Fostering the future

IMG_0019Every April, Becker County Human Services sends me this letter asking to help send local foster kids to summer camps and summer sports. A few years ago I opened up about why I’m so passionate about helping our local foster children and how I spent a very short time in a foster home when I was 14. Every time I read this letter I’m reminded how much God has blessed me and how far I’ve come. There is another part of my time in that foster home that I have never shared with anyone except for my husband and I wasn’t planning about ever openly talking about it but our community has lost some amazing people who took their own lives and I know there are people of every age struggling so I’m going to share more of my story in the chance it could save a life or spark random acts of kindness.

I had been through a lot in my 14 years of age but when I ended up in a foster home I hit an all time low. I remember the negative thoughts that ran through my head during that time “You will never amount to anything, you can’t even figure out algebra”, “Why can’t I just be like everyone else”, “Why is it so hard to make friends” “I wasn’t meant to be here”, “God clearly doesn’t love me like he loves everyone else”, “This world will be better off without me”.

I decided while sitting in my bunk in the foster home I couldn’t take life anymore as I saw no hope. That evening I made a plan to take my own life after everyone went to bed and I wasn’t turning back. As I sat there I said goodbye in my head to everyone. Then a little foster kid walked in my room, I think he might of been about 7. He saw the tears in my eyes and he asked if he could give me his teddy bear, his only possession. I was past the age of liking teddy bears but somehow his teddy bear and his words soothed me in that moment. He sat down next to my bed and told me not to be sad that it gets so much better and that everything will be ok. I took a pause from my own situation and thought about this boy who is probably hurting just as bad as me if not worse, missing his parents and he just gave me the only thing that belongs to him. This courageous little boy will never know he saved my life that night. I decided that same day I was going to tough it out and try to be there for the other foster kids who needed me as much as I needed them. I also decided that when I grow up I will try to help foster kids if I ever get the opportunity.

Life is hard especially in those teenage years as you try to navigate the world but it can also be hard when you go through hard times as an adult. It’s easy to listen to our negative thoughts and believe them as truth. It’s easy to think I wish I was more like someone else or I wish my family was more like theirs and not celebrate this amazing unique life we’ve all been given. Now that I’m older I can look back at my entire life in awe at how all these little hardships were Gods mountains for me to climb to take me higher. I pray that you remember daily what a gift you are even when you’re feeling low and I pray if you have the opportunity to be kind that you do it because it can change the world just like that little boy did with his teddy bear. I have four boys and an amazing husband now and I thank God for that little foster boy every day.

This Monday-Saturday I will be donating a percentage of my sales at our stores to help our local foster kids so come on out and shop for a great cause!

Celebrate yourself

20180506_071111It’s been a little while since I did one of my pay it forwards so when a little bird told me about a local woman who is currently going through a challenging time I was excited to get involved :) My goal was to help her find a new outfit to help her celebrate her new look with confidence!

Timber Johnson has been battling psoriasis for 14 years. Back in March, at the recommendation from Mayo Clinic physicians, she made the decision that it was time to shave her head. The reason? The psoriasis medicine had a better chance of being effective when absorbed into her scalp vs. her long hair. While her husband and 3 brothers all stepped up to show support by shaving their heads too, losing her hair significantly impacted her self-esteem. That’s when a mutual friend, suggested that they go and find a few outfits at The Nines that helped her feel as though this new hair-do is part of her new style. Clothes & accessories certainly can’t solve our physical challenges; however, when a person discovers a flattering pair of pants or a top that is cut to accentuate one’s shape, it can change the trajectory of their emotional state. Over the course of a few hours, Timber learned all kinds of fashion tips and tricks for her body shape…and she began to see herself differently. She began to see herself as the beautiful person she is.

Watching Timber at the store yesterday was truly inspirational and a great reminder that when life hands you lemons you put on an awesome outfit and rock it out like the badass God created you to be! When we look good, we feel good. And another thing I know: when we help others…we can feel pretty good too!

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Meet our “Hero” Winner!


Meet our Hero Winner Amanda! We asked all of you last month to nominate your personal hero or someone that inspires you for a chance for her to win an hour of pampering from my staff and I along with a free outfit from THE NINES. The emails poured in and it was so hard to chose one hero after reading so many incredible stories.
Amanda is one fabulous lady but before I tell you about her, another part of this story that we fell in love with was that a complete stranger nominated Amanda. The lady that nominated her wants to remain anonymous and this is part of what she said in her nomination email to us “My hope is only for this dear woman to know there are people, she doesn’t even know, pulling for her. My heart aches for this woman I’ve never met. I’m not sure how much sleep Amanda gets, or if she’s been pampered since the birth of Gannon, but this girl could use some love from out of nowhere!

