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WeCAN’s staff celebrate their 30th anniversary in the Westonka community. (Submitted photo)

When the founders of Western Communities Action Network (WeCAN) dreamt of a place where people could get a variety of their social service needs met in one place, they never could have envisioned the scope of services offered at the WeCAN that exists today.

“It certainly was our dream,” said original board member Margaret Holste. “So much has happened over the years to allow WeCAN to provide so many services in one location.”

This year marks WeCAN’s 30th year of service to the community. To commemorate this important milestone, the entire community is invited to a 30th Anniversary Open House on Thursday, May 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. Visitors can tour the facility, meet staff members and on-site partners, and enjoy free refreshments.

WeCAN’s mission is to empower and equip individuals and families to reach stability and self-sufficiency. Their vision is that children, individuals and families will thrive in a vibrant community with access to resources and support services.

“WeCAN is the only comprehensive safety net for the 12 cities we serve,” said Executive Director Christie Larson. “As we’ve identified unmet needs over the years, we have added services or referrals to meet those needs.”

WeCAN evolved from Westonka Christian Services (WCS), a group of volunteers from various local churches whose primary responsibility was providing Meals on Wheels. In the meantime, a mix of local citizens representing area churches, the school district, law enforcement, city council and other concerned residents had been sharing concerns about the lack of sorely-needed county services in the area.

When WCS decided they didn’t have enough volunteers to continue operating as they had been, the informal citizens group agreed to take on this role, after considerable deliberation. The group assumed the charitable status of WCS, developed by-laws and organized under the name Westonka Community Action Network, which was later changed to Western Communities Action Network to better reflect the service area.

The first WeCAN board was chaired by Margaret Holste and included Phyllis Jessen, Father Mike Tegeder, Craig Anderson, Len Harrell, Eric Gustavson, Richard Schieffer, Tom Gamble, Mary DeVinney, Irene Jezorski and Val Magnus, names that are familiar to many in the community.

WeCAN’s first office was in the lower level of the downtown high school building which housed the Westonka School District’s administrative offices at the time. A grant provided funding for the first part-time Executive Director, Kiki Sonnen.

Fast forward 30 years. WeCAN is now located in Stonegate Plaza, 5213 Shoreline Drive in Mound. Today, a dedicated and professionally trained staff, as well as multiple on-site partners, offers people a holistic approach to a wide array of social services. From emergency assistance and family support programs to food support to helping their clients with job skills, WeCAN is there to help, support and inspire.

Last year, WeCAN served 1,384 individuals in 570 households with a total of 6,850 services. In addition, Hennepin County; Relate Counseling; Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County; Westonka Adult Basic Education, and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program provided services on site. A wide range of referrals and other resources are also available.

WeCAN addresses the significant community need with the support of individuals, businesses, the faith community, service organizations, foundations, local cities, Hennepin County and through program fees, in the case of Meals on Wheels.

Volunteers are the backbone of the WeCAN organization. Nearly 200 volunteers contributed almost 7,000 hours of service last year, answering phones, delivering Meals on Wheels and Mobile Market bags, working with the jobs program, and assisting with family programs like the coat drive, Ready-to-Learn school supplies distribution and Adopt-a-Family holiday gift programs.

“We are so grateful for such tremendous support from our community,” said Larson. “We couldn’t do the work we do without our caring community partners, amazing volunteers and generous donors.”

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