A mix of emotions came for Falls Elementary School students and staff Friday as they celebrated the final day of school for the year and Relay Recess.
Relay Recess, which raises money for the American Cancer Society, featured Falls Elementary kindergarten student, Alice Staples, who is battling terminal cancer.
Students and staff wiped tears away as Alice’s aunt, Scotta Turner, shared the 6-year-old’s story of battling cancer. In 2016, the smiley youngster was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid/rhaboid tumor, an aggressive brain tumor seen in infants and young children. The tumor is rare, accounting for 1 to 2 percent of pediatric brain tumors. After several rounds of treatment, Alice recently entered the hospice stage of her battle after her family learned the tumor had tripled in size and spread to her spine. Doctors informed the family medical intervention was no longer an option.
“Her family, after lots of tears, made the decision to stop treatments and make Alice comfortable,” Turner said.
The news devastated Alice’s school family, too.
“(Alice) has taught us about compassion, empathy, courage and strength,” Principal Missy Tate told students Friday. “She is a bright shining star in our day who has taught us to slow down and enjoy the little things in life... We cannot thank her family enough for sharing Alice with us.”
Earlier this month, students dressed up as princes, princesses, unicorns and other fairy-tale creatures in honor of Alice. A feature of the event in The Journal inspired local woodworker Tom Kantos to create unicorn wood cutouts for Alice and everyone in her kindergarten class.
Other acts of kindness during the last month have also touched Alice’s family.
“Thank you to everybody in our community for love and support for Alice and our family,” Turner said.
While Friday brought tears, it also brought celebration.
Since Falls Elementary began holding Relay Recess, more than $13,000 has been raised for the American Cancer Society. Friday’s event added to the total as students participated in a friendly penny war competition, paid money to throw pies in the faces of elementary staff, and more.
With the end of the holidays in sight, another season is on the horizon: tax season.
There are several options for completing tax returns by the April 15, 2020, deadline, one of which is free to the public and in need of volunteers.
For more than 20 years, AARP tax aide volunteers have been helping Koochiching County residents file and submit their state and federal income taxes at no charge. Mary Bartlett, local district coordinator for the organization, said volunteer tax preparers love what they do and helping others, but need to grow their team.
“We are coming to a tipping point as far as our number of preparers are compared to the number of clients we serve,” Bartlett said of the group. “These are people who do it because they love it.”
In 2019, the group completed 955 federal returns, which actually was down slightly from the year prior.
“I think more people are doing their taxes online,” Bartlett said.
Still, the need is there.
Bartlett said at 70 years old, she is one of the youngest preparers of the group.
“I’d like to see anybody who has time, to come and do the training and learn this,” she said. “It’s not as daunting as you might think. It’s an interesting way to learn about what your obligation is to the federal government and to be of service to other people.”
A tentative training date for new volunteers is the morning of Jan. 13.
“If they want to train as a tax preparer, we will set another date then... which will probably be in the following week,” Bartlett said.
There is a need for volunteers who do not prepare returns, too. The program needs people to answer the phone and do intake for clients.
“That training can be done in a couple hours,” Bartlett said. “(Volunteers) who come to our site have to pass what’s called standards of conduct, which is how we expect people to behave at our site.”
Bartlett spoke highly of the people who volunteer, and said many of them look forward to tax season to reunite as a group.
“There’s a great deal of satisfaction for people to help others and help them with integrity and in a professional way even at a volunteer site,” she said. “Our veteran (volunteers) are doing this because they love it.”
Those veterans want to see new volunteers come in and are ready to show them the ropes.
“This is a great opportunity to give back,” Bartlett said. “I want to see this program continue. Whether it grows its client base is not as important as it being available to serve people of Koochiching County.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about what is involved, can contact Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LITTLEFORK - Littlefork City Council approved the 2020 tax levy and budget Thursday at the last council meeting of the year.
The council held it's annual Truth in Taxation hearing prior to the regular meeting, but heard no input members of the public.
The levy calls for no increase in the amount of property taxes to be collected from property owners. The levy was set at $107,000 to support a $538,559 budget in 2020.
City Administrator Sonja Pelland detailed any changes made from the proposed general fund budget which was presented at August’s city council meeting.
The budget showed a $50,000 increase to be used for a down payment on equipment approved in October, transferred into the general fund budget from the savings account, contributing to a final budget of $538,559 from a proposed budget of $465,571.
Councilor Kevin Sather and Mayor Mike Fort complimented Pelland on her work on the budget.
During an update on the community park and gazebo project, the council learned the committee is pursuing selling brick pavers which families or individuals could sponsor as a fundraiser for the project.
The council agreed to begin getting the word out about sales of the pavers and plan to make them available on the Littlefork-Big Falls All-School Reunion website.
“We’re working on getting them on the all-school reunion website to maybe encourage classes to buy a brick,” Councilor Loren Lehman said.
“This can be an ongoing thing where if somebody two years from now wants to buy a brick, one can be taken out and one can be replaced really easily,” he added.
Pelland also acknowledged the increased community involvement in the gazebo and community park project from the garden club and the all-school reunion group.
“We’ve got really good community involvement now,” she said. “It’s going to be good.”
In unfinished business, after Pelland suggested looking into a United States Department of Agriculture grant for new radios and turnout gear for the fire department at last month’s council meeting, the matter came up again this week.
The city and the fire department are moving forward with the grant application, which requires the council to formally approve it.
“Their grant application is going to require a copy of minutes showing that the council voted to apply for the grant funds for these items,” Pelland said.
The grant would supply half of the funds required and is provided through the USDA Community facilities grant program.
The council elected to donate the funds collected from its portion of pull tab profits at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post to two community programs: family Christmas food vouchers and the community garden club.
Lehman suggested the two programs as beneficiaries.
The city is required to put their portion of the pull tabs profit - 10 percent - toward a charitable or non-profit program, Pelland said.
Lastly, Pelland expressed interest in applying for two Koochiching Technology Initiative grants to be used to strengthen broadband internet access. She hopes to use the funding to provide internet access at the community building and at Lofgren Park for use by the public and campers.
In other business the council: