“Navigating through life”

My Grandpa, Dad and Uncle were from the old school when it came to their kids – “train up a child in the right ways and they will not depart from it”. They were all about setting a true course in life, Dad and Uncle Dick were Navy Captains in WWII. This core value played out in our family, with the children going to work with their Dad at an early age. In my case, when I wasn’t in school from the age of eight, I loved going to work with my Dad, Uncle, and Grandpa. They taught me how to build a house from the ground up, with my own hands and at the end of the work week, there was never any doubt about what we did, the structure was right there before our eyes.
Many years later, a good friend and fellow building contractor once asked me, “What’s your idea of heaven?” I told him “A field filled with cap loads of fresh lumber as far as the eye can see, and the boss of the place saying, ‘Go and build!’” Much in our lives is not so easy to see because our efforts are not as apparent.
A construction injury compelled me to explore other careers, as I had to cease doing “hands-on” construction. So I have been, off and on for four years, working with Community Action. I have traded fields of lumber for communities of families, and it’s been a good change. A family is a lot like a house, both have a foundation and a structure, and inside its safe and secure with a place to grow and to train up our children. My job at community action is to help strengthen families. Everyone here at Tri-CAP, in one capacity or another, is about that same task – to strengthen families. So what do we do? We try to find out about your dream, your ambition, and through our different programs we help you reach that dream by overcoming the road blocks in your life.
Charting a course through life and navigating through the challenges that we all face can be a daunting proposition. Every family, every head of the household, every individual needs to chart their course through life. If you don’t have a map (goal) and a compass (to find your place on the map) and a rudder (to steer your course) you will be lost and adrift, subject to whatever wind is blowing. Without establishing a budget and accounting for your income and expenses, you will never be in charge of your finances or your direction in life. If you can’t pay your bills, or don’t have enough set aside each month for fuel, electricity and the other necessities, consider two things: 1) decide to make some changes and call Tri-CAP for financial counseling and our other programs. 2) Take charge of your destiny and set up a budget. Do these things and by next year, you will start to be in command of your direction in life.
Energy tip for this month: Know and understand your energy bills and energy consumption, and take positive steps to decrease your energy usage and expenses. Set up a budget and chart a new course.
By: Stephen Bjorklund

Posted in Updates

How’s your tepee?

I’ve been a homebuilder and an outdoorsman for most of my life, and over the years have become convinced that the First Americans, the mighty plains tribes, were some of the most gifted home designers of all times. The Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne came up with the Tepee, a structure made from buffalo hides stretched over a scaffold of poles. They could set up or take down these structures quickly, and transport them on a travois rack behind their ponies. The tepee was warm in the winter and cool in the summer and kept out the worst storms that the plains could muster in any season. The structural design allowed for nearly perfect ventilation by simply opening or closing the door flap or the larger central roof flaps. This detail allowed for a central fire pit to act as the stove for cooking, and for warming the inhabitants during the winter months. They used the “stack effect” to safely exhaust the fire smoke.
We have lost the simplicity of the tepee in our structures, but the physics of our home systems has not changed all that much. Our modern structures are so complex that we were obliged to devise a new branch of science, naming it “Building Science”. In other words, with our new homes we attempt to do what the Native Americans did so well 200 years ago, make our homes warm, dry, efficient and safe.
It boils down to a few basics: Is your home sealed against the wind rain and snow? Do you have enough power to light up your home and run your gadgets? Can you afford to pay for your heat in the winter and keep your lights burning throughout the year?
When things got tough, the Sioux and Cheyenne could pack up their tepees and move to greener pastures or better hunting grounds. It’s not that easy for most of us – we have to stand our ground and make the best of the home that we have. So how’s your tepee doing? If you have problems with your structure, or you are struggling to pay your heating and electrical bills, call Tri-CAP and find out about our available programs. We are here to serve you, we want your home to be safe, warm and affordable.
This month’s energy tips: Close the blinds and draperies on cold winter nights, open them up on sunny winter days and let Mother Nature help to keep your energy bills in check. Plant pine trees to the North and West of your house (they keep their needles and block out winter winds); and Oaks and Maples to the South and East. (Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the cold season, allowing more warm sunshine into your house, and these same trees shade your home in the summer). The plains Indians utilized the natural order of things to their best advantage, and so can you. There’s one more thing that you can do – give Tri-CAP a call and find out how we may be able to help.

