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W.E. Connect hoping to reconnect with community

Although the townships of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder all have their own town boards and fire departments, as well as their own policies and priorities, they often work together. So much so, that the through the years, “West End” has become the moniker that encompasses all three townships.

W.E. Connect was formed many years ago (as the Birch Grove Foundation), to try to serve this area known as the West End. A mission that continues after rebranding as W.E. Connect and a separation from the Birch Grove Center last year, where W.E. Connect was once housed.

However, the community hasn’t heard much from W.E. Connect of late, so WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with W.E. Connect Board Member Randy Voecks, to learn what’s been happening with the organization.

We are also sharing a fact sheet prepared by Voecks. representing the W.E. Connect board of directors:
For as long as everyone can remember Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder have existed as unique, individual townships (each with its own values, priorities and policies) informally referred to as Cook County’s “West-End.” 

Part of what makes a community (besides a school, church. businesses, etc.) is the sense of connectedness that supports and reaches out in times of personal need or disasters.  When the hurricane hit Houston, it was remarkable to see its diverse population rally in jet-skis, fishing boats, etc., to help out neighbors and strangers in their time of need.  This conveyed a sense of community that bridged racial and political differences amidst a time of collective need.  Cook county residents demonstrate a similar community collaboration through active volunteer programs or stopping to help stuck motorists or find lost tourists. 

Yet are there ways we could enrich our sense of community, especially here on the West End?

W.E.CONNECT is a nonprofit 501-3C that is in the process of re-inventing itself from its origins as the Birch Grove Foundation and its affiliation with the Birch Grove School and Community Services.

Along with relinquishing the various programs it previously facilitated, it also moved its offices to the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte. 

W.E.CONNECT is not currently funded by any of the townships or Cook County.  With volunteer board members and a very part-time staff, it is seeking to further implement its Mission Statement: To inform, connect and facilitate the rich web of resources for building a healthier, sustainable community for all generations.  

While we have resources for providing people power for community events and special projects, a primary challenge is to identify what are the needs of citizens in the West End that are not being adequately met? 

While the majority of Cook County’s revenue comes from the West End, it has long recognized that distribution of services and resources has hardly been proportional.  To be fair the medical clinic and other community services have provided (and are open to expanding) some services in the West End. 

After recently attending the Community Services Fair last fall, it became obvious that there are a multitude of resource service providers/programs in Grand Marais that many West Enders may not realize exist. 

To identify needed services and activities for West End families, W.E.CONNECT is planning several community gatherings in March at the Lutsen and Schroeder town halls, co-sponsored by the respective town boards.  W.E.CONNECT is also approaching the Tofte township about the same idea.  These gatherings will serve as listening sessions regarding needs within the community that are not being adequately met. 

We will also be reaching out by mail so that those who cannot attend can still give us input on what they or their neighbors need.  We intend to collaborate, expand and support existing services within Cook County and to provide direct support to the people of our West End by coordinating volunteers for individual and community needs. 

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.  As F.D.R. observed, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people.”