A Fairy Tale Ending

Over the past two and a half years, I have had the privilege to work with 44 teen parents through our Teen Parent Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope. As the program comes to an end, I am saddened to not continue to work with such wonderful people; however, I am so grateful that our amazing community partner, Crow Wing County Community Services, will continue their great work with teen parents in our community. I’d like to share with you a story written by my counterpart and “good witch”–you’ll understand after reading the story (Kaylo Brooks, MFIP Outreach Worker at Crow Wing County). This story was shared at a graduation celebration for one of our teen dads, James, and is used with his permission:

James and Cat

James & His Girlfriend Catherine

Once upon a time a long, long time ago (well, okay, 8 months ago) in a village far far away (well, actually just in Brainerd) there lived a boy who had the magical superpowers of, um, playing video games. This boy was really skilled at “gaming” and could do it day in and day out, even in the nighttime! This boy was very bright, well-mannered, had a very kind heart, and was adored by all who knew him. This boy had a beautiful baby with fiery red hair and eyes like the ocean who was the center of his universe and he of hers. When you saw them together you knew that theirs was a bond that would forever remain. He also had a spectacular girlfriend who cheered him on and gave him courage and encouragement and knew all along in her heart that his potential was limitless.

But alas, as always in stories such as this, there comes along a witch–or in this case, three. They wrote a book of spells (also known as a Social Service Case Plan) which encouraged the boy to go to school and look for work and do good in the world. The boy, overcome by the persuasive witches, decided to follow the path the witches laid out in front of him. He took one step down the path, and then another, and another. The path was curvy, bumpy and often uphill, but before long the boy was sprinting down the path–fiery haired baby in one hand and holding his girlfriend’s hand in the other.

James and workers (4)

James & His Three “Witches”

Despite their broomsticks and cauldrons, even the witches couldn’t keep up with the boy! He graduated high school months earlier than the school said was possible, he earned awards at school for perfect attendance, and he was the Area Education Center Student of the Month in May. He missed one day–and one day only–when the blizzard wizard created a snow storm so deep that even the good witch, Kaylo, could not keep her broomstick on the road and therefore could not get the boy to school. He was loved by teachers and staff alike. One teacher told the witches that in all her years of teaching she has never seen a boy with such tenacity, perseverance, or work ethic. She said that above all that he is one of the nicest kids she has ever worked with, and with tears in her eyes, she said she was so very proud of him.

The path also brought the boy to a job at Target where he sometimes walks eight miles round trip to keep his job. (Yes, really!!) And most importantly, on this path, he has committed to his daughter by attending weekly classes at TCC for parenting skills: not because he isn’t good dad, but because he is willing to do whatever it takes to be a great dad.

And so here we are today, at the end of the boy’s path but certainly not the end of his journey. And without any hocus pocus, magic wands or fire breathing dragons, the boy and hero of our story, right before our eyes, has turned into a man.  

PicMonkey Collage

What an amazing honor it has been to be a small part of Cat & James (and many others’) paths!

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  • Learn more about our programs and services.
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  • Refer someone needing assistance to call Bridges of Hope (218.825.7682).

Chuck and Kristi’s Moment

“To everyone who’s lost someone they loved, long before it was their time…. The days that you had with them were not enough, when you said goodbye….”

The words of this song by Third Day could not better describe the immense pain that Chuck and Kristi were feeling when they reached out to Bridges of Hope.

Maternal-Infant-Care-rfidChuck and Kristi have three children: Marcus (8), Lily (5), and Nora (2). A few months back, the couple was faced with an enormous loss; they lost their newest born son, Caleb. When Caleb was born, doctors told Chuck and Kristi that it would only be a matter of time until he would leave them. They stayed by Caleb’s bedside until, as the doctor’s feared, he passed away just weeks after being born. Chuck and Kristi were overwhelmed with grief and reached out to Bridges of Hope. Kristi called Bridges of Hope originally looking for help with gas, since they had made so many trips down to the Mayo Clinic. When I heard their story, I offered her some additional services and she voluntarily enrolled in the Parent Support Outreach Program, where a staff from Bridges meets in-home with families to work on goals set by the parents.

The first time I met with Kristi in person, she was noticeably depressed, having just lost her child, and she remained in bed for the entire meeting. At this time, the entire family was staying in the living room of a friend’s home–due to the financial stress they experienced after Caleb was born, they had been evicted from their apartment. I offered to set up Respite Services for Chuck and Kristi so they could get a much-needed break to care for their own mental health and process their grief. The look of relief on Kristi’s face gave me hope that they would all be okay.

And that was when things began to turn around. The couple set several goals: they wanted to work towards getting their own place to live again, and Kristi wanted to find employment. I met with Chuck & Kristi the following week and encouraged counseling as another goal. After a little hesitation, they said they were willing to give it a try.

Within a week of the family’s first time using Respite Services, the family’s change was amazing. Kristi had found employment, the family was able to move into their own home, AND the couple had made an appointment for one of the counselors I had recommended! This mom, who was initially thinking she would be unable to parent due to the trauma of losing a child is now planning a family game night and spending all of her free time with her children. Chuck & Kristi are looking forward to making the best of their future and see that there is hope for a happy family life once again.