Amanda and her husband Bobby of Park Rapids, MN have an eight year old son named Gannon who is awaiting a heart transplant. For a little insight into this family’s life for the last eight years read this great article from the Park Rapids Paper about Gannon:

Gannon Wilkins is at the top of the list for a heart transplant and until that call comes his family feels blessed the 8-year-old Park Rapids boy is able to spend this time at home, not in a hospital bed. The pump Gannon carries with him at all times, 24 hours a day, administers medication to keep his heart pumping. This medication pump allows Gannon to live at home, go to school and be as active as his body permits. It also allows the Wilkins family some normalcy in an extremely abnormal and scary situation. It’s been a long journey for the family since doctors first discovered something wrong during Amanda’s pregnancy with Gannon. The family has endured countless hospital stays, tests and frightening uncertainty since.

As the family waits for a donor heart for Gannon, Amanda says they try to enjoy every day and not think too much about what may happen with or without a heart transplant. “It feels like a blessing and a miracle he’s even here,” Amanda said. “We’ve always known from day one every day is a blessing with Gannon.” Gannon was born with Long QT Syndrome, a heart rhythm condition that causes fast, chaotic heartbeats. Doctors also suspect he has a rare condition characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Doctors discovered the genetic anomaly during the sixth month of Amanda’s pregnancy with Gannon while the family was living in New Mexico. Her husband Bobby was stationed there with the United States Air Force.

An ultrasound showed the baby’s heart rate measuring over 400 beats a minute. The baby had severe hydrops, a serious fetal condition where the body fills with a layer of fluid causing congestive heart failure. Doctors gave Amanda the antiarrhythmics medication Flecainide to slow the heart rate. Amanda and the baby were monitored throughout the pregnancy and about six weeks before Gannon was born Amanda said the heart rate looked fine. The hydrops was resolved and doctors stopped the medication but the heart condition returned. That’s when the doctors realized this was something Gannon would be born with. He was delivered three weeks early and spent close to a month in the NICU to regulate his medications.

Gannon is at the top of the transplant list for his size and age at Mayo Clinic in Rochester after going into cardiac arrest in July. He doesn’t like to talk about all the medical procedures he’s been through and shies away from conversation about his heart. Gannon’s heart functions at 15-20 percent. The medications now administered through his PICC line help his heart pump efficiently. Gannon continues with routine trips to Mayo for tests and consultations. Amanda said the doctors have been amazing through the entire journey from New Mexico to Denver and now Minnesota. “They keep him healthy and not panic us. We have the absolutely top doctors in the country,” Amanda said. “They all know Gannon by first name.” When Gannon was 3 ½ years old doctors in Denver, Colorado wanted to try a cardiac ablation, which is a medical procedure that attempts to fix the troublesome area in the heart that is causing the heart to beat too fast. But Gannon’s heart wasn’t big enough for surgery. Medications to regulate his heart rate continued until he was 5 when doctors discovered new arrhythmias in Gannon’s heart. Doctors then had to wean Gannon off meds to now do the ablation. Once back on the meds doctors discovered they no longer worked. Doctors then had to look for another medication combination.

“While in the room with the doctor Gannon got a scared look on his face, his heart rate sped up and he went into ventricular tachydardia,” Amanda recalled. “They called a code blue and had the crash cart come in and were standing over Gannon waiting to shock him.” The IV meds worked to settle his heart rate down.

Bobby requested a transfer from New Mexico and the family moved to Aurora, Colorado for continued care at a children’s hospital. In 2012 doctors decided to place an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD) to regulate the arrythmias. “We got home and everything was going okay,” Amanda said of Gannon, who then was one month shy of his fifth birthday. “Dad and I were downstairs, Gannon was upstairs playing and we heard a blood curdling scream.” Gannon was crying at the top of the stairs. “My husband scooped him up and asked Gannon what was wrong when his whole body jumped and brought my husband to his knees.” Gannon’s ICD was discharging and they called an ambulance. “The ICD discharged 14 times in an hour,” Amanda said. “It did its job but the heart wasn’t cooperating with the defibrillator.”

