Breaking the Cycle

White Bear Press, March 2014


Local couple seeks to positively impact orphans through home-stays.

What began as a way to broaden their family’s world perspective has turned into a life-changing opportunity both for the Collettes and the orphans they have hosted in their home.

In 2010, Tony and Jodi Collette invited orphans from Ukraine into their home for a summer exchange program through European Children Adoption Services. Last summer they began hosting orphans from Latvia through Project 143.

“[Hosting] has brought us closer together as husband and wife,” Tony said. “It’s grown and stretched our family, in a good way. I think it’s broadened our world perspective.”

Over the Christmas holidays, the Collettes hosted their fifth group of orphans. They will host the same three siblings from Latvia this summer. They hope to adopt the siblings — two girls, ages 9 and 6, and a 7-year-old boy.

Tony, a lease audit specialist, and his wife Jodi live in Grant on 20 acres of land. They have four children, two of whom still live at home. Daniel, their 16-year-old, attends St. Croix Prep, and Lizzie, their 8-year-old, is home-schooled.

Lizzie has especially enjoyed hosting experiences as it has given her sisters and siblings around her own age. This is one reason why the Collettes have opted to host older orphans.

They are finalizing their application to adopt the Latvia siblings. If all goes as planned, the Collettes will travel to Latvia in September, where they will spend three weeks with their future children/siblings in a required trial living arrangement before they can all return to the U.S. permanently. Two additional trips to Latvia will be required to finalize the adoptions. “We hope to complete all three trips this year and to celebrate Christmas together as an expanded family," Tony said.

Although the Collettes hoped hosting would lead to adoption, Tony explained that is not every host family’s intent, nor the final goal of Project 143.

“We’ve always come at hosting with an adoption mindset, but that isn’t always the case,” Tony said. “The fact that P143 is, in essence, just doing everything they can to do something really cool for these kids, to give them a break from the orphanage, to give them the chance to see something different from what they are used to. That spoke a lot to us.”

Sometimes the children on the exchanges aren't available for adoption.

“They all have a different story,” Jodi said. “A lot of them don’t have stable families, which is why they’re in an orphanage to begin with. Generally speaking, they’re not true orphans. They have parents somewhere but the parents haven’t been able to care for them. So when they come for a hosting, it’s an opportunity for them to spend some time in a stable, loving environment where people are actually looking out for their needs and they can see what a family situation looks like, because they may not have had a lot of experience with that in the past. And it gives them hope that there is something outside of orphanage life or the depleted economic situation they come from. So that gives them hope and a view of what life could be like.”

Some families don’t host with the intent to adopt, but rather to advocate for the children that they host, Tony noted. “The girl that we hosted last summer was hosted by someone in California this winter, and that family decided that was not the right fit for them, but someone they met [during her stay] is adopting her. So that’s the other powerful part of [hosting],” he said.

Project 143 is a hosting agency that was established in 2010 after founder Tammy Cannon went through the adoption process for her son and recognized the great international issue of orphans. It was named for the 143 million orphans worldwide (a number that has risen since the organization’s founding), with a mission to offer hope to orphans. The nonprofit coordinates hosting for orphans in China, Ukraine and Latvia.

The organization focuses on older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities, as these children have a significantly lower chance of being adopted. The adoption rate is 65 to 70 percent for the same children after they have been hosted, however.

“We all know there are orphans in the world. We all know that they exist. And we’ve even seen pictures of them in advertisements for different organizations,” Jodi said. “But there’s something about meeting them and living with them and seeing that they’re really just children. They really [each] have a personality; there’s so much more to them than just a photograph and the statistics that you hear about. And it’s pretty amazing to see that.

“They’re so resilient. You can’t even imagine the history that some of these kids come from, and the fact that they’re able to come here and laugh and play and have fun; they pretty much act like normal kids. That changes your perspective on people, and the value of people. These kids didn’t ask to be orphans, they didn’t make a poor choice, they didn’t do something to cause their situation. It was all caused by somebody else, but they’re stuck in it now. It just makes you think beyond your own self.”

Tony said he was also influenced by the statistics and stories he’s heard about when children age out of the orphanage system. In Latvia, and many other Eastern European countries, children are kicked out of orphanages the year they turn 16, sent off with a bus ticket to their region of origin and $30 in their pockets. Many turn to substance abuse or prostitution or commit suicide.

As a host, Tony said he thinks, ‘Well, what if we could do something now to disrupt that cycle? What’s our part of the solution to orphan care? What would their future look like if they were given a better shot, if someone invested in them?’

Through orphan hosting, Tony and Jodi said they want to share the resources with which they have been blessed and show orphans that enter their home that there is more to life than the cycle in which they are stuck.

“We’ve come to this conclusion that, out of gratitude for all God has done for us, we want to share what it is that we have,” Tony said. “We didn’t feel like we were just supposed to sit here and consume. That’s really, that’s what it gets to. It’s challenged us to truly live out our faith.”

See original article here.

White Bear Township joins in lake lawsuit

White Bear Press, November 2013


WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP — White Bear Township will be standing with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the lawsuit filed by the White Bear Lake Restoration Association. The decision was made at the Nov. 4 Town Board meeting after the township received a request from the DNR to consider intervening in the lawsuit over White Bear Lake water levels.

The DNR is encouraging surrounding cities to take action through intervention before Nov. 12.

Township Attorney Chad Lemmons said, “Here’s the big problem: If the DNR loses, it will have really adverse effects on the town’s ability to draw water from its wells. The judge would become the governing body on what to do with water, and she could reallocate the water resources. This is something all of the town should be concerned with.” Lemmons recommended filing for intervention as a right.