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary and love for the broken heart….” –Third Day

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If there is anyone in your life who might benefit from supportive services from Bridges of Hope, please encourage them to contact us at 218.825.7682. There is hope!

Kimberly’s Moment

It’s that dreaded feeling you get…when you realize you have just been in a car accident.

What happened before the accident is usually a blur, but what happens after an accident can leave you feeling just as foggy. At Bridges of Hope we try to help lift some of the fog for the clients that reach out us. Some have experienced a figurative “car accident” that has left them spinning emotionally, and others have experienced a literal car accident that has caused injury in other ways, like in the case of Kimberly:

Apartment Building PicKimberly called Bridges of Hope a few months after she had had a car accident that left her needing neck surgery. During her recovery, Kimberly was unable to work and was let go from her job. Without any income, Kimberly also found herself without a home shortly afterward. She moved in with her mother and younger brother.

During her three-month-long recovery, Kimberly’s family was helping her pay her other bills, and they all just managed to get by. At the end of the three months, Kimberly was going to be released from her work restrictions and had already found a new job that was just a few blocks away from an available apartment. When Kimberly  connected with Bridges, she was seeking resources for the first month’s rent and damage deposit to get into this apartment.

Since her mother lives out of town and Kimberly does not have a vehicle, an apartment close to her employment is ideal. Lutheran Social Service (LSS) is one of our community partners that we regularly collaborate with in instances when a client needs help with housing. Bridges of Hope and LSS both have guidelines to ensure that the rent is sustainable for the client based on their current situation, and typically that means the housing is close to 30% of their income and fits into their budget. Based on these factors, Bridges and Lutheran Social Service were able to assist Kimberly in getting into her new apartment.

When we followed up with her a few weeks later, Kimberly stated she is loving her new job and has made great strides in her recovery. She is extremely grateful for the help!

And we are grateful to be able to be there for people in our community like Kimberly. Thank you for helping us help others! For more information about how you can get involved, please visit our website.

Brenda’s Moment

Brenda had been in an abusive relationship from the time when she was a teenager, and she was convinced that she could not support her children without her husband.

MuffinsShe had no self-esteem and no job skills: the only gift she felt she had was baking, and that was what enabled her, in her words, to “keep her sanity”–she confided that it gave her something to do to take her mind off of her “unhappy life.” Just in her mid-30s, Brenda certainly had her hands full with five children: Waylon (age 14), Twyla (age 12), Sissey (age 10), and twins Orley & Oscar (age 8). She was referred to work with me through our Intensive In-Home program, which is one of Bridges of Hope’s Family Support Services.

Brenda told me that the way she justified staying in the relationship was by knowing that Tom had never hit the children–only her. She reasoned that she could take it, as long as he did not hurt the children. But then one day Tom came home from work, extremely angry, and everyone knew to stay away from him. When Brenda put the dinner on the table, Tom threw it on the floor and raised his hand to hit her. Waylon grabbed Tom’s arm and said that he would not allow Tom to hurt his mom anymore. That night Waylon got a beating.

The next day the children did not come home on the bus after school, and a social worker came by the house and said that the children would not be returning home (they had been placed in foster care for their safety).

This was the turning point for Brenda. She knew she could not continue living this kind of life, so she left Tom and went to a local women’s shelter, where she stayed for a few months. During that time, the shelter staff helped her understand the nature of abuse and gave her the support she needed not to go back to the abusive situation.

That’s when Brenda was connected with Bridges of Hope. The goal of our work together was to help her with parenting and resources to get her on her feet and enable her kids to return. I was able to connect Brenda to Lutheran Social Service’s HOPE Housing program, and she was able to find income-based housing within about three months. I also connected her with the Workforce Center, and with their help, Brenda found a full-time-seasonal job at a nearby resort as a baker’s assistant–but by the end of the summer she had been promoted and hired year-round! We also got Brenda connected with a counselor for herself and her family at Northern Pines Mental Health Center.

Within about four months, Brenda and her children were able to be reunited, and she began implementing the Love and Logic parenting techniques that she had worked on with me during our in-home work together. The best part was that Brenda had worked so hard, had gained many skills along the way, and now felt confident that she would be able to raise her children on her own.

Today, Brenda feels that her life is finally her own, and she wants to “pay it forward,” aspiring to someday open her own business and help train women who do not have the skills (or who feel like they don’t have the skills) to make it on their own.

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You Can “Pay it Forward,” Too

Dustyne’s Moment

Dustyne and her beautiful children had experienced too much heartache, and Dustyne turned to Bridges of Hope despite feeling nervous and afraid. She recalls: “Things just weren’t adding up. I needed help to stop going in the same circle.”

Side by Side participant Dustyne

Dustyne With Her Son Derrick

Dustyne was connected with our Side by Side Mentoring Program. She had the skills to live a healthy and successful life; she simply lacked the social connections that help everything fall into place.