Doctors in Denver consulted with experts at Mayo Clinic to discuss his case. Bobby retired from the Air Force after a 23-year career and the family moved to Park Rapids in November of last year to be closer to Mayo for Gannon’s continued care. Amanda grew up in Park Rapids and living here provides additional support from family and friends. Amanda said the ICD hasn’t discharged since 2012.

The meds continued to work up to about December of last year when doctors noticed Gannon’s heart function had decreased from 60 percent to 46 percent. They continued with further medical evaluations. While waiting to return to Mayo to see Gannon’s electrophysiologist his heart function dropped to 25 percent. Doctors tried new medications to figure out a solution. Weaning Gannon off one med and trying a different one was hard on his heart and in July of this year he went into cardiac arrest at the hospital. Doctors performed CPR and administered emergency medications to get his heart beating normally. An echocardiogram showed his heart function had dropped to 10 percent. At this point the decrease in the heart’s ability to pump moved Gannon the heart transplant list.

The Wilkins family waits as Gannon goes about his life as an 8-year-old boy. He’s a 3rd-grader at Century Elementary. He’s active with limitations, a funny kid who enjoys playing Lego’s, soccer and carpet hockey with older brother Kiergon. He also likes to make crafts and create artwork with his grandmother. Daily activity wears Gannon out but Amanda says it’s worth having her son home with the family and attending school in Park Rapids. “When he gets home from school he’s exhausted. It definitely takes everything out of him,” Amanda said. “We have no worries or reservations about sending him to school. We know they take excellent care of him.” He’s able to attend school because the medication pump he carries gives his heart the ability to function the best it can until the transplant.

“Transplant is the next step. This has to get done,” Amanda said. “I’ve got my phone and it could be any time we get the call.” She tries not to look too far ahead though, instead enjoying the daily routine with Gannon. “The anticipation was very high when he first came home in July. Now, physically and emotionally it can get exhausting,” Amanda said. “We’re in our routine at home. You just can’t think about it, you’d drive yourself crazy. It’s nice to be home. The calmness we have here is greatly appreciated.”

“There’s no way of really preparing for anything,” Bobby added. “We go day by day and see how things pan out.”

The transplant team is in place and ready when the donor heart becomes available. Once the call comes Gannon will fly to Mayo for the transplant surgery. The surgery is expected to take 4-6 hours with inpatient recovery about two weeks. Once discharged, Gannon will have to stay in Rochester for three months. 

My staff and I here at THE NINES were honored to meet Amanda this morning and give her an hour of fun and a new outfit that she so deserved!

If anyone is in the neighborhood there is going to be a benefit in Park Rapids this Saturday for Gannon from 4-7 at the American Legion. You can also follow Gannon’s Heart Journey on Facebook where Amanda posts updates about Gannon.



Nominate your hero!


For those of you new to my store ,THE NINES, and what we’re all about, we often like to do little pay it forwards to local people that inspire us. Sometimes we ask our customers to nominate people they know and sometimes we just happen to run into these amazing people around town.

These little pay it forwards all started on one of my days off when I first opened the store almost 3 years ago. I  was getting a coffee at McDonald’s (yes, there wasn’t a Caribou Coffee in Detroit Lakes back then) and the lady in the drive through was so unbelievably happy and insanely upbeat that it almost scared me at first and it also kind of took my breath away.  I had been getting my morning coffee at that McDonald’s location since I moved back to Minnesota several years ago and the customer service has always been good but nothing like this, that’s why I was so thrown off by her that morning.  I left the drive through so incredibly uplifted and inspired by her that I knew I needed to do something. I told my staff about the lady at McDonald’s and how I felt we needed to let her know how much she is appreciated. I decided if that same happy woman working the drive through was there the following morning I was going to have a $50 gift card ready for her and tell her thank you for brightening up this world with her contagious enthusiasm. She was there the next morning and she was so shocked and excited when I  gave her the gift card. She even visited me at the store after work and hugged me and thanked me.  Sometimes we forget how powerful our words are. Words change people’s lives, as they have mine (but that’s for another blog).

So that’s how this all started and then we decided to get our customers involved! One of my own personal heroes, my Mom, who has served in multiple wars as a flight nurse and has faced obstacles I can’t imagine facing. She’s one of those people that you would never even know has led such an incredible life because she is so quit and humble.   She’s the reason I wanted to reach out to all of you and hear about your personal heroes so we can all learn and be inspired and of course to treat that deserving woman to a new outfit!

