TreeHouse celebrates 10 years of supporting teens in Plymouth, Wayzata

Anniversary event set for Saturday, Aug. 19, at Peace Lutheran

By Kristen Miller
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TreeHouse’s Going Deeper group night this past July at Plymouth Covenant Church. (Submitted photos)

This month, TreeHouse Youth Outreach will celebrate 10 years at its Plymouth location with an anniversary event Saturday, Aug. 19, at Peace Lutheran Church in Plymouth.

During the past 10 years, approximately 750 teens have been supported through the program, housed at Peace Lutheran, with an average of 45 youth coming through its doors each month.

TreeHouse’s first location was opened in New Hope in 1984 by former Robbinsdale Area Schools teacher Fred Peterson. The nonprofit organization’s vision is “to reach every at-risk teen so they are loved, feel hope and realize life transformation.”

Youth between the ages of 13 and 18 come to the organization, either through word-of-mouth information from friends or referral by school counselors. TreeHouse’s four main goals are to reduce at-risk behaviors, to build healthy relationships with God, self and others; to graduate high school and to pursue an educational or vocational track post-high school.

Today, there are nine locations throughout the Twin Cities dedicated to mentoring teens.

Heather Carufel is the Plymouth area director and has been at the location since she started at TreeHouse as an intern in 2007 and says “at-risk” is a broad term.
“Every kid is at-risk in my opinion,” she said.

When the Plymouth location first opened, Carufel remembers there being five to 10 teens, all of whom came from the same townhome complex in Plymouth.

“It’s been cool to see how it’s spread literally across the whole city,” she said, noting they transport teens as far north as Maple Grove and into Wayzata and Medina. Most of the teens who attend the Plymouth location are within the Wayzata School District.

This was the first night of the Plymouth TreeHouse 10 years ago.

Throughout the 10 years, Carufel has taken the good along with the bad, as mentoring at-risk teens has both its challenges and rewards.
Mentors can sometimes can feel like they put so much effort into a teen, hoping to love them into transformation, and when that doesn’t happen, “it’s sad,” Carufel explained.

“But what I love about TreeHouse is we don’t give up hope on those kids,” she said. “We don’t write them off and tell them they are too broken.”

Looking back at her years with the organization, Carufel said seeing the life transformation take place in the teens has been her favorite thing.

Sometimes, people think it’s going to happen right away, but it can take years, she said. That proved to be the case with one of her favorite teens, whose life Carufel has witnessed as it blossomed and grew.

Carufel explained how this particular teen came to TreeHouse when she was 14 years old, having been raped, kidnapped and forced into prostitution.

Ten years later, this young woman has a job, is living on her own, and is a “fabulous” mother of two.

She and Carufel continue to have a close relationship.
“Her life transformation is beautiful,” Carufel said.

As a mother of both a former and current TreeHouse student Andrea Debol of Plymouth has witnessed the positive impact of the outreach program. Her son had been bullied in school to the point where he was pulled out an homeschooled.

Through TreeHouse, her son was able to make friends in a safe environment, Debol said. “He has really come out of his shell,” she said, noting her son is now outgoing and confident in himself. While he was apprehensive to attend TreeHouse at first, “now he will not miss an event,” Debol said of her son.

Plymouth TreeHouse Area Director Heather Carufel has witnessed lives being transformed and the program grow over the last 10 years. Carufel is pictured with a TreeHouse teen on graduation.

In Plymouth, there are three full-time staff members – Rachel Allen, Jordan Borer-Nelson, and Carufel, as well as Danny Schmitz, an intern. There are also a number of volunteers who help during the Tuesday and Thursday programs and provide one-on-one mentoring.

Although TreeHouse is a Christian-based organization, teens come from all faith- and non-faith backgrounds and can feel comfortable regardless of their faith status. “For the students, it’s always a safe place,” Carufel said.

TreeHouse offers a secular support group 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Peace Lutheran, where students are asked to rate their week and describe it in three emotions. This provides an opportunity for the students to share their feelings and realize they aren’t alone through student and mentor support and encouragement.

Thursdays is Going Deeper, which offers more of a church youth group atmosphere, where teens play games and hear from speakers. This takes place at Plymouth Covenant Church. Both churches have been strong supporters of TreeHouse from the beginning, Carufel noted.

The organization also offers a variety of group activities throughout the year, outside of the small group setting, including mission trips.

Recently, students returned from Chicago where they participated in a YouthWorks mission trip. Some also participated in an adventure trip earlier this summer to Colorado.

“I just want to give a giant ‘thank you’ to the whole community,” Carufel said, for supporting TreeHouse and “allowing us to hang out with their kids.”
More information is available at treehouseyouth.org.

10th anniversary event
The Plymouth/Wayzata TreeHouse will host a 10th anniversary celebration noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, at Peace Lutheran Church, 3695 County Road 101.

This free, family-friendly event will offer a variety of activities for all ages, including lawn games, inflatables, a magician and other live entertainment. Food trucks will also be available.

Attendees will also be able “to see and experience a little bit of what we do with the kids,” Carufel said, noting the event will be both fun and informational.

A short program along with prize drawings will take place at 2 p.m.