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Annual MDHA Youth Day educates

Kerry Meyers brought a skinned coyote and many different animal furs to the Moonlight Rock Archery Range in International Falls for children to inspect on Saturday afternoon.

The coyote garnered some mixed reactions — some were fascinated, some a bit wary.

“I like to skin something so they’re all intrigued, and they think, ‘oh, that’s where it comes from,” Meyers said. “We do this for fun, this is a great event.”

Children of all ages were invited to join the Minnesota Deer Hunter Association Trails End Chapter for its annual Youth Day, an event where participants were able to try out many different outdoor skills and learn about wildlife conservation.

Volunteers at booths educated youth about a variety of topics including dissecting owl pellets, archery, types of trees, fishing-line knot tying, turkey calls and conservation law enforcement.

At the archery demonstration, children were able to shoot arrows at a variety of targets, learning about the correct way to position their bow, and most importantly, archery safety.

“Everybody is going to shoot all of their arrows and as soon as you’re done I’m going to say ‘clear’,” the instructor told the group. “Then, you can lay your bow down and go up and get your arrows, but nobody leaves the rubber mat until I say ‘clear.’”

The archery booth drew a large crowd, with children waiting in line for the opportunity to try out the sport.

Corbin Chezick attended with his grandfather, who helped him try to get better at aiming at targets.

“Tell us what you’re going to hit before you shoot,” he challenged Chezick.

Various law enforcement and safety organizations were present to give demonstrations of emergency vehicles. Local emergency medical technicians were giving tours and demonstrations of the ambulance and conservation officers showed off their vehicles.

The event was free to attend and children who attended all of the different booths were entered in drawings for prizes.

Youth Day is hosted annually by MDHA Trail’s End Chapter and was sponsored by Packaging Corporation of America.

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Easing stress

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Mickey Belanger admits she was unaware of what the Community Cancer Walk was.

Now, the newly-announced cancer survivor said the program eased financial stress, and she wants to spread the word.

“The ladies who go out and organize this walk... they’re amazing,” Belanger said. “They know from experience what things are going to help. Something as simple as a gas card offers a world of relief.”

The annual walk, scheduled for 9-11 a.m. Oct. 5 at Rainy River Community College, raises money to contribute to the local gas card program. The program provides gas cards for cancer patients traveling out of the community for treatment.

“We had about $500 in gas cards and that’s what we used to go back and forth to Mayo before our long-term stay this spring,” Belanger said. “It was a lot of trips... The gas cards got us all the way to June 6 – my 100 day checkup – right on the nose.”

Road to remission

The road to remission was long and started nearly three years ago.

Belanger, owner of Oh 4 Sweet Catering, was diagnosed with Stage 3 follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2016. Various tests and chemotherapy quickly followed the diagnosis.

“Luckily for us, we have a department here at our hospital... and I was able to have chemo here,” she said of Rainy Lake Medical Center.

Unfortunately, she said, the first round of chemotherapy didn’t work and Belanger started a different pattern of treatments. Those, too, weren’t living up to expectations.

“At that point, we started on a test drug,” she said. “However, whatever happened in my system... I ended up with an aggressive lymphoma.”

Belanger went from having what she called a lazy cancer to a more aggressive kind. Doctors sent her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“Now we’re talking about more than just the occasional trip to Virginia or Duluth,” she said. “Now, we were looking at some real distance... This is when things started getting really expensive.”

Gas cards

The Community Cancer Walk has been so successful over the years that organizers have been able to increase the cards given away to patients from $150 to $200.

Belanger’s eligibility for gas cards made a difficult time easier.

“When Rochester became our second home, it came to the point where I wasn’t working anymore,” Belanger said. “(My husband) Bob and I are modest people, we don’t live outside our means... Everything just adds up really fast.”

From February to March, the Belangers lived in Rochester while Mickey underwent a stem cell transplant accompanied by dozens of appointments and procedures.

“It’s been quite the year.” she said.

On June 6, Belanger was officially declared cancer free, and she said she is so grateful to the community that rallied around her.

“We live in such a generous community,” she said. “It’s important for people to know how much their donations to this program really help people like me.”

Looking forward to the rest of the year, Belanger does most of her follow-up appointments locally, but will have to take a few more out-of-town trips in the upcoming months.

“They have to keep watching me,” she said of doctors. “This is my new normal... If I can do any good for anybody, it’s telling them about this program and this event. It really meant so much to Bob and I. It really helps people.”

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Nursing program continues to fill need

Students had their heads buried in books at the Rainy River Community College nursing lab Monday, preparing for an upcoming test later that day.

One student quickly asked Donita Ettestad, RRCC nursing faculty member and Koochiching County health care coordinator, a quick question during the group’s study session.

Guiding the future nurse to the answer, Ettestad did so with a smile on her face.

“They’re so eager to learn,” she said of 10 students enrolled in the licensed nurse practitioner, or LPN, class. “It’s so exciting.”

Entering into her fourth year as the college’s nursing instructor, Ettestad is proud of how far the program has come.

“We are full in both classes,” she said of the LPN and registered nursing, or RN, courses. “That is a first.”

Through partnerships with Itasca Community College for the LPN program, and Hibbing Community College for the RN courses, Koochiching County students looking for a career in health care are able to start their journey right at home, while others from outside the area are traveling to attend school that offers a nursing program.

“It took (four years) to build it up and recruit, but it’s exciting to see where we are today,” Ettestad said of the program.


It’s been more than four years since former RRCC Provost Carol Helland approached elected officials with concerns about the need to fill more than two dozen open health care positions in the county.

Community members sprang into action to form a health care initiative and secure financial support for the college’s nursing program.

Now, both programs have the maximum of 10 students, a number set to balance the student-to-instructor ratio, Ettestad said.

“This is a huge opportunity,” she said. “Students are finding they can get this kind of education right here at Rainy River Community College.”

Still a need

While local health care facilities are hiring what RRCC’s nursing program is producing, there is still a need.

“Because of retirement, (employers) still have need,” Ettestad said. “Keeping in mind... some of the students want to go out of town (after graduation).”

The open positions are across the board, and many students are already in the workforce.

“When I think about the RN students, most of them are working as LNPs while they’re in school,” Ettestad said. “They do that as they go through.”

There’s a range of students, too.

Some are fresh out of high school, others are non-traditional students seeking a new career path. Two students in the LPN class already have four-year bachelor degrees, Ettestad said.

“People are so passionate and are liking this program,” she said.

In addition to the LPN and RN courses, a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, class is offered in the spring. The class is taught by Laura Zika.

“CNA positions are the hardest to fill,” Ettestad said. “We definitely need more CNAs in Koochiching County.”

Community support

Looking into the future of the program, Ettestad stressed the importance of community support.

“This program’s future is vital to continued support from our partners,” she said. “Students and employers are appreciative of it, and we’re seeing good results.”