By: Stephen Bjorklund

Posted in Updates Tagged

Harvest Season

We find ourselves once again in that magical season of fall. What memories of childhood awaken with the first bracing chill of September! The new generation of ducks and geese are able to fly with their family now, and they busy themselves seeking the ripening crop fields. The harvest is on and the wheat and sweet corn await the stewards of the field. The children have returned to school, the Maples and Sumac are dressed in the colors of fall. All creatures large and small are invigorated, compelled to heightened levels of industry. The pace quickens, the pulse quickens, the first grand migration – that of the monarch butterflies – is under way, and the question arises, are WE ready for the change in seasons?
I must admit that I am never totally prepared for late fall and the onset of winter. The extent of my preparation often depended on the choices I made leading up to the emerging season. Did I fix the roof and fill the propane tank? When the first snow falls have I looked back on my choices with regret and apprehension? Some years, my honest answer would be yes.
The bottom line is that we all have choices. We all make short term decisions that have long term consequences. My Grandfather, a budget conscious type from the old country (Sweden), told me when I was eight that just because I have an itch doesn’t mean that I should scratch it. I think that I was close to thirty before the truth of that nugget of wisdom sunk in. His other gem was “It doesn’t matter what you make, it’s what you save that counts.” He distrusted institutions, and he made it through the collapse of Wall Street and the subsequent bank failures relatively unharmed. (He slept on a lumpy mattress stuffed with cash from his masonry and plaster business – and I won’t discuss the bootlegging).
Anyway, if you also made some decisions you regret this past year, don’t take it too hard. Just make the decision with me to try some new strategies for next year. In the meantime, if your propane tank is on empty, or if you need help setting up a household budget, or if your home structure needs weatherization, if you could use a little help with your energy bills, or if there isn’t enough cash at the end of the month for groceries, call Tri-CAP and find out if we can help. We want to see short term decisions that result in long term financial freedom for your family, and we are here to help you get there and achieve your goals.
Energy tip for this month: Fill up your refrigerator and your chest freezer, it takes less energy to keep food fresh when the coolers are full. Buy your groceries in bulk, watch for the specials, make a list when you shop and only buy off the list – pass the rest by. Replace your old freezer and refrigerator with new energy star rated appliances, (some electric utility companies have appliance replacement programs – ask Tri-CAP) and save on next year’s energy bills. Don’t be that guy, like me, that is full of self-reproach when the first snow falls.
Written by: Stephen Bjorklund

Posted in Updates

Freedom of Movement

In America – we can move from city to city and state to state without identity papers. In many other countries, to travel you must have papers. There are border checkpoints with guards and guns and dogs, and don’t think you can pass from one small country to the next without them. All of these requirements and checkpoints can limit the freedom of travel in those areas.
So what limits our freedom of movement in America? MANY THINGS. Some of us don’t have a car, some have limited resources, some have the financial resources but are too busy at work to stop, go home, and ferry the children to their activity. Some are handicapped or have mobility issues (stairs or steps are out).
We have some good news for you! Tri-CAP Transportation is for everyone, regardless of income or mobility. If you have young children that need to ride by themselves, if they can handle the ride solo, there is no age restriction! The driver will see that they get on and off safely. The driver won’t let the child off the bus unless it’s safe and a responsible person is there to receive them. If you have mobility issues, each bus is equipped with a lift for those in a wheel chair or for those who have trouble with steps. (If you need an attendant, call for specifics on policy).
What’s the cost? Community service is $1.25 per boarding or stop. Rural trips are $3.00 per boarding. Just call the dispatch for a ride at (320) 251-1612, or 1-888-765-5597. Check our service areas online at We serve Benton, Morrison, Sherburne and Stearns Counties. Tri-CAP Transit Connection provides curb to curb service, so be sure to call and book your ride, and busy working parents, consider Tri-CAP for your kid’s rides while you are at work.
Chris Heid has worked for Tri-CAP Transportation for 16 years, and she is the Operations Manager. She wants me to pass on a question, “What is it that you need by way of transportation?” Call us at Tri-CAP and let us know and we’ll pass it along to Chris. Freedom of movement is our goal for you, so please, keep in touch.
Mid-summer energy tips: Use fans to move cooled air from your air conditioned spaces to where it’s needed, allowing you to turn down your A/C. Another option: leave the air off entirely and place a fan where the people are. Unoccupied rooms don’t need to be air conditioned. This will save you a bunch – more than enough for you to take the family on a Tri-CAP bus ride for a mid-summer adventure!

