Providing social, emotional and spiritual support for youth in 6-12 grades and offering Mentors for Life for those aged out of youth programming, local nonprofit Timber Bay strives to make the community a safe and healthy place for growing teens across the upper Midwest.
Failing to find a faith-based outreach for kids to turn to, Dick Plaep, former probation officer in Minneapolis and social worker with Hopkins North Junior High, decided to create his own program. Founded originally in 1970, the Minnetonka branch (est. 1974) is just one of 13 community-based locations in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Over the years, Timber Bay has provided a sense of community and belonging for all involved. Through a variety of weekly, after school activities, mentoring, camps and adventure trips, kids are encouraged to discover themselves and their worth among their peers.
Promoting personal growth through positive lifelong relationships is the group’s goal. “Our community groups provide a safe place for teens to feel seen, heard and belong,” says Rachel Abele, program director.
As a faith-based Christian organization, Timber Bay uses the power of unconditional love and hope to fuel its support system. Opening the services to kids of all genders, religious beliefs and backgrounds, Abele says that the kids are respected in a way that makes them feel comfortable to share their true selves. “I would not be who I am today without them,” says Autumn Coleman, Timber Bay alumni. “They are genuinely interested in who you are, how they can be there for you, how they can support you and how can they love you.”
The success of Timber Bay would not exist without supportive staff members, who not only pour their hearts into their work but also are mentors for life for these kids. “People ask me when I am going to retire, and I say, ‘Why should I do that when I have the best job in the world, and the need doesn’t go away?’” says Kenny Kraft, a 47-year staff member and supervisor of Bemidji; Spring Lake, Iowa; and Birchwood, Wis. branches. “I just want to pour my time and my energy into kids.”
Kraft founded the Minnetonka area location in 1974. He also runs the longest standing tree lot in the organization’s history. He currently focuses on the work crew program, teaching youth teamwork and how to take pride in their work. He mentors hundreds of alumni that he’s worked with since 1974. “He literally embodies our tagline ‘Mentors for Life,’” Abele says.
The Tree Lots
Open the day after Thanksgiving through mid-December, Timber Bay hosts full-service Christmas tree lots, where 100 percent of the proceeds go to support Minnetonka youth.
Starting as a way to raise money to put gas in the tank to take teens to camp, the idea for a Christmas tree fundraiser arose from the fact that 30 acres of the 200-acre plot of land at the Timber Bay Camp and Retreat Center in Onamia were home to a surplus of six- to eight-foot Norway pine trees, which were planted by the previous landowners. With those trees, in addition to others sourced from different local farms, the tree lot began. Over the years, the camp grew in size to sit on 350 acres, and the need for more trees to fill the Christmas lots increased. Given the demand, Minnetonka Timber Bay has provided fresh-cut trees from family-owned Wolcyn Tree Farms and Nursery in Cambridge since 1981.
On its 47th season, Kraft says that the tree lot is now an integral part of how they provide for the kids. Selling a variety of wreaths, garland, spruce tips and branch bundles and over 1,000 trees between the two Minnetonka lots each season, makes up for almost 75 percent of Timber Bay’s financial resources with 100 percent going to youth programming. All funding is used to source program activities, camp retreats, food, gas, supplies, mentoring meetings and scholarships.
“We are blown away at the generosity of our financial partners and tree lot customers, who believe in our mission to care for youth, who need a safe place to belong and long-term mentorship,” Abele says.
Then / Now
Budget tree (Norway pine): $3.99
Higher-end tree (Balsam fir): $16-$18
Budget tree: (3-4 feet) $20
Higher-end tree (8-foot tree): $106 - (18+ foot Fraser fir) $300+
17523 Minnetonka Blvd. (near corner Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 101)
17525 MN-7 (formerly Westwind Plaza). Visit the website to confirm that this location is operating this year.