UCAP Executive Director Debi Brandt Featured for Service to Others


"I started as a client, and was treated with the utmost dignity and respect," Brandt said.

She soon found herself on the other side of the partnership when she was told about a part-time position as the Raymond senior dining site manager. She applied and was hired and, as the saying goes, hasn't looked back.

"I drank the Kool-Aid," Brandt said. "It was my calling."

If one looks at Brandt's life so far, community service has been her calling since day one. Both of her parents felt serving the community was important. Her father owned a service station in Raymond, and Brandt remembers helping with customers from a young age. She said her father didn't see what he was doing as just customer service, but also helping to make a difference for others.

Answering the call to help

As a teenager, Brandt thought about being a nurse, but it didn't work out. She and her husband farmed for a bit, but it wasn't until she took that first job with United Community Action Partnership that she really found where she was meant to be.

"Everything I have done in life has been almost a calling," Brandt said. "Sometimes these opportunities plop in your lap; other times you have to look for them."

United Community Action Partnership is among the 24 community action agencies, and 11 tribal nations, that serve all 87 counties under the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, providing programs and services to combat poverty.

Brandt has served in a number of roles for the local agency, including senior dining, children's services and Head Start. Mostly she has been involved with programs and services that help the community, a good fit for someone like Brandt. Three years ago she was offered the opportunity to lead the entire organization, which assists thousands of people in nine counties in the southwest quarter of the state, including Kandiyohi County.

"I would never have imagined that in my wildest dreams," Brandt said of being named executive director. "I feel I have been very blessed along the way, with people supporting me. I am right where I need to be for me as a person to fill my cup."

Last year, United Community Action Partnership assisted 22,000 individual clients through a wide variety of programs such as food assistance, refugee resettlement services, tax clinics, Head Start, housing needs and transportation. Brandt said the top three needs of the agency's clients are affordable housing, child care and transportation.

"Over 80% of the people we work with are employed, (but) they're just not making ends meet," Brandt said.

A program Brandt has especially enjoyed is the car donation program, which accepts donated cars, fixes them up and then gives them to clients in need of safe and reliable transportation.

The Bright Lights Head Start program for early childhood education has also been a success in Brandt's eyes.

United Community Action Partnership also works closely with the area's immigrant population, helping them learn a whole new way of life. The goal is to help families climb out of poverty or at least find themselves in a stable situation.

"It is not doing things to people or for people, but working alongside people and helping them see their potential," Brandt said. "The impact we can have on families and communities is just unbelievable sometimes."

Brandt also loves working with fellow staff. Everyone who works for the organization does so because they want to help.

"I get to come to work every day and work with some amazing co-workers, who are all about making a difference," Brandt said.

Despite already having been part of the United Community Action Partnership family for 40 years and helping thousands of individuals and families better their lives, Brandt has no plans to step aside. Retirement just isn't in the cards yet.

"This gives me joy. Working here fills my cup," Brandt said. "As long as I have breath in me and I'm able to make a difference, I want to do that in any way I can."

Small-town life calls on service

Her work at United Community Action Partnership is just one facet of Brandt's life. The other is involvement in the community of Raymond and its surrounding area.

The community of Raymond holds a very special place in her heart. She was born and raised in Raymond and has never left it. She and her husband, Brian, who was her high school sweetheart, raised three children in Raymond and now have nine grandchildren.

"I love the small-town community life. You know the names of everybody; you know the names of everyone's cats and dogs," Brandt said.

She teaches Sunday school and works with the youth at St. John's in Raymond; serves on the Raymond Harvest Festival Committee; is a MACCRAY School Board member; and recently started T-Ball Tuesday, a chance for 3- to 5-year-olds who couldn't get to regular summer recreation programs to learn and play the game.

Brandt said she loves to be busy, and cherishes the feeling of being part of one big family and how everyone comes together to help one another in times of need.

"There is such power in times of need when you've got all those families surrounding you. I've seen the good that can come out of that," Brandt said. "Small-town living is my magnet."

For the least 20 years, Brandt has served on the Raymond Ambulance crew as an emergency medical services provider, responding to all sorts of calls, including the recent train derailment. Brandt and other ambulance crew members went door to door notifying people of the evacuation, helped those who needed it to get to the evacuation site in Prinsburg and then brought food and drink to all those responding at the derailment scene.

While the train derailment did not result in any casualties, Brandt has been on the scene at many tragic incidents. She said it teaches you a lot about perspective and valuing life.

"That has truly been a life-changing opportunity," Brandt said. "You really don't sweat the small stuff after some of the tragic things you've been a part of."

Brandt doesn't do what she does for any sort of recognition. But, that doesn't mean she hasn't been recognized.

In 1999, Raymond named her the Outstanding Citizen of the Year. In 2018, the Minnesota Community Action Partnership presented Brandt with the Steve Chadwick Advocacy Award, which is given to those involved in a community action partnership who are dedicated to reducing poverty and providing both effective advocacy and leadership in their community.

Over her decades helping others, whether at her father's service station, responding to a car crash, putting on a community celebration or assisting a family in need at United Community Action Partnership, Brandt has seen and experienced the good that can come from reaching out and helping others.

And it isn't just those who receive the help that benefit. Those doing the helping are also rewarded through building a sense of ownership in their community and personal strength to use one's voice to make a difference. She urges others to do the same, in any way that makes sense to them. All it takes is one person to speak up or act to make a significant difference.

"We all have gifts, talents and abilities. Find something that brings you joy," Brandt said. "Use where you are to make a difference in this world."

Brandt hopes she too has used her talents and abilities to help others in some way, whether large or small.

"Hopefully I've made a difference in someone's life, even by just smiling at them; that I've had a positive impact on someone," Brandt said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.
She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.