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Alumna Establishes School for Homeless Teens

Pam Wolf Sladek ’86 trusts God moment by moment as she seeks to offer an education and home for homeless teens in the Twin Cities.

By Katie Johnson '19, student writer

April 19, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

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Pam (Mens) Wolf Sladek '86 and her team at the ribbon cutting for Life Prep Academy in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota

“Everything was so God-led.”

That’s how teacher of 28 years Pam (Mens) Wolf Sladek ‘86 describes the process of establishing Life Prep Academy, a school and residential program serving homeless adolescents in the Twin Cities area. The residential aspect of the program started in October 2014, when the first child moved into her home. Later that year, they tore down a wall in her basement to make room for an additional bedroom, and another child immediately claimed the space. She quickly realized that they would need larger living quarters.

Now five years later, the Academy runs completely dependent on donations and volunteers, including alumni Jodi (Hoch) Burnside ’86 and Emily (Christiansen) Dekker ’07, who long-distance teach with video technology. Wolf Sladek rents a building in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, which she has refurbished to accommodate up to 16 students. Life Prep Academy provides homeless kids with an education, a stable living environment, and support as they finish high school and transition to college or the working world.

“A year ago, I was going through some things, and I found a drawer filled with stuff for a future school for high-risk kids. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been thinking about this forever!’”

— Pam Wolf Sladek '86

Wolf Sladek says that these kids are learning all the time. They receive a high school education as well as training in real-world skills—like budgeting, technology, car maintenance, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and childcare, among other things. They receive half a credit in job skills and half a credit in independent living every semester. Every student is required to have a job his or her senior year, and they manage their incomes. Wolf Sladek explains that they budget their money by paying 10% forward, either to church or a charity, spending 10% on whatever they want, giving 20% back to the school, and depositing 60% into a savings account meant for independent living materials, like a car, computer, or even rent for when they leave the school.

The Academy and this kind of learning community has been a dream for Wolf Sladek for decades. “A year ago, I was going through some things, and I found a drawer filled with stuff for a future school for high-risk kids,” Wolf Sladek says. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been thinking about this forever!’” 

All her life, Wolf Sladek has nurtured a heart for those who have fallen through the cracks—at school, in their families, or even in society. Repeatedly, she encountered kids who go to extreme measures just to get what they need, and it’s her nature to provide for them, no matter who they are.

“This kid has had nothing but hard knocks his entire life. He was baptized three years ago this summer. When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because I finally realized that God isn’t judging me like everybody else.’”

— Pam Wolf Sladek says of one of her foster sons

“Always, the troubled kids have gravitated toward me, which has always baffled me because I was such a goodie-goodie growing up,” Wolf Sladek laughs. “I can’t relate to any personally to their stories because my life was not like that. I graduated from Bethel. I was very blessed with my family.”

In fact, Wolf Sladek became the guardian of one of the students who went through the Life Prep Academy program. She says that they “adopted each other.” He’s her kid, proving that although Wolf Sladek won’t become a legal guardian for each student at Life Prep Academy, her program offers much more than an education—it offers the promise of relationships and support.

“This kid has had nothing but hard knocks his entire life,” Wolf Sladek says of one of her foster sons. “He was baptized three years ago this summer. When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because I finally realized that God isn’t judging me like everybody else.’”

Faith has played a vital role in every area of Wolf Sladek’s life, from her own perspective to her children and now within the Academy. They depend solely on God and donations month-by-month as bills are due. While the waiting process has not been easy, Wolf Sladek continues to trust God’s faithfulness, especially as she strives to do all she can for the kids in the Academy. And God continues revealing Himself in surprising ways.

“One month we were $800 short of paying rent,” Wolf Sladek says. “And I went to church on Sunday, and one lady at church said that her son had wanted to make a donation, and she had told him about our school. She handed me an envelope. I didn’t open it at church, but I opened it the next day, and started crying. It was $800.” 

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