Intervention as a right is allowed by a court when a third party, in this case the township and surrounding cities, feels its interest is not adequately represented by the parties to the lawsuit and that the outcome of the lawsuit might impair the ability of the third party to protect that interest.

Intervention could cost upward of $500,000 by the end of the trial after gathering experts for defense. “I don’t want to see the township standing alone in this,” said Ed Prudhon, board supervisor. Lemmons suggested intervening as a group of cities to share in the cost of experts.

Bill Short, town clerk, reported that Vadnais Heights was willing to facilitate a gathering of towns. “I know there’s an interest in looking into a common position to be taken by the communities that are interested,” he said.

Taking action immediately guarantees that the township’s interests are considered throughout the ruling process.

“The township is caught between a rock and a hard place, an expensive one with long-term effects,” said Bob Kermes, board supervisor. “I think it would be irresponsible not to intervene and make sure our interests and concerns are addressed. White Bear Township can’t be expected to pursue this on its own, though; it has to be part of a group, with the DNR, with other communities. It sounds to me like we need to do it now.”

“If you’d like to intervene and decide afterward that intervention is not in the best interest of the town, you simply move to dismiss your intervention, and withdraw,” Lemmons clarified.

The board authorized Lemmons to draft an intervention filing and submit that filing by the Nov. 12 deadline, and authorized staff to communicate with surrounding communities on collaboration.

In other action, the board:

• Received an update from the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce. Board Chairman Scott Mueller reported that the chamber’s finances are in solid shape under Executive Director Tom Snell. The chamber is taking strides to be more active in workforce development and government affairs, making sure the voices of local business are represented to the Legislature.

• Ordered preparation of a report on street and utility improvements for the Bohaty major subdivision (Milky Way Lanes) at 5265 East County Line Road. This was after receipt of a petition for public improvement of sanitary sewer, water, storm sewer and streets from the property owner, pursuant to the plans for a major subdivision of the property, which will create six lots and one outlot.

• Approved a request from Tri-Fitness to hold a Thanksgiving Day race, contingent on receiving a certificate of insurance with the proper date. Tri-Fitness expects more than 1,300 participants in the Fast Before the Feast race, which includes a Kids’ Run, 5K and 10K.

See original article here.

Longtime White Bear fisherman starts kid lit company to encourage outdoor adventure

White Bear Press, July 2012


WHITE BEAR LAKE  — Geoff Ratte started his web-based company FishingKids as a way for families to connect and children to return to imagination and develop a love for the outdoors and adventure.

With help from Forest Lake-based business partner Doug Ferron, FishingKids launched in January with the release of its first book, “The Monster of White Bear Lake.” The company is centered around such short chapter books, but expands into the realm of action figures, kids’ fishing gear, clothing and games. The books feature best friends Spinner and Bobber and their fishing adventures. The Chief, Spinner’s grandfather, offers fishing and life advice throughout the book, encouraging the boys to learn and use their imaginations.

“What we want to do is reach out and touch as many people as we can,” said Ratte. “We think if we can get this to become a kid’s imaginary play-world, where fishing and goofing around with your friends and playing around by the lake (is fun) — well, that’s the world we want to build for kids.”

Ratte, who came up with the concept for the stories and company, is not new to the fishing world. In fact, he has had a long career in fishing and tackle. His father and two uncles owned and ran Water Gremlin in White Bear Lake; fishing was always a natural part of Ratte’s life. When he and his wife, Jean, moved to New Orleans to raise their children, fishing remained a constant.

“I’ve probably done more fishing (in Louisiana) than anywhere else. It’s my favorite place to fish,” he said.

His wife Jean has helped him in the business and organizational side of the company; they also have several creative partners around the country helping to make their vision a reality.

Ratte likens the direct-to-consumer company to the American Girl company. Its books and merchandise are sold exclusively through, which is not only host to its books, apparel, gear and toys, but offers fishing trivia and activities for children. Activities include coloring pages, quizzes, a fishing glossary and maps.

Two additional books have been released since January: “The Mystery of Porpoise Point” and “The Pirate of Creole Bay,” all written by Florida native Mike Holliday featuring the same characters in different locales.  The plan is to release about six new books annually.

“We’re going to move this all around and introduce kids and try to get them excited about fishing that takes place all over the country,” said Ratte. “Because really, every different place you go is a different style of fishing. The books not only have humor and kids fun in them, but there’s a lot of hands-on demonstration of how to fish. There’s a little technique involved. But it’s not heavy-handed, it’s not like reading the encyclopedia.”

He hopes through the adventures of Spinner and Bobber, real children will move away from video games, computers and the Internet and seek more outdoor activities. Judging by email and Facebook messages the company receives (readers can submit fishing photos and stories) that’s already happening.

“That’s what we hoped it would become, is a community of little people involved in fishing that are excited about the sport,” he said.

FishingKids has reached about 10,000 children so far, and within five years Ratte hopes to increase that number to 100,000. He also hopes to expand its line of products, increasing the number of toys that go along with the characters and producing more clothing and gear.

“The world is very fertile for a book like this,” Ratte said. “This is bigger than just fishing, too. There are a lot of families that think that outdoor fun (is) where they’d like to be spending their weekends, they just don’t know how to get there. So if these adventures talk people into going camping or going fishing or just having a weekend out in the woods, that’s what we’d like to see.”

See original article here.