From youth ministry to DAC leader, he proves himself capable

There are days when Tim Stanoch, 63, goes out the northern Minnesota DAC’s front door to make sure there’s no church steeple on top- he says with a chuckle.

The longtime youth minister is the new executive director of Ita-Bel-Koo DAC (IBK), which serves 16 people with disabilities in Northome, Minn. As the only administrative person, he works with a staff of five. About 70 miles from the Canadian border, Northome is 43 miles northeast of Bemidji.

Experience transfers well

Stanoch is one example of the idea that one need not come from the disability field to lead and thrive in the profession. He served students for 37 years, at Catholic congregations around the Twin Cities and in central Minnesota. Stanoch was also a church business manager, music teacher and he took students on dozens of retreats.

Call it fate, God’s leading, or moving up one’s plans  but the man whose main skill is relationships found fitting work in a town of 200 people. And it happens to be near a place his family has been preparing for decades.

Family’s acreage, home nearby

After returning from central Minnesota to care for ailing parents in the Twin Cities who passed away in recent years, Stanoch’s focus turned again to the family’s 40-acres in Northome.

The land was purchased by his grandfather for hunting in the early 1960s, and the Stanochs have been improving the property ever since. The goal was to retire there.

Others initiate the call, he answers

As Stanoch was living in his parents’ north Minneapolis house, the place where he grew up, a Facebook message came from a Northome neighbor who works at Ita-Bel-Koo DAC.

“She said, ‘Hey, you know, here’s our job description and I think you’d be really good at it,’” Stanoch explained. Another person he knew from the post office and churches in the area also reached out to him about the job.

He started researching the idea and mulling it over. “Well, you know what, Tim? Maybe this is an opportunity to get you up north. Maybe this is where God wants you to be at this point,” he said to himself.

Stanoch put together his resume, highlighting his people experiences, interviewed and was offered the position. “I put my clothes in the car and moved up to the cabin, which became my house,” he said. Going back to the cities for a couple of months on the weekends, he cleaned out the other house and readied it for sale. “And the rest is kind of history.”

Same people principles apply

He went from serving junior and senior high students and their parents to a DAC client age range of 20 to 77 years old. “A lot of it is just being open, transparent and communicating with both the clients and staff,” Stanoch said.

As many Minnesota programs struggle with staffing levels, Ita-Bel-Koo is very close to the client-to-staff ratio it needs. Two of his staff work five days per week, one works four, one works three and one works one day.

If a staff member doesn’t show up, Stanoch is out on the floor learning new things. This and the business side of the work have been a trial by fire, he said.

Trained in speech, short stints in finance led to youth ministry

On the bookwork side, he could draw on his experience as a church business manager. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he first worked in auditing for individual retirement accounts. He was also a bank teller in college, while he earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication.

His entry into youth ministry happened soon thereafter when a former principal at a church he attended called and offered him a youth ministry job in St. Louis Park. Working there for 12 years, it was his longest stint. Then, it was on to parishes in St. Paul Park, Buffalo, Avon, Sauk Rapids and Golden Valley when his parents started needing care.

The varied experiences, Stanoch said, gave him a really broad sense of where people are coming from. He found the culture in central Minnesota was different from the Twin Cities. “I had some waking up to do . . . it was different, it was good, and it gave me those experiences,” he said.

Ita-Bel-Koo is short for Itasca, Beltrami and Koochiching counties. Each is about the size of the entire Twin Cities seven-county metro area, 3,000 square miles, but together, the counties have less than 3.5 percent of the population of the cities.

Community engagement changes with COVID

For the IBK clients who work outside the facility, COVID shut down some cleaning opportunities. The jobs were later filled by other people from the community, so the director is looking for more ways people can get out and engage.

The ministry world is one filled with new ideas and excitement, and those elements are now in play at the DAC. He hopes to do a car wash for the community and involve his people in community garden work.

The DAC also helped one client to volunteer with a local “pop up” pantry run by Second Harvest Foods. “He was a rock star at helping people get things into their cars, carrying boxes for them,” the executive director said. Volunteers want the DAC client to come back.

Another client shovels snow for an elderly person down the street. As people are being served by the program, they too, can serve others in the community, Stanoch said. “I think that might just be a little bit of the ministry piece in me too.”

The nonprofit is partnering with a local school so one of its clients can work in the lunchroom. Stanoch wants to meet further with school leaders to see about others who might participate. There’s a chance that some may assist with beekeeping too.

Creative woodworking showcases talents

Practical and decorative wood crafts created by clients and staff are popular in the small town. An in-house loom is used for made-to-order rugs in various colors.

To showcase the people and their craftsmanship, an open house at the DAC last summer generated strong sales. Clients baked cookies days in advance and ran the grill to serve a free lunch.

The event had a patriotic theme with a music program with the clients led by Stanoch, who, not coincidentally, had taught music in an elementary school for five years.

“Over 100 people came, and we’re a town of 200 people, so I thought that was pretty good,” said Stanoch. “The other benefit was that our store (because of sales) had never been so empty.”

Also in 2021, more than a handful of clients traveled to a lake home to transport a piano that was given to the program. With Stanoch at the keys and others learning, the group sings songs together.

Simple changes, like swapping out a solid front door to one with a window, are making the DAC more inviting to visitors.

People might hesitate at first to go say hello to the clients, so Stanoch and the staff try to make them feel comfortable. Some will start conversations. People from IBK are also recognized in the community.

“When they go to a restaurant, they’re hugging each other when they leave and things like that,” said Stanoch. “So, they feel the love of the community, as well.”

Calm, adaptive is name of the game

The new executive director’s calm demeanor may be evidence of a highly adaptive person who responds well to challenges. He’s helped many students in crisis situations.

Stanoch said there’s plenty of burnout in youth work, with the average youth minister staying in one job for just three years. His times at churches were often longer.

Living without conveniences an adjustment

To live in Northome is to give up many conveniences. Stanoch used to drive by several McDonald’s restaurants on his way to work and liked picking up food in the drive through. Now that happens every three to four weeks.

“You don’t do that here. You order on the phone and, 30 minutes later, maybe go pick it up,” he said. Northome has three restaurants.

Fingerprinting for Stanoch and any new staff can be delayed, as well, because there is no place within 35 miles that offers such a service.

The DAC leader will sometimes drive 55 miles to buy grocery items he can’t get locally. “I’m learning and I’m moving with it. You just don’t run to the corner Walmart or Best Buy anymore,” he said. Some items have to be ordered online.

There will be more shopping in the near future as the DAC turns 50 this year and a celebration may be in order.

“The people up here are just a real joy to serve,” said Stanoch.