Written by: Stephen Bjorklund

Posted in Updates Tagged ,

Good Timing

An introduction to our new Tri-CAP monthly blog
Stephen Bjorklund, Energy Consultant
You have heard that timing is everything. As a young man, husband, father and building contractor, I struggled with the ups and downs of the construction business. Our family income was never the same for any two years in a row – but our bills were the same. With a growing family (2 boys and 2 girls), our bills actually increased month by month. We struggled during those years and I never really knew that there were resources, like the local Community Action Agency, that could help with some of our tough times. Even if I had known about these resources, I may have been “too proud” to ask for assistance. I had this notion that as a “good American”, I should find a way to make it on my own.
I think it says somewhere important, that “pride goes before a fall”. I think I fell a lot in those early family years. Now I’m considerably older and my children have their own families, and I have changed my point of view. If you really consider American history, we as a people are unique in the world because we, without hesitation, will help a neighbor to raise their barn, or if they are incapacitated by the vagaries of life, we’ll help them bring in their harvest. Sure, we’re creative, self-reliant and we embrace the American “can-do” philosophy. But when we are able and we see a need – we extend a helping hand. Our strength as Americans is our strength together.
Here’s the deal: Community Action Agencies exist for people like that proud young man (me), who struggled at times to put food on the table or fuel in the furnace when it was ten below outside. Pride is a poor excuse for a parent with a hungry or cold child.
To get to the heart of the matter, get real with your situation, get the help available, get healthy, get strong – and before you know it, you will be in a position to extend a helping hand to others. Life is a great circle, we’re in it together and we’ll succeed together.
Tri-CAP is starting a monthly blog with stories and helpful hints on a wide range of topics and opportunities. One month we may investigate solar powered yard lighting, or how to raise a vegetable garden on a space as small as your apartment balcony. We may give you tips on how to earn extra income, tips that work! Here’s your tip for today, turn your water heater temperature down to 120 degrees or less, and save up to ten per cent on your energy bills. We’ll keep in touch, so watch for our monthly blog. Timing is everything, maybe it’s time for you to call Tri-CAP and introduce yourself to a whole bunch of good Americans, people just like you.

Posted in Energy, Self Sufficiency, Updates Tagged , ,

May is National Community Action Month

Tri-County Action Program, Inc. (Tri-CAP) is the local Community Action Agency for the counties of Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns. As we celebrate National Community Action Month, we invite you to get to know Community Action, by learning who we are and what we do.

Community Action has been putting a human face on poverty for more than 50 years while advocating for those who don’t have a voice, helping to replace despair with opportunity. Community Action serves 99% of America’s counties in rural, suburban, and urban communities providing much needed services and opportunities to millions of people. Community Action helps to improve lives and communities by providing financial education, pre-employment training, housing assistance, energy assistance, asset development, tax assistance, transportation, home ownership, weatherization and much more.

Community Action Agencies strike poverty at its source by implementing innovative programs created to meet local needs. We assists veterans, senior citizens, families, children, students, and everyone in between and because of this there are people who have not only risen out of poverty, but have been able to purchase homes, get college degrees, and start their own businesses. Lives touched by Community Action go on to contribute to and create new possibilities for those around them.

Community Action past, present, and future is an essential aspect of promoting economic security which in turn enhances stronger communities throughout America. Whether you are interested as a client, employee, or stakeholder, we invite you to learn more about    Tri-CAP and join us in celebrating National Community Action Month.

Posted in Updates Tagged

An invitation to take the DHS survey!

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is conducting a consumer survey. They are asking your help by participating in an online or telephone survey.
It’s easy to participate. You can take the survey:
• On-line – Go to:
• By telephone – Call 1-888-328-2972 at Wilder Research and ask for Gail Campbell.
The survey is confidential. All of your answers will be private. No one will know who took the survey or what was said.

