Steve Fredlund is not only the Executive Director of Our Response, but the one whose enthusiasm and tireless efforts have propelled the organization forward since its beginnings in 2009. It’s high time that we got to know this guy better! Steve was willing to let me sling a few questions his way, and he even supplied (at my request and with the help of his wonderful mother, Ellen) a few blast-from-the-past-blackmail-worthy photos of himself.
Thanks for all you do, Steve. Your compassion and perseverance inspire all who know you.
Here we go…
Please share a few details about your growing up years.
Although I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, we soon moved to Minnesota.
Our family started out in Dalbo and then ended up just north of Cambridge. After graduating from what is now Cambridge-Isanti High School, I went on to Augsburg College and, in 1992, received a degree in Mathematics, with minors in English and Religion. In 2006, I received an MBA, with an emphasis in Non-Profit Management, at Bethel University.
Growing up, I was a highly insecure child, but one who did well academically. I played a few sports, including tennis in college, but lack of skill and bad knees did me in.
My insecurity started to shake loose my senior year when I was dared into trying out for the high school musical, “Hello Dolly!”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This experience launched my acting “career,” and plays, skits, and musicals have been a part of my life ever since.
Tell us about your family.
Tracy and I have known each other since first grade. When Ken and Sharon Erickson moved to Dalbo with their kids, Dave and Carol, I became good friends with Dave, while Tracy became good friends with Carol. Over the years the four of us ended up doing quite a few things together. My friendship with Tracy led to dating just before I graduated from high school. Married on August 31, 1991, we have now enjoyed 22-plus years of married life. We have also been blessed with twin boys, Christopher and Ryan (17), and a daughter, Annie, (14).
What do you do for a living? How has your company responded to your involvement with Our Response?
With the exception of a few years as the Executive Pastor at New Hope Community Church in Cambridge, I have been working as an actuary for most of my life. For the past three years I have been employed at Allianz Life in Golden Valley, focusing on capital market hedging. Because I work with people in Ireland, Germany, and Japan, I have had the opportunity to travel twice to Ireland in the past year. Several employees at Allianz joined forces with Our Response when we created “Leslie’s Wish,” an effort to bring clean water to Rwanda in honor of former Allianz employee Leslie Green. We have even had a couple of executives step up and allocate some charitable giving dollars toward Our Response.
How did your first trip to Rwanda come about?
After two years of discussion, prayer, and strategizing, Pastor Mark Radeke (River of Life Church, Cambridge), Pastor Bob Jonsson (First Baptist Church, Cambridge), and I decided to launch what would become Our Response in 2009. As part of the process, we felt it was critical to first visit the community we wanted to help and meet its residents and World Vision staff. So in October 2009, we travelled to Kivuruga, Rwanda, and just fell in love with the people and the work being done there.
What happened during that trip that prompted you to become the Executive Director of Our Response?
When we returned we were fully convinced that we were embarking on an effort that would have huge impact both here and in Kivuruga. As we discussed what was required to push this movement forward, including the need to be able to form partnerships with churches, businesses, schools, and people throughout our community, Mark and Bob requested that I take on the leadership role. I was thrilled to accept the responsibility—to build relationships and develop strategies that would maximize both unity-building here and transformation in Rwanda.
If you could narrow down all that has happened in and through Our Response, what three things excite you the most?
Wow, what a brutal question, because it means I have to leave a ton of stuff and people out!
#1 has to be the unity of the people and groups involved. Seeing people with different perspectives on education, politics, and spiritual matters put those differences aside for the sake of saving lives is truly inspirational and a testament to the people of East Central Minnesota.
#2 would be the many heroes in Kivuruga, Rwanda who are compassionately caring for those who are suffering deeply, at the same time carrying out strategies to ultimately move that community to self-sustainability. These individuals are absolute heroes that the world will never know: Florence, Innocent, Claudien, Bonneur, Charles, Samuel, Jean Paul, etc.
#3 would be Step into Africa, which Our Response hosted for nine days at the Isanti County Fairgrounds. Over 4,100 people came through the exhibit, and more than 200 children were sponsored. Many of the hundreds of youth who attended went from a lack of awareness to developing a heart of compassion for children in Africa who are suffering. Being able to mold the hearts of the next generation in our community excites me so much and adds fuel to my fire in a big way.
In light of the everyday demands of a career and active family life, how do you maintain your passion and energy for leading a community-wide organization?
I get asked this question a lot. The short answer is, “I have no idea.” I get up every weekday at 3:30 a.m. to commute an hour to work, engage in a mentally challenging job, and then drive an hour home. My family is awesome! I love spending time with my wife and children and attending our kids’ activities. At least one evening each week we get together with some great friends. I also have hobbies that I enjoy.
So I don’t exactly know how I have time to keep the passion and energy for Our Response going. But there are a number of people who have come alongside to help with many elements of Our Response. I really feel like this is “Our” Response and not just my response, and that reality really energizes me. When I see or hear about others who are carrying the torch, who not only understand what we are doing, but who are taking steps to advance our mission, it really gets me fired up.
When I decided to say “yes” to answering needs relating to global poverty, I opened the door to what life is really like for so many in our world. Roughly three billion people living on less than $2.00 a day, many of them in absolute emergency situations. When I became exposed to the pain in this world, much of it from very preventable causes, there was no turning back.
If there was one thing that you would like to see happen in Our Response this next year, what would it be?
I would love to see more organizations grab hold of the Our Response effort and really own their part in it. Rather than waiting for Our Response to propose “the next thing,” I would like to see churches, businesses, schools, rotaries, and other groups and individuals creatively decide what they want their involvement to look like.
Our Response has no paid staff. Because we are all volunteers, it’s difficult to continue to stay active with all of our partners, much less engage new relationships. What could really propel our efforts into the next level—and, frankly, what is probably required to continue to build momentum—is a fresh wave of ownership sweeping over both individuals and organizations in our area, as well as those already involved in child sponsorship, nutrition center funding, clean water efforts, and former trip teams. I am looking for fellow champions to stand up strongly to help bring continued transformation to the people of Kivuruga, and to Rwanda as a whole.