Anoka County Commissioners Rhonda Sivarajah and Robyn West aren't in the weather-predicting business. But regardless of the temperature on Oct. 12, both say they'd prefer not spending the night sleeping on the roof of BoB's Produce in Fridley.

In fact, each is trying to raise $5,000 to avoid sleeping outdoors that night.

Their efforts are part of a fundraiser -- a Roof Raiser, actually --for the Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well Being, a 30-year-old Fridley- based clinic and nonprofit that serves more than 4,000 families each year.

The commissioners and other team leaders must spend the night of Oct. 12 on the roof if they don't meet their goal to raise $5,000 on behalf of their community teams.

"Last year, it was quite cold," said Fridley Mayor Scott Lund, who had raised $4,600 as of late last week and hopes to avoid having to listen to BoB's roof air conditioner for a fourth straight year.

"Other than being awakened by the air conditioner, it's quite fine," Lund said. "I've got a warm sleeping bag and a tent. Of course, you have to use concrete blocks to hold down the ropes of your tent -- and then hope you don't get hit by a stiff wind."

For Lund and the other team leaders, the reward of raising money for the center far outweighs the risk of near-freezing temperatures.

"It's a great cause," said Sivarajah. "I don't think the people understand how important it is for mental health needs to be addressed as soon as possible -- not only from a quality of life perspective, but from a community perspective, as well.

"The Lee Carlson Center is unique in that it treats entire families and can address the needs of youth. School can be very stressful for kids, especially if they have underlying mental health issues. If you give them support, you can help ensure that they are able to finish their education and focus."

In addition to teams led by Sivarajah, West and Lund, teams from Spring Lake Park, Columbia Heights, Ham Lake/Oak Grove and Andover are among this year's Roof Raisers.

Most never get help

One in five children experiences mental health problems, but more than half of those never get the help they need, said Lee Carlson Center director Kathy Samilo. Some will withdraw or develop high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse.

Some will become victims of suicide.

The Lee Carlson Center, formerly known as Central Center for Family Resources, has staff at 20 schools in four school districts throughout the northern suburbs. The fifth-annual Roof Raiser event will fund in-school mental health programs for at least 1,600 at-risk students, at no charge to families.

The payoff goes beyond the families directly involved. It costs taxpayers $86,000 per year to incarcerate youth and about $2,000 a year to help them in community-based programs, according to the Youth Intervention Programs Association.

West, who has participated in previous Roof Raisers with Sivarajah, said this event seems the best organized of the Lee Carlson Center fund-raisers. It started five years ago when former Spring Lake Park Mayor Bob Nelson camped atop the Spring Lake Park High School roof to raise money for the Lee Carlson Center.

"He wanted to create an identity awareness," said Lund.

The Lee Carlson Center has since moved from Spring Lake Park to Fridley, and Lund has become one of the fund-raiser's leaders.

He said that if Sivarajah, West or any of the other leaders fail to raise $5,000 before Oct. 12 and wind up on the roof, he'll be there too.

But not necessarily to spend the night.

"Some people have suggest, 'I'll give you money to stay on the roof," Lund said. "It's a generous offer, but I'm not quite sure what it says."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419