fbpx Investing in Positive Experiences
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on June 11, 2024

A recent grant from the Thielen Foundation funded some major improvements at Nexus-Gerard Family Healing, such as refurbishing their baseball field and recreation room, and adding a new playground. This grant also provided Nexus-Gerard the ability to create and support a new Recreational Coordinator position. This position plays an integral role in creating a fun, connected environment for the youth at Nexus–Gerard, planning both on- and off-campus activities.  

Recreational Coordinator Lucas Braun has been with Nexus-Gerard since May of 2016. Lucas graduated with a degree in psychology and started at Nexus-Gerard as an intern, found he enjoyed working with youth and became a Youth Care Professional (YCP) and working his way up to Milieu Lead.  

“I liked to plan and execute the activities,” said Lucas, “…like camping trips, fun off-campus activities with the dorm, it seemed to be where I was making the most impact…I’d have a lot of conversations with the kids in the dorm, forming inside jokes and having shared experiences together.” 

So, when this new grant from the Thielen Foundation came with an opportunity for Nexus-Gerard to support the Recreation Coordinator position, Lucas applied for the job.  

Creating Positive Experiences

Before this new position was created, the Milieu Leads would plan activities for their respective dorms, but now that Lucas’s position exists, they have one dedicated employee who can focus on creating fun, new, and educational activities and trips for all youth at Nexus-Gerard. These activities and adventures not only provide a fun break for youth from their daily routines but helps foster deeper connections and relationships between youth and Nexus-Gerard employees, relationships that are a crucial part of their healing journeys while in the program.  

The Thielen Foundation also offered Nexus-Gerard $5 tickets to their yearly Charity Softball Game. Every year, the Thielen Foundation hosts a Charity Softball Game, where players from the Minnesota Vikings will volunteer to play at the CHS field in St. Paul, Minnesota, with proceeds from the game going to support the Thielen Foundation. It’s a great way to see your favorite football players on the field and support a good cause.  

Lucas and his team coordinated a group of 30 youth to attend the game at CHS Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.  

“I opened it up to everyone…we did end up taking a sizeable group,” said Lucas. 

“The game itself was great, the kids had so much fun seeing the Vikings players on the field, between innings the players would walk around the field so people attending the game could say hi to them…so between every inning we had kids hanging over the railing yelling ‘Hey what’s up Justin Jefferson!’ yelling hi at all the players.” 

Kindness Is Contagious

“Two of our oldest boys were sitting next to another family at the game and caught one of the softballs that came off the field,” said Lucas, “The little girl next to him asked him for it, and he actually ended up giving it to her.” 

Lucas was proud of this youth for sharing and told him that was a kind and considerate action to do. Then later in the game, the youth next to him also caught a ball, and inspired by the other youth’s act of kindness, then gave the ball he caught to the youth who gave his away! 

“He goes ‘here, to make up for the one you gave to that little girl’,” said Lucas, recounting the story. “I told him ‘Dude, that’s awesome, looking out for each other, looking out for the person next to him,’ that moment has really stuck with me.” 

People say “kindness is contagious”, and that day it was for Nexus-Gerard youth.  

Some may wonder, “What’s so special about a softball game?”. But for Nexus-Gerard youths, the benefits from something as simple as a road trip to St. Paul are immensurable, from just getting a break from their daily routine on campus, to learning social skills and interacting with strangers at the game, like ordering a hot dog at the stadium, or in a touching moment with one of the youth, sharing a foul ball with another child who didn’t catch it. Some youths aren’t fully comfortable in large crowds, the exposure gives them an opportunity to experience one in a safe environment with people they know.  

“If they’re surrounded by their peers, staff, people they trust, then they can move around in large crowds with less anxiety,” said Lucas, “…social interactions are also important….if we are getting food, I won’t order for you, I’m going to have you do it, so they learn how to step up and learn how to place an order with someone they don’t know.”  

Another important aspect is it motivates them to complete their stay at Nexus-Gerard because they know what the outside world has to offer. 

“I’ll have kids say to me on the dorm ‘Lucas, I want to go home’ and I say ‘that’s good you want to go home,’” said Lucas “The off-campus activities, especially the big ones, reminds them that there is an outside world, there are all these things to live for and work towards, it sets the tone for the rest of their stay at Nexus-Gerard…I’ll say, ‘Let’s get your treatment done with so you can go and enjoy and explore what the world has to offer.’”  

These actions that some may take for granted, like ordering a meal or interacting in a crowd, are important learning steps for Nexus-Gerard youth, who don’t always have safe adults in their lives to teach them these social basics.  

Thanks to the investment of Thielen Foundation, Nexus-Gerard now has Lucas to help plan these meaningful experiences and opportunities.   


Updated Recreation Room at Nexus-Gerard

Brand new playground at Nexus-Gerard


Refurbished baseball field at Nexus-Gerard