Grant helps local leader accomplish her dream

Victoria Krook splits her time at Brooklyn Center Middle and High School working as coordinator of the Health Resource Center and in the Family Resource Room. She is a 2012 Bush Foundation grant recipient and will reduce her hours at the high school next year to focus on her outreach to Latino families. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)

Since Victoria Krook moved to Brooklyn Center in 1997, she has developed the dream to help families – especially in the Latino community – have access to resources they need.

Krook, 43, has two kids, Isabella and Alex, enrolled at Earle Brown Elementary School and a daughter, Melissa, studying at the University of Minnesota. She began to see the needs of families and how she could help through volunteering in the Brooklyn Center School District when her kids started school.

Two years ago, after accepting a job as Health Resource Center Coordinator at Brooklyn Center Middle and High School, Krook moved even closer to fulfilling her dream.

Krook, also working in the Family Resource Room at the school, serves as a language interpreter for students and families and on a larger scale works to eliminate barriers they have to their education and services.

Now, with the news she is a recipient of a $75,000 Bush Fellow grant from the Bush Foundation, Krook has her own extra resources to get families the help they need.

The Bush Foundation, started in 1953 by 3M Executive Archibald Bush and his wife, Edyth, focuses on funding projects that help people solve problems in their communities.

Already a leader

Twenty-nine fellows received grants from the foundation this year, with 10 announced as recipients in October.

Krook will officially start her project on Jan. 1, 2013 and work on it for the next four years.

“It’s based on what I am doing here with families,” she said. “I encounter the different barriers that we as a Latino community encounter, not only because of the language but also because the school system is totally different,” Krook said, describing her project.

Krook was born in Mexico and came to Minnesota at age 15 in an exchange student program at Richfield High School.

“When I first came (here) I didn’t speak a word of English,” she said. “I can totally relate to my families when they come here. That’s why I want to work really hard to help them because I know what it’s like to come somewhere where everything is different.”

The Bush Foundation’s mission is also to help people who are already leaders in their community, said Allison Stolz, a family physician at the Health Resource Center who encouraged Krook to apply for the grant.

“When I met Victoria, I quickly realized she is a leader in her community,” Stolz said. “I knew that she had a big heart for helping her community and she was frustrated that she wasn’t able to do more for them,” she said.

Stolz will mentor Krook as she works on her project and the Bush Foundation also connects its fellows with additional people to help along the way, she said.

There were 100 applicants and 16 finalists interviewed about their projects, Krook said.

She was nervous before the lengthy interview, Krook said, but excited to talk about her ideas to help in the community.

“I think because I know what I want to do and what I want to accomplish … that made it easier for me to talk about it,” Krook said.

And her support system of Stolz, her husband Steve, and oldest daughter Melissa has really helped her confidence, Krook said.

“I feel very empowered having all these great people behind me,” she said.

Barriers to overcome

During the first year of her project, Krook plans to connect with other agencies with resources for families and work on continuing her own education. She is researching courses to take at the University of Minnesota.

Through the grant, Krook said she would like to ensure organizations with resources for families are accessible to their language and that the people who help them understand the barriers in their culture.

“Ideally it would be helpful to have people from their own culture, but at least if they can work with the Latino families to get them help, that’s part of my plan.”

While Krook is able to inform some families of resources in the community or education system and help break language barriers in her job now, it is a challenge to reach those who don’t want to accept the help.

Barriers to education Krook has noticed include mental health or learning disabilities that students may not know they have or their families don’t accept as a problem.

For example, in Mexico if a student isn’t doing well in school their family accepts that they are not meant to be there and encourages them to work instead, she said.

“If they know that the students have barriers, whether it’s a mental health issue or whether it’s a learning disability (and) if they know there is actually help for those barriers and conditions, then hopefully they’ll reach out and ask for the help,” Krook said.

Support for the long run

Based on her own experiences in education after moving to Minnesota, Krook said she knows how additional resources and education about services can help families.

She graduated high school in Richfield and studied at Normandale Community College and North Hennepin Community College, but didn’t accomplish what she planned there.

“I worked really hard to earn the money, I just didn’t have the guidance,” Krook said.

Helping families learn about education options after high school is another goal Krook has through her Bush Fellow project.

“If we can get them the help they need, they will be more present in school and learn and I hope we can increase the graduation rate by giving students support they need,” Krook said.

After Krook starts her project, she will need to reduce her working hours at the Health Resource Center or Family Resource Room, she said.

“They’re both very important to me. It’s going to be a little bit tough, but I know in the long run I am going to benefit the families more,” Krook said.

“I am going to be helping a lot more people if I follow through with my plan,” she said. “I just want them to know that I am here for them.”