Though this story doesn’t have direct ties to downtown Fargo-Moorhead, it’s being published on “Doing it Downtown” because of significant public interest in the Perham parents’ methods — both in Perham and in the region. Media practitioners refer to a story of this nature as a “talker” — anybody who reads it or hears of it has something to say … an opinion to share. Fargo media and Minnesota Public Radio have covered the story also.
By Kayla Van Eps, MSUM multimedia journalism
PERHAM, Minn. — A mother’s new website, ittakesavillageperham.com, has sparked disdain among many teens and adults.
The mom says the website is meant to help teens. In fact, her motivation was growing concern for her son.
Observe the “wild animals”: Don’t forget your camera
The original site opened Oct. 26 with this front page, along with stock photos of people peering through binoculars.
The site urged citizens of Perham to watch teens and young adults. It encouraged them to take photographs and report back to the website with any suspicious activity they find, calling groups of teens “wild animals” and warning potential do-gooders not to approach them. Local high school students were offended by statements on the website referring to teens as “wild animals.”
It Takes a Village website spawns counter website
Creator Holly Baker, of Perham, started the site after discovering her 16-year-old son was abusing drugs. In and out of treatment centers since he was 12, Baker struggled to find ways to help prevent her son’s behavior. Baker said breaking through her son’s secrecy was the key to finally finding a way to help him.
“We realized that the secrecy—nobody knowing his contacts and friends—was the key,” Baker said. “If we could break the secrecy, they would be afraid to be seen going to those places where they bought and/or used illegal drugs and pills. If they knew their texts and Facebook posts were watched, they wouldn’t trade pills or threaten each other’s lives on (Facebook).”
Her son is now in treatment, and Baker said according to her husband, Jeff Baker, there was a death threat posted to her son’s Facebook page by another teen who is now in treatment as well.
In turn, a website called “Perham is Safe,” was created. The creator, who recently identified herself on the site as 16-year-old Haylee Ard, posted “We are not animals. We are teenagers. We deserve privacy and freedom.” Email attempts to contact Ard were not returned. At time of publication, the site run by Ard had been taken down.
Others took to the site, calling Baker’s site “hurtful,” with one commenter posting a story claiming that an unknown woman, who threatened to report her to the police as she was walking home from school, photographed her in public.
Baker said the only negative feedback she has received about the website comes from “teens that don’t want to lose their secrecy.”
In response to teens posting that Baker is stereotyping all teens as drug users and thieves, Baker said, “Stereotyping isn’t saying all teens use drugs. Stereotyping is saying all kids that look a certain way use drugs. I fully believe that if you don’t want to be stereotyped a certain way, don’t look a certain way.”
Perham citizen James Hansen, 28, a Barrel O’ Fun employee, said he has heard mumblings about the site around town, and checked it out.
“If anyone would have put something like that up when I was in high school, I probably would have been bothered by it, too,” Hanson said. “It’s one thing to advocate against teens using drugs and alcohol, but in my opinion, asking the public to photograph teens without consent is downright creepy.”
Every quarrel must come to an end
Last week Baker changed the website content, titling it “Trading services creates good neighbors.”
The site now advocates for neighbors to help each other more by trading services like looking after a neighbors animals while they are gone, helping paint a fence or mowing a lawn.
“We haven’t had any of the public report seeing anything since the very start,” Baker said of the old site. “We don’t believe that it has caused a change. We believe that nobody truly cares enough to take a stand. Since there is more than one way to accomplish anything, the website is being changed to a website we originally wanted to create. Maybe it will help achieve what we were looking for in a roundabout way.”
The site has received a total of 3414 hits as of Dec.7, and as of that date, no one has yet posted any needs or services they could use or provide to their neighbors. Further attempts to contact Baker to follow up on the new website have gone unanswered.
Edited by Brittany Thompson, MSUM Print Journalism