When Forest Lake’s City Council blocked for no good reason a proposed children’s mental health center earlier this year, a kinder-hearted community to its west was watching.
East Bethel Mayor Steven Voss was puzzled by the neighboring suburb’s handling of the center, but he knew what his own city needed to do. This center would care for kids who desperately needed help and had few treatment options in the state. It just made sense for this growing community to reach out to the center’s developers and offer these children a place to heal.
“Every city should want to do that,’’ said Voss, who is serving his second term as mayor and spent eight years on the City Council.
After Forest Lake’s heartless handling of the Cambia Hills project, East Bethel’s welcoming approach signals that children’s health care remains a shared Minnesota value, even if some communities occasionally fall short. Voss and the rest of the city leadership merit the state’s thanks for stepping up to help the project open its doors with little additional delay.
While the project has yet to clear all necessary approvals in East Bethel, the hard work by the mayor and city staff, and the strong efforts by the developer to answer residents’ questions, suggest that the project is admirably on track. Voss said many residents are appreciative of the chance to expand the community’s economy and do good at the same time.
The $26 million center, which will provide care for about 60 kids ages 6-17, is expected to add 150 jobs to the community. It’s also hoped that the project will spur other nearby development. While the property purchase has not yet been completed — or its location officially revealed — Voss said its current owners have lived there for 40 years and are excited that “rather than growing houses,” the land will be “growing and helping kids.”
The property’s size means that the children at the center would be able to garden and work with farm animals as part of their therapy. That approach was part of the vision that the Duluth-based developer, the Hills Youth and Family Services, had for the Forest Lake site. It’s good that this valuable treatment component did not get lost in the move to a new location. There is both peace and structure that these rural responsibilities can bring to young lives.
Another community meeting on the project is slated for Monday at 7 p.m. at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 19001 Jackson St. NE., East Bethel. This will give residents who missed a previous meeting a chance to hear about the project. The meeting merits a good turnout, not just to learn more, but to take a moment for all in attendance to appreciate the opportunity the city has to truly help struggling kids and their families.
East Bethel’s embrace of this project represents Minnesota at its best.