Over the course of 8 months in the Side by Side program, with help from her mentors and her own strong determination, Dustyne obtained employment, moved her family into more suitable housing, and began to realize just how much she had to offer.

Dustyne reflects on her experience, one year after starting the program: “In the beginning, I didn’t think I had anything to offer. After a while, I realized other women were actually learning from me too, and that is pretty special. My mentors and the Bridges staff want to see me grow, and I thank God for putting them in my life.”

You can watch Dustyne’s story in her own words here:

A gift of $150 supports our work with one family.

A gift of $150 supports one family.

Our supporters have continued to come alongside Lakes Area families just like Dustyne’s, helping Bridges of Hope make life-changing transformations like this possible. Thousands of households are facing challenging situations and continue to reach out to Bridges for support each year.

This fall and winter we invite you to join us on our journey to raise “60K in 60 Days.” That $60,000 will make it possible to improve the lives of 400 families who will call Bridges of Hope before the end of the year.

With your support, we can reach this goal by December 31st!

Here are three ways that you can make a difference:

  • Make a gift now to support other families just like Dustyne’s.
  • Make a gift on Give to the Max Day (Thursday, November 14), and your online gift will be matched, up to $15,000!
  • Make a year-end gift in memory or honor of someone special in your life. Checks can be sent to Bridges of Hope, PO Box 742 Brainerd MN 56401.

On behalf of Dustyne & her family–and all of the families we serve–thank you for your generosity.

One step forward…and another step back.

In this job we celebrate a lot of successes–both small and large–with the families we work with. However, the reality in life (for our clients and ourselves) is that sometimes, with each step forward, we are forced to take one or two steps back.

Brick Wall with Woman on GroundIt can be very frustrating for the teens I work with through our Teen Parent Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope: when they are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children, at times it seems that they run into wall after wall (or in social work jargon, “barrier after barrier”) that just stops them dead in their tracks. Luckily, more often than not, the teens I work with are very resilient and keep trying to push forward despite the difficulties. For example:

Erin is 18 and has a son, Derek, who is 11 months old. When I first met Erin, she was going to high school, was on track to graduate, and was planning on starting college in the spring (one step forward), but there was no room for her to start until the fall (one step back). At that time she was living with her dad and brother, and she found out she was going to get into housing of her own (step forward). Two weeks before she was set to move in, she found out that the previous tenant would not be moving after all (step back). Shortly after that, her family was forced to vacate the apartment where they were living, and her dad and brother moved out of town, leaving Erin alone with Derek (step back). Thankfully Erin was able to live with a friend and found a job (step forward). She began to receive some child support, and with her job, she was able to stop receiving county cash assistance (step forward). Then, her hours at work were cut and the child support stopped too (step back). Erin decided to look for more work (step forward). She is limited to where she can search because she does not have a driver’s license or a vehicle (step back). She was able to obtain a bike and a carrier for Derek (step forward). Shortly after obtaining her bike, the wheel on the carrier popped and she does not have the money to fix it (step back).

And on and on it goes for so many of the families we work with–sadly, this is the day-to-day reality for many living in our community. I see it as my job to help walk alongside and celebrate the successes, as well as provide encouragement during those (sometimes difficult to swallow) steps back.

Happily, Erin is once again on the “step forward” track: she recently obtained housing of her own, is still looking for a second job, and she continues to push forward to provide for Derek. And no matter what, I’ll be there to support her in in her journey.

Crisis Nursery to the Rescue!

Sally called Bridges of Hope, crying hysterically. She is the mother of three children: Jackie (age 7), Holly (age 5), and Tim (age 3). I had previously worked with Sally for several months through one of Bridges of Hope’s in-home programs,  which is why she asked to speak with me on this particular morning. Sally explained that her 5-year-old, Holly, had been taken to the emergency room the night before because she had been exhibiting very violent behavior toward her two siblings, and she also had begun inflicting self-harm, banging her head against the floor. Holly had been examined by the ER doctors and then transported to a mental health facility several hours away. Sally wanted to be able to go to the facility to stay near her daughter while she received treatment, but she did not have any friends or family member available to watch her children and had turned to Bridges because of our history of working together, hoping we might know of a local resource that could help her.

Crisis Nursery Services LogoI spoke with Sally about our Crisis Nursery program. The Crisis Nursery is a program available to connect families with short-term childcare by a licensed provider, during a family’s crisis, at no cost to them. Sally was so relieved that there was a service for her to utilize during her crisis. I was able to place Jackie and Tim with one of our amazing Crisis Nursery providers within one hour of Sally’s call.

Several days after the placement, Sally stopped by the Bridges of Hope office, asking to speak with me. Sally reported the children had LOVED the provider and had been able to roast marshmallows during their time in her care. Sally let me know that Holly had been released from the mental health facility a few days after arriving, and that she had been diagnosed with autism. Before leaving, Sally asked if she could give me a hug because she was so grateful for all the time and effort that was put into helping her in her time of need. I was happy to oblige, and even happier that Sally had been able to care for one of her children in crisis while not having to worry over the safety or comfort of the other two.