Please send me an email and nominate your hero! She could be a friend or co-worker who’s just flat out amazing, someone you know who’s big into helping others or the community or maybe a relative who takes care of everyone but herself. We want to hear her story and give her an hour of pampering while my staff and I have her try on clothes like “Pretty Woman” until she finds the perfect outfit to take home for free! Then we are going to share her story and pictures on our Blog!

Please send your emails to and put “hero” in the subject line. Your hero must live somewhat close to Detroit Lakes or be willing to drive to get here for her mini makeover :)

All emails need to be sent in by the end of February. My staff and I will be picking one lucky winner the first week in March. We are  looking forward to reading about your heroes!


The NINES Takes Las Vegas and Gives Back

Las Vegas, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, we visit markets all over the country to personally shop for all of you that visit our store. However, it wasn’t until a few seasons ago that we had a great idea on how to put the totes and other handouts from vendors to good use.


“Last February at Market in Las Vegas, I had piles of nice tote bags given to me by all of the vendors I buy from at Market. I told my co-workers Uni and Madi, I wish there was something good we could do with these bags since we had no room in our suitcases to take them home with us.

I suddenly remembered the last market trip when I had brought Sheila and Uni and we walked the Las Vegas strip the night before the show. There was a pregnant homeless woman asking for money and I bent down to give her a few bucks and smiled at her. That’s it, we are going to fill these bags with things for the homeless people in Las Vegas!

I know these bags will probably not get them off the streets, but I do remember how nice a granola bar tasted after being hungry during Army Basic Training. When you haven’t showered in days, you’ve been walking for miles in the heat, and you don’t have much to eat, little things like a granola bar or a card from a loved one that says “I love you” are the things that help keep you going.

That’s what these bags were for. We filled over 30 totes with granola bars and other nonperishable snacks from Central Market, shirts from Detroit Lakes T-shirt Company, wet wipes, hand-written inspirational quotes, and other little items to help them on their journey.”

-Lauren Zima, Owner


Each vendor gives us a bag or two for placing an order with them. As a result, we end up with a ton of bags.

Each vendor gives us a bag or two for placing an order with them. As a result, we end up with a ton of bags.

Another unfortunate truth we happened to notice at the same time was the overwhelming amount of homeless people out on the streets, Las Vegas particularly. After brainstorming with Uni, Madi, and myself, we thought it would be cool to take these “freebies” we were receiving and push them forward to someone who may be more in need of them.

So, our plan of action was to fill these bags with general necessities; toothpaste, toothbrushes, baby wipes, and granola bars.  We also thought it may be appropriate to throw some more personal items in the mix such as a notebook, pen, t-shirt, and our favorite inspirational quotes. Central Market in Detroit Lakes donated a gift card for us to purchase granola bars and Detroit Lakes T-Shirt Company donated 2-shirts for every bag we made.


Stuffing the bags with goodies like toothpaste, granola bags, wipes, notebooks, and quotes!

Stuffing the bags with goodies like toothpaste, granola bags, wipes, notebooks, and quotes!


We chose some of our favorite inspirational quotes to write and place in  each bag to personalize it.

We chose some of our favorite inspirational quotes to write and place in each bag to personalize it.


We loaded up The NINES tour bus with 34 bags full of goodies from us to hand out. Our first stop was to find people to hand these out to, so we moseyed over to Fremont Street. On the way there we found a few individuals on the street we pulled over for as well.


Some individuals were begging on lesser known streets, some were found right on Fremont St.

Some individuals were on lesser known streets, some were found right on Fremont St.


The people we met were so grateful, even commenting on the weight of the bags, “It’s so heavy, thank you,” one woman had said. We also met an inventor, telling us his crazy stories of adventures and inventions. A couple of gentlemen were sitting together as Lauren approached them with a bag with two of her boys as one asked “Minnesota?” as she surprisedly answered, “Yes, how did you know?” “Go Packers, Vikings stink,” he said as we all got a good laugh.














As we realized toward the end of the night, we would have a few bags left over and wanted to make sure they went to someone who needed them. We did some research and found a shelter in our area called Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, a shelter that specializes in providing a safe place for adolescents and teens in the Las Vegas area.


Emi Horiai, Interim Programs Manager (right) and Lauren (left) standing outside of the shelter in Las Vegas with our donated bags.

We are always so thankful that we get to personally shop for all of you back home and feel that it is also our job to give back as much as we possibly can, whenever we can. As we filled bags and prepared to do this, Lauren found a quote that particularly struck a cord with her.