Meyer appreciates the camaraderie of kindred souls the group offers.

"Everyone is so welcoming and friendly," she said. "This group lets me meet a lot of people really fast and I feel comfortable to call Litchfield home.

For now, both women are looking to grow their chapters. 

"People are thinking about it," Broll said. "We're new and we're getting the word out. There's more than a dozen chapters and it keeps growing."

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Litchfield Downtown Council announces 'Thriving Thursdays' music schedule
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Downtown Litchfield will come alive with music on Thursday nights this summer.

Litchfield Downtown Council, in cooperation with the city, plans a diverse slate of live music performances for Central Park this summer, part of the nonprofit organization’s continuing effort to bring attention and activity to the city’s historic downtown.

The summer concerts will be part of “Thriving Thursdays,” during which the Downtown Council plans pop-up shops in some downtown storefronts, and retailers will be open until 6:30 p.m.

“Do you remember our music in Central Park?” Darlene Kotelnicki of Litchfield Downtown Council asked rhetorically. “Well, we have a summer of music planned. There is something for everyone.”

The concerts will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and a different act will perform every Thursday from June through August, except July 8, when the Downtown Council encourages people to attend Watercade events, and Aug. 5 when the Meeker County Fair is running at the fairgrounds in Litchfield.

The musical lineup includes:

  • June 3 — Johnny Cash Tribute show by Mitchell Hall and The Tennessee Trio;
  • June 10 — Terry Shaw, who will play a selection of songs from the 1950s and 1960s;
  • June 17 — Swinging Country a classic country group;
  • June 24 — Tim and Mary Nelson and Friends, who will perform Broadway tunes;
  • July 1 — Everett Simpson Band, who will take listeners on a musical journey down the Mississipi River from Brainerd to New Orleans, including children’s songs;
  • July 8 — Watercade;
  • July 15 — Pill Poppers, a women’s quartet who perform songs from the 1960s;
  • July 22 — Mathew Lease, performing easy listening songs from the 1970s;
  • July 29 — Sarah Dollerschell & Daughters, with a fun, interactive evening of children’s music;
  • Aug. 5 — Meeker County Fair;
  • Aug. 12 — John Beck duo, performing country favorites;
  • Aug. 19 — MTVs, a group performing music from the 1980s and 1990s;
  • Aug. 26 — Tim Cook Band, with popular rock music from the 1960s and 1970s.

Along with music, each will will feature beverages, snacks or food for sale by one nonprofit group each week.

“Bring a chair and enjoy an evening of music in Litchfield’s Central Park,” Kotelnicki said.

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ACGC plans expanded summer, fall course offerings
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Parents who think their students could use more in-person education after a year of part-time “distance learning” have opportunities for their children to experience it this summer in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District. The ACGC School Board heard about the programs at its April 26 meeting in Cosmos.

All students in preschool through eighth grade can enroll in a free three-mornings-per-week (Tuesday-Thursday) summer learning program in Atwater that will last up to nine weeks. Subjects like reading, math, music, art, science and technology may be coordinated with summer recreation activities like baseball, allowing children to participate in both sports and academics this summer. Free breakfasts and lunches are included in the four-hour days, with transportation available for those whose families cannot bring them to Atwater.

Elementary Principal Kodi Goracke said that more than 220 students have enrolled to date, and more were expected to register last week. Twenty-three teachers and 11 paraeducators plan to work summer hours.

High school students have opportunities for credit recovery (two days a week) and extra instruction in algebra three days per week.

High School-Middle School Principal Robin Wall told the board that the extra help in algebra is being offered because that is the subject in which students seemed to struggle the most during the time they did not have in-person learning. Two math teachers will be teaching algebra part-time during the summer months; it is estimated that approximately 20 students will participate

“Many don’t want to do algebra online…but the students really have to be there as it is a condensed course,” Wall told the board. Students will also be able to work toward credit recovery in other subjects.

“This is a second opportunity for distance learners to get engaged,” added Superintendent Nels Onstad.

This summer programming is being funded primarily by special state and federal grants designed to help students make up lost time after an academic year plagued by cancellations and quarantines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Onstad expects approximately twice as many students to participate in summer school, compared to a normal year.

Whether or not their students participate in summer programs, families may pick up free lunch supplies once a week in each of the district’s three communities. They are encouraged to also fill out free-and-reduced school lunch paperwork to assist with tracking financial needs within the district.

Fall hiring

Since ACGC enrollment remained steady during the pandemic emergency, school staffing will be similar to the 2020-2021 year. Since several retirements and resignations have occurred, school officials interviewed for replacements.

Among those hired last week were Grace Jorgenson for special education and Abby Smith for an open elementary position in Atwater. Thomas Rosengren was hired to teach sixth grade in Grove City. A list of fall and winter coaching assignments and an assistant golf coach Quincy McNeil, needed due to larger participation in that sport this spring, were approved. The board also approved a contract with the golf course.

The district will also be replacing two long-time administrative office assistants, Sandy Benson and Cleone Larson, who retired this spring after more than 20 years each with the district. Several board members expressed appreciation for their service.

Tenure was approved for teacher Angela Walsh.

Four-day week cooperation

Onstad added that, thanks to unprecedented cooperation with two other four-day-per-week rural school districts, MACRAY and BBE, several rigorous academic online classes are being added to the district’s curriculum. The subjects include college calculus and advanced Spanish, which, in a typical year interest only 8-10 students per district. By coordinating distance learning between the three schools, the numbers could be made to work for joint classes. Other subjects could include accounting, physics, college chemistry, sociology, computer programming, marketing and psychology.

A four-day student week has been state-approved through 2022, so the ACGC calendar will remain similar to previous years, with students attending mostly Tuesdays through Fridays. The board included several flexible learning days (mostly Mondays) to allow for weather and/or distance learning make-up. Classes will begin for students on Sept. 7, 2021, and end May 27, 2022. Vacation breaks were set at Oct. 21-22, Dec. 24-Jan. 3, and April 15-18.

Financial matters

Business Manager Wendy Holle updated the board on how extra “pandemic” relief funds from the state and federal governments were being used at ACGC. To date, more than $300,000 has been received and spent, with about two million more dollars expected in the near future. The district has varying leeway in how the relief should be spent, Holle reported. Some grants are more flexible, while others, such as $45,800 in GEER funding, can only be spent on summer school programs.

Holle explained how average daily membership is calculated by the state to support local programs. Special education is the hardest item to budget as both funding and needs change frequently.

Principal reports

Goracke reported more than 95 percent average attendance at her building in Atwater. At the high school/middle school, 93.8 percent of enrollees are in class each day, Wall stated. (Wall added that 51 students remain in distance learning.) The pandemic upset the district’s academic testing schedule, but students are being tested, although it is later than usual and most of the distance learners have not come in yet, she said. “Lots of make up testing is going on.”

At both schools, field trip opportunities are being brought to the students instead of bussing the students off campus. Goracke expects an FFA petting zoo to be set up May 7 on campus.

In-person special events are being planned at the high school for May 8 (prom), May 12 (choir/band concerts), May 26 (baccalaureate) and May 28 (graduation), Wall reported. Those events are subject to alterations if the pandemic worsens and tighter restrictions come into place.

“We still have very little transmission at school, but the variant is causing an increase in young people,” Onstad reported. “Several staff have been quarantined and a handful have tested positive."