Transformative experiences inspired Moorhead man to help community kids prosper
Peter Ferguson, the founder of Enrichment Operation, has helped kids in filling the gap left by an under-supported school system.
MOORHEAD — World traveler and long-time Moorhead resident Peter Ferguson is your quintessential idyllic neighbor who spends each day serving others.
In addition to founding and running his academic support nonprofit, Enrichment Operation, Ferguson is a substitute teacher at Horizon Middle School, a DJ for Radio Free Fargo and an avid outdoorsman. He fills his free time with fishing, foraging, hunting, camping, cooking, traveling and concerts.
In recognition of his efforts to improve the lives of those in the community, specifically local youth, Ferguson was awarded the MoorHeart Award by the Moorhead City Council on Nov. 14, 2022.
The award culminates Ferguson's work, which stems from experiences at all points in his life.
Growing up the 36-year-old created many wonderful memories during his time in elementary school.
However, things changed when he and his two brothers got to middle school.
“Man, middle school was tough,” Ferguson said. “It’s just such a difficult time for young people, when you are so unsure of who you are and how you fit into this world.”
Difficulties began when his eldest brother was being “eaten alive” in middle school, Ferguson said, and the family perceived no end in sight. The sibling group transferred to a private school in Fargo shortly after.
Despite a rocky experience, Ferguson said a few teachers helped inspire him to pursue a teaching career.
Ferguson had an "incredible year" teaching fourth grade in Moorhead after graduating from Concordia and heading to Taiwan to teach English. He then temporarily moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to be closer to his grandparents.
There he taught seventh grade and twice a week took students fishing, a method he uncovered as a way to create a lasting impact on the kids.
Ferguson quickly noticed that it was easier to bond with the kids outside of the classroom in smaller group settings. There was also an improvement in their willingness to put effort into their endeavors and stay positive through it all.
Later Ferguson took a five-week visit to Colombia that changed his life forever, crediting the trip as a "big reason" behind the start of Enrichment Operation.
In Colombia, Ferguson met a group of friends of whom many had settled in the county after fleeing turmoil in Venezuela. Despite the hardships, his new friends never complained and would work hard jobs for "next to no money," sending any earnings home to their families still in Venezuela.
The experiences gave Ferguson the realization that he could never complain about things again, and instead would rededicate his life to actively try to change the things that bothered him.
“As a teacher, the education system was something that I historically complained about a lot,” Ferguson said, “because the system is failing.”
While the teachers and staff running the schools do “amazing work,” Ferguson said that after years of teaching he realized that more support is desperately needed for both professionals and students.
“I think one of the biggest failures is the student to adult ratio,” Ferguson said. Teaching nearly 30 kids is challenging when significant trauma, homelessness, language barriers and poverty can be present in their lives, he added.
Support never comes, Ferguson said. "Society is changing at such a rapid pace but the systems that are supposed to be there to support and provide are stagnant, and they have been stagnant for decades”
'A product of our lived experiences '
Ferguson advocates for “tripling” the number of adults in the schools by incentivizing going into social service positions, providing smaller class sizes and increasing wages to retain staff.
The hard middle school years coupled with crowded classrooms left Ferguson feeling that many kids were lacking the necessary support and opportunities they needed to flourish.
“There are a lot of kids who are so lonely and feel like there is no one,” Ferguson said.
Enrichment Operation fills in that gap left by an under-supported school system, he said, and provides kids with support that goes beyond schoolwork through a mentor that will follow them through their entire academic lives.
The organization works closely with about 30 Horizon Middle School kids and their families, Ferguson said, adding that the number is constantly growing. He holds about one to two activities after school each week that are usually attended by around nine kids.
Since founding Enrichment Operation in 2018, Ferguson has accompanied kids while they experience photography, fishing, gardening, agate hunting, theater-going and a myriad of other activities.
“We are a product of our lived experiences,” Ferguson said. “The reality is the vast majority of young people are not exposed to these things.”
His events also allow students the chance to connect with their peers outside of an educational environment.
“In a nutshell we work to build authentic, genuine and lasting relationships with young people and their families.” Ferguson said.
These young adults are going to be “a really significant part of the fabric of the Fargo-Moorhead community,” Ferguson said. “If they are more confident and more kind and more willing to throw themselves out there in a healthy and positive way, the (community) benefits can’t be quantified.”
Area business are encouraged to join the effort, Ferguson said. "If you've got a business in town, bowling alley, restaurant, auto shop (or) art studio, and you want to make a positive difference in the community, let's get kids learning in your environment.”
Enrichment Operation also welcomes sponsors and financial donations, Ferguson said, adding that all donations are directly used to fund events.
Down the line Ferguson hopes to create an official partnership with Moorhead Area Public Schools, or better yet, implement the "traveling" mentor within each grade level
With plans to return to Colombia at the end of January, Ferguson will stay in contact with Enrichment Operation kids through shared videos and messages.
“I think that makes it a little easier for them to think about the world,” Ferguson said, and have a cultural experience without needing to leave home.
Next year's plans include redoubling efforts with his nonprofit in order to offer more events, and future visions of a community space with mentors that “want to invest in them and their futures,” he said.
“We need to create those events and spaces where young people can feel like they are a part of this community,” Ferguson said. “We need to think critically about that.”