Newsmakers: Educational Nonprofit Staffed with Augie Alumni

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09.19.13 — The Reclaiming Youth movement began with the work of three Augustana education professors in the early 1990s: Dr. Larry Brendtro, Dr. Martin Brokenleg and Dr. Steve Van Bockern. Now most of the employees at the Reclaiming Youth International office in Lennox, S.D., happen to be Augustana graduates.

They are Marcia Opland Odland '87, Wendy Warkenthien Beukelman '89, Charity Buus Helleson '98, Nola Brendtro Conner '01 and Angie Buus Roth '02. The other person in the local office, Susan Buus, sent all three of her kids to Augustana, and each of their spouses graduated from Augustana.

KELO-TV aired the following story about the nonprofit organization this week, reproduced with permission.

Helping Children Around the World

September 17, 2013, 10:02 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

LENNOX, SD — On Main Street in Lennox, you'll find a carwash, there's an auto parts store and in between is a laundromat. That's pretty typical for a South Dakota downtown.

Then you'll see a little office. Those who work inside admit that even those in Lennox don't really know what happens inside.

"Our work has been global. I think last count, we've been in well more than 30 different countries," Reclaiming Youth International employee Steve Van Bockern said.

Van Bockern is one of the founding members of Reclaiming Youth International. By working with teachers and other adults, the organization helps kids thrive in today's world.

"Our work is all about helping them get their needs met by working with the adults who often times end up working with those who are struggling, that have challenges," Van Bockern said.

You'll find the group's work in many publications. Basically what it comes down to is children need four things to thrive and instead of looking at weaknesses, they look at strengths.

"Our primary message, no matter where we go and we've never had anybody argue with us, when the needs of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity are met, kids do pretty well," Van Bockern said.

But you still might be asking yourself, why Lennox? That story goes back to history within this community.

"Larry Brendtro and I grew up in Lennox. Our families knew one another and it was only natural that we'd want to maintain our roots here," Van Bockern said.

"It's really great to have a central hub where we can keep everybody connected and take care of the administrative portion of our business and really be able to let our trainers be wherever they're needed in the world," marketing and event coordinator Angie Roth said.

Roth grew up in Lennox too. There are currently six people employed here, but Reclaiming Youth International has dozens of contributors from all around the world.

"We have a lot of training in Canada, a lot in the U.S. and we also have branches in Germany and Ireland and Australia and we do it, really, all over the world," Roth said.

When the organization came to be, it focused on at-risk youth. Today, that has shifted to helping all children and those who work with them.

"To train teachers, counselors, juvenile justice workers in these strength based approaches is really vital for the wellbeing of all children," Roth said.

"People talk about kids as our future, we really see children having a right to life right now," Van Bockern said.

And while the organization hopes to continue to expand it's reach, those who work here say it will stay rooted where it all began, in Lennox, South Dakota.

"You know, it is something I always wanted to do when I grew up, so knowing that and really helping to make an impact with kids, it is very rewarding," Roth said.

"We're just really glad we can contribute in small ways, yet big ways, in this world," Van Bockern said.

Reclaiming Youth International holds training sessions around the world and also regular sessions. The yearly session is in the Black Hills and there's now a bi-annual training held in Sydney, Australia.