Exchange Center director hired
A woman with ties to Steele County has been chosen as the new director of the Exchange Center for Family Unity based in Owatonna.
Mandie Kender of Minneapolis will assume the position beginning Tuesday as she replaces James Barnes, who has been serving as interim director since Annette Duncan left to go to the United Way of Steele County in July 2020.
Kender grew up in Owatonna, graduating from here in 1994. After high school, she attended the University of Northwestern in St. Paul and Colorado Christian University, where she obtained a master’s degree in counseling.
Most of Kender’s career has been based in the Twin Cities area, where she has focused on mental health and domestic violence programs. She most recently served as associate director of community and family supports services at Accord in St. Paul.
Kender said the Exchange Center’s job fits her desire for people to achieve peaceful living. “My passion is educating and supporting families to prevent child abuse,” she said.
The Exchange Center serves Steele, Rice, Waseca, Dodge and Freeborn counties to provide dependable and efficient support-based in-home mentoring to parents that can use additional support to be successful.
“I was really drawn to the scope of the position with it covering five different counties,” said Kender. “I want to be a part of preventing child abuse in southern Minnesota. I want to help people understand each other as they work to restore their relationships.”
Of particular interest, Kender found the Exchange Center takes a compassionate approach to caring for people in the community.
While the director position is currently part-time, Kender is hopeful it will grow into a full-time role within the next few years. She will initially work about 20 hours per week.
Kender became interested in the mental health field while growing up in Owatonna. “I have family members who have lived with severe mental illnesses and overcame barriers,” she said. “I always say it was my training ground. I learned how to be with people who were struggling.”
She is excited to give back to the community that helped support her own family through difficulties.
Her immediate goals are to reacclimate herself with the Owatonna area and determine where families need support and how the community can help each other.
“I want to let the community know that we can help each other,” Kender said, adding it’s not just the professionals who can help make families stronger.
Kender and her husband, Lexy, have two children, Grace and Lucas.