Robin Henderson started working at Bert Raney Elementary in 2000 for Dwayne Strand, who was the principal at the time. Strand and some of his staff had written a grant through the Southwest Initiative Foundation to fund a coordinator's job for an Intergenerational program called “Project Respect”. Little did they know they were about to bring a staple to the school system that would be a beacon for decades to come.
“I was lucky enough to get the job and Mr.Strand guaranteed me three years of employment based on the length of the grant that was received” said Henderson. Jump forward to six years later the community, school and program found ways to keep going strong and keep Henderson on staff. “
Thanks to additional funding from PACT 4 and contributions given to the program from local businesses and community organizations we were still doing many wonderful school/community projects all based on giving students at BRE the chance to get to know the elders of the community of Granite Falls” explained Robin. The projects were numerous, and included, helping the Living at Home Block Nurse program and the Senior Advocate with chores to be done for the elderly, delivering dinners to doorsteps, and taking students on a monthly basis to all of the congregate living centers to promote intergenerational relationships.
The program also included activities to celebrate the diversity of the BRE student body and to educate and promote communication between community members of all ages. Henderson continued her career at Yellow Medicine East as the Coordinator of the (YMIC) Yellow Medicine Integration Collaborative and as the Success Coach at the High School until her retirement at the end of the 2020 School year.
Henderson’s strong sense of community involvement made the standard, the bar set, and the beacon lit for the valued position. In the past Henderson formerly managed Bursch Travel for a few years and filled a partial term on the Granite Falls City Council. She attended the Blandin Community Leadership training on behalf of the city of Granite Falls and spent many hours volunteering on committees and projects here in Granite Falls.
Robin is also an active member of the Granite Falls Kiwanis club, often seen working the popcorn stand alongside her husband Mark. Henderson holds a degree from Minnesota State University of Moorhead in merchandising and management.”I found that those particular degrees helped immensely” said Robin, “ being assigned to two different types of jobs in one contract meant that I had to be organized, efficient, versatile and love the challenge of managing meetings, events, time, personnel, appointments,not only for YME, but for the 6 other school districts that belong to the YMIC as well."
Reflecting on her time spent at YME, Henderson recalled “There were many favorite moments throughout the years but one of the most memorable for me was in the first part of my career at YME. It was the year that Southwest Initiative Foundation honored the Granite Falls Community and Bert Raney Elementary by choosing our program, "Project Respect" as their featured youth program of the year. We were honored by being invited to their annual banquet and were allowed to bring students and community members”. Local musician Jerry Ostensoe helped the program and students write a song that was performed during the banquet.
As the Success Coach Robin holds fond memories of times when students would walk into her office and talk about a decision that they had made on the next steps they were taking after graduation, scholarships they had applied for and received, ACT scores they felt good about, a college admission acceptance or job offer that they had received. “Sometimes YME Alumni would either come back to visit me after their first semester in college, or call after a few years on a job and need additional advice, or emailed reference or write a note about their success and their thankfulness for the help that they received not only from me but the staff at YME” Robin noted warmly. “All of these are special memories because I was able to watch them grow and make decisions, set their goals and see them succeed. I could not have asked for a more rewarding career”. As the YME coordinator's Henderson felt most rewarded when the events that were organized for 200-300 middle school and high school students from seven different districts went off without a hitch. “Those days I would come home exhausted but oh so thankful that they were successful”.
Robin's last year of service in public education came in possibly one of the most difficult years public school systems have ever faced. “Covid was difficult. Most often before Covid, I would meet face to face with students and we would go through the college, scholarship and FAFSA applications sitting side by side at computers going step by step to get those completed. Once Covid started it was much more difficult but not impossible to get through the applications. I missed the interactions with the students and it was far more difficult to get all of the pre-registration work for the college courses done for next year” Henderson remarked while lamenting the missed smiles and interaction with students. Sadly many of the last big YMIC events had been meticulously planned for but cancelled due to Covid-19, events normally serving up to 300 students.
For a public servant who has put countless hours into bettering young minds and local organizations efforts, some time off is well deserved. Robin looks forward to spending time at her northern Minnesota lake home with her husband and has big plans for new flower and vegetable gardens. Also passionate about photography, Robin hopes to take some classes to learn and enjoy the hobby and advancing technology better. A skill she will use as she also pursues her goal of future traveling adventures.