Also, as a thank you for your time, all who complete the survey will be invited to enter a raffle for several $100 gift cards to Target or Walmart.

Please complete the survey by April 30th, 2015.

Posted in Updates

Paying a Penalty for Not Enrolling in Healthcare Coverage in 2014? Special Enrollment Period for 2015 Coverage Began March 1

Special enrollment period allows Minnesotans to reduce tax penalty for 2015
ST. PAUL, Minn.—Minnesotans who must pay the tax penalty for not having 2014 health care coverage, and who did not enroll in 2015 health care coverage during the most recent open enrollment period, can still enroll into coverage for 2015 during MNsure’s recently announced special enrollment period. Getting enrolled during this special enrollment period will substantially decrease the amount of a 2015 tax penalty they may have to pay, depending on when they complete enrollment.
Minnesotans who did not enroll into 2014 health care coverage will still be responsible for the 2014 tax penalty, but this special enrollment period will help minimize 2015 tax penalties for those who enroll.
“We realize that some consumers are subject to a tax penalty due to either a gap in or lack of 2014 coverage,” said CEO Scott Leitz. “The penalty for 2015 is significantly higher, so to help Minnesotans reduce the amount they have to pay for missing the February 15 enrollment deadline, we’ve created this special enrollment period.”
This special enrollment period began on March 1 and ends on April 30, 2015.
To take advantage of this special enrollment period, consumers must complete the online application and enroll at Upon completion, eligible consumers must contact the MNsure Contact Center, where they will need to attest to their eligibility for this special enrollment period. More information about this process is located at under Special Enrollment.
Coverage would begin on April 1 for consumers who are eligible and complete enrollment by March 15. Coverage would begin on May 1 for consumers who complete enrollment by April 15, and coverage would begin on June 1 for consumers who complete enrollment by April 30.
Any consumer with questions should call the MNsure Contact Center. The Contact Center (1-855-366-7873) is now open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This special enrollment period does not apply to those consumers who already purchased 2015 coverage.

Posted in Updates Tagged

Let Earned Income Tax Credit Work For You!

Don’t be the one in five that misses the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)! For the last 40 years, EITC has made life better for millions of workers. If you had earned income in 2014, you may have extra money waiting for you.
Tri-CAP offers free Tax Clinics to help lower-income individuals and families prepare their taxes with a focus on helping individuals claim their special tax credit. If you are an individual and earn $30,000 or less or a family making $50,000 or less, Tri-CAP can help you prepare your taxes. Our walk-in sites are staffed by certified volunteers who offer free electronic filing.

Tax Sites open beginning January 27, 2015

Salvation Army: Mondays, Feb 2-April 13, 4-7 pm* and Saturdays, Jan 31-April 11, 8:30 am-3 pm* (Drop-off available)

Catholic Charities- Food Shelf Location: Tuesdays, Jan 27-April 28, 8:30 am-3:30 pm*

Elk River YMCA: Wednesdays, Jan 28-April 15, 4-7 pm*

St. Cloud Technical & Community College: Thursdays, Jan 29-April 9, 5-7:30 pm* Door 6

Cold Spring District Education Facility: Wednesdays in March: March 4–25, 9:00–11:00 am*

*Designates that doors open 30 minutes before start time

For more information contact Tri-CAP at 320-251-1612/ 1-888-765-5597 or visit

Posted in Updates Tagged

Board of Director Opportunity

Tri-CAP currently has vacancies for the Board of Directors including:
• Sherburne County Low-Income Representative
• Stearns County Low-Income Representative
• Community Representative from the Education Field

The Board meets monthly
on the Third Thursday, 7pm at Tri-CAP Office
1210 23rd Ave. S., Waite Park, MN
Mileage reimbursement and stipends are available to Board members
who meet the low-income representative criteria

Applications available on-line:
Or for more information, contact
Lori Schultz, Executive Director
(320) 251-1612

The Board of Directors for Tri-CAP represents private, public and community interests. We seek dedicated volunteers to apply for membership on the Board of Directors. Board members play an important role in guiding the agency and assisting people currently living in poverty.

Posted in Updates