By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Communications

Outlined by historic trees and prairie blue sky, Central Cass Public School in Casselton is picture perfect. But like any community or school there’s more than meets the eye.

That’s why what’s behind this door is so important. This room houses the Central Cass TreeHouse—an on-campus pantry with a 21st century twist.

“We started the Central Cass TreeHouse, which is an on campus pantry as well as a technology app which empowers our middle school and high school to tell us about any physical, mental or social need,” said Central Cass TreeHouse founder Heidi Domier. “And we’ve done a number of other specialty services that we provide to students, we do haircutting, we provide free feminine hygiene products in every middle school and high school girls bathroom. We do athletic totes to provide food for food insecurity for our athletes, all sorts of things we contribute to the school so teachers and administrators can meet the basic needs of students without using their own personal finances.”

The app allows students to confidentially request items like food, clothing and hygiene products. In addition, they’ve connected with Cass Hope — a youth mental health and suicide prevention group in Casselton. “Students, from the app, can also tell us about a mental health emergency, tell us if they’re worried about a friend, they can schedule time with a school counselor, they can talk and text with FirstLink. We really want to take a lot of the amazing work other organizations are doing and build upon it and put it in a single source solution for our students,” Domier said.

Besides the TreeHouse, in-school pop up shops like this allow students to confidentially shop for items they need.

The Central Cass TreeHouse has been up and running for about a year and a half and educators say it’s making a difference in the lives of students.

“We had a student who, their shoes were — they had holes in their shoes and we brought the child down to the TreeHouse, and I got to see how excited they were when they got to pick out their own shoes and they were very proud of that and that is — as someone whose been in education for 19 years — that is probably one of the coolest feelings that you can have,” Central Cass Education Association member Dana Stansbery said, “to see a kid take that pride in something like a new pair of shoes or getting a pair of jeans or whatever the case is.”

The Central Cass TreeHouse has also been helpful for students who move into the district to more quickly feel like they’re part of the school and community.

“So, as our kids enter our school or come here for the first time, we want them to feel welcome in many ways,” said Central Cass Education Association member Jessica Brandt. “This has just been another way that our teachers take advantage of when we get a new student in class we might bring them or just go and pick out a Central Cass Squirrel Gear for them just to make them feel welcome, to make them feel part of the family and just to get them involved in whatever way that want to be involved in the school.”

Domier, who works for Microsoft, says the TreeHouse continues to open doors to new ideas to help students. She says it a mix of emotions knowing the school has so much need. But she said that’s balanced out by knowing all involved are significantly impacting the lives of students.

Contact NDU Public Affairs Director Tom Gerhardt at 701-557-1001 or tom.gerhardt@ndunited.org.