The purpose of the Bemidji Early Childhood Collaborative is to promote culturally-responsive healthy development, quality education, superior childcare, and family support for children ages birth through five in the greater Bemidji community. This vitally important work is accomplished through the power of collaboration, community outreach, and advocacy for early childhood mental health and overall well-being.
Bemidji Early Childhood Collaborative (BECC) is a non-profit organization officially established in October of 2018. BECC was formed by members of the organizations Bemidji Thrive Initiative and Bemidji Early Childhood Initiative after their dissolutions. Some of our current programs have been established for years originating from Thrive and ECI such as MAP, Gather and Grow, and the professional education conferences. BECC is comprised of over 80 professionals in the community who are passionate and dedicated to improving the lives of families with young children.
BECC is directed by Cailee Furer, M.Ed with the support of a strong and devoted board of directors. Through collaboration and innovative ideas, we are able to work together to support those who work in a variety of professional fields related to Early Childhood and positively impact families with young children in our community. Programs that are represented by BECC encourage and support relationships with parents, developmentally appropriate and positive social and emotional learning, infant and early childhood mental health, and collaboration. BECC hosts a multitude of projects and programs to bring awareness, education, and advocacy to the critically important early years and whole family, two-generational approach.
Board of Directors
Kami Kelm is a licensed social worker and the case manager for First Steps to Healthy Families with Beltrami County Health and Human Services.
Wendy Kalass Thompson is the Executive Director of Beltrami Area Service Collaborative (BASC), an entity that focuses on children’s mental health and family wellbeing. Wendy has served in this position since 2013 and prior to that was an independent consultant for nonprofits, tribal entities, local government and collaborations. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Social Studies/Political Science with a minor in Secondary Education from Hamline University as well as a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of North Dakota. On her office wall is a framed picture of a lake dock that says “Dive in,” a reminder to do what we can every day to work toward community wellbeing.
Jessica Croatt Niemi, MSSW LICSW IMH-E(IV) provides mental health and consultation services through Lake Country Associates in Bemidji MN, specializing in work with young children, their caregivers, and early childhood professionals. She has been involved with Bemidji Early Childhood Collaborative, since its beginning as Thrive. She is an Advisory Board Member of the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health- Infant and Early Childhood Division; an instructor at the University of Minnesota- Institute for Child Development; and a Supervisor of the MN Department of Human Services- Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. She holds her graduate degree from University of Wisconsin- Madison and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. She holds an Endorsement as an Early Childhood Mental health Mentor. Today’s inspiration- Do not let the perfect get in the way of the possible.
Lydia Pietruszewski is fortunate to have the opportunity to celebrate childhood every day in her role as Director and Educarer at Pine Pals Intergenerational Learning Child Care and Preschool. She continues to be integral in the imagination and realization of all aspects of this unique community asset. She is committed to holistic, inclusive care and education and has demonstrated this by approaching completion of her master’s degree in Special Education with Early Childhood emphasis. Before embarking on her adventure in childcaring, she worked for 10 years as a licensed science educator in middle and secondary education until she was compelled to devote herself full-time to learning from the children that she gave birth to. A daughter of the woods and wild water, she is inspired by the wonder and awe she has experienced and witnessed in the small humans she knows as they explore the world around. When Lydia isn’t learning from her children at work, she can usually be found wandering in the pines or dreaming under the stars with all the children she is blessed to call family. If you can’t find her outdoors, well, she is likely playing a lengthy game of hide and seek…she is hiding - you seek your own spot.
Dr. Layna Cole is an Associate Professor in the Professional Education Department at Bemidji State University. She first came to Bemidji State University in the fall of 1986 as an undergraduate student. She has degrees from Bemidji State University, St. Cloud State University and University of North Dakota. She returned as a faculty member in the fall of 2018 in Professional Education. Dr. Cole specializes in early childhood education, parent and family education, and teaching and learning (for all ages).
Jennifer Casey is an Adult Mental Health Case Manager at Beltrami County Health and Human Services. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Psychology: Human Services with a minor in Community Health from Bemidji State University and recently received her Masters of Science in Disability Human Services through Minot State University. She has worked in many different areas of Mental health during her professional career. She wanted to get more involved in the community and has been given this great opportunity to serve on the Bemidji Early Childhood Collaborative Board.