Building Bridges, Building Community

Do you know what happened when local 5th graders were given:

  • 100 popsicle sticks,
  • some white glue,
  • strong science classroom instruction, and
  • a boost of expertise from local design & engineering firms?

Building Bridges 2015 happened, that’s what! The event took place at Forestview Middle School this past Monday evening with over 600 people in attendance. Check out this crowd!               Bridges 101Students, parents, & community members carefully examined bridges in the Aesthetic Category before casting their vote:

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Then everyone was able to watch the testing for the Strength Category which is always a good time…

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…filled with excitement…

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….anticipation…

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and, this inevitable sound: “CRUNCH!”

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Check out what is left at the end of the testing phase:

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The night wraps up with the announcement of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams in each category. A big congratulations to this year’s winners!

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This event is one of our favorites each year & such a fun way for our community to come together to raise awareness of the “bridges” we are building for families every day at Bridges of Hope to fulfill our mission:

To build bridges of support, anchored in Christ’s love, between families in the Lakes Area and the community assets that can help them thrive & gain hope.

That is good stuff. And, we couldn’t do it without the cooperation & support of ISD 181, Mr. Danielson, Ms. Knutson, Mr. Trout, Mrs. Harrison, and these incredible sponsors:

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Thank you for helping us build Bridges!

  • Want to see all the pictures from the event? Check out our Facebook Page!
  • To learn more about the services we offer and how we build bridges for families in the Lakes area, please visit our website.

The Art of Upcycling

At Common Goods we are fortunate to receive a variety of unique furniture pieces from our generous donors. Some of these items can go directly to the sales floor. Other times, the pieces we receive need a little extra love and attention. At Common Goods, we call this process “upcycling“. It can be as simple as a new coat of paint, or it can be somewhat more complicated, requiring multiple steps which results in a complete transformation.

For those wanting to delve into upcycling, there is no doubt that the process can be a little overwhelming, especially if you have never attempted such a project on your own before. Below I’ve included steps & pictures of a project that we completed last year, to hopefully help put your mind at ease, and to give you a little encouraging nudge to try DIY…yourself!

First, you will need to pick the piece you wish to change. Here is the before picture of a great rocking chair that was in great need of upcycling:Chair (before)

Next, you enter the “idea phase,” which can be the most difficult part at times. Fortunately, there are several websites that can help if you find yourself with “creativity block.” (Pinterest, anyone…?) If you are at a total dead-end, just go to your favorite search engine and type in what you are trying to accomplish (i.e., “How to reupholster a chair”). You will probably receive more than enough great ideas for your project!

Finally: it’s time to execute your plan (and probably do a little shopping)! Our idea was to revive this piece by painting and reupholstering this rocking chair. The materials & tools that were used for this project included primer, paint, sandpaper, a staple gun and staples, screwdriver, scissors, and fabric.

Here are the steps we took:

  1. Wash or wipe down the chair to remove any old dust and dirt.
  2. Remove the seat (so it can be recovered).
  3. Apply primer to make sure the paint adheres to the chair.
  4. Once the primer is dry; paint the chair the color of your choice.
  5. After the paint is dry; lightly sandpaper the chair along the edges to give it a vintage distressed look.
  6. Finally, put the new fabric over the old seat and staple it to the underside.

And here is the finished project:

Chair (after)

Quite the transformation, right? The best part is that a project of this size can easily be accomplished in a single weekend….and of course if DIY just isn’t you, the good news is that there is almost always a new project in the works here at Common Goods, so you can shop upcycled, too! Good luck, and happy upcycling!

Get Involved with Common Goods:

  • Shop (you can always find a great “upcycled” piece like the one above).
  • Volunteer (check out volunteer opportunities on our website).
  • Donate (check out our donation guidelines).

Loving Our Neighbors

At Bridges of Hope, our mission is to build bridges of support, anchored in Christ’s love, between families in the Lakes area and the community assets that can help them thrive and gain hope

Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying we want to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Last year, somewhere around 7,000 of “our neighbors” reached out to Bridges of Hope for help (~2,600 households). We live out our mission each day through a range of programming that is designed to meet a person where they’re at--whether they’re calling us for the first time or the twenty-first time.love-your-neighbor-logo

When working with a household, we often connect people to resources to help them, sometimes we help them find the solution within themselves, and other times we provide a longer-term service to walk alongside them more intensely–always striving to maintain the mindset that we’re just doing what we’d hope someone else would do for us, if we were in the same situation–because that’s what a caring community is all about.

Below is a sampling of things that “our neighbors” said to us when we called them to follow up on their situations last year:

  • “Thank you so much for your help.”–a grandma raising her three grandchildren, who needed help with rent resources.
  • “I want to rate you all as ‘excellent’.”–an elderly adult receiving disability who needed furniture and other household items.
  • “Crisis Nursery helped me keep my job. Thank you so much! I also now have a new daycare provider, thanks to you!”–a single mom whose daycare provider went out of business.
  • “You are our go-to people.”–a family of four who were sleeping on futons and mattresses on the floor.
  • “You made me so happy! It was so nice! I was overwhelmed. Five plus plus.”–a woman using a walker who needed a smaller bed for her room to move around it more easily, rating our quality of services on a scale of 1-5.
  • “Thanks for calling back and checking on me.”–an adult with a roommate whose power steering had gone out on his car.
  • “Thank you for not judging me.”–a single mom who had gotten behind on her rent.
  • “Getting assistance is very overwhelming, and it was helpful to have someone to tell us where to start.”–a family of six living in a 2-bedroom apartment, needing to find a larger (and still affordable) place.
  • “You were nice, and also easy to talk to.”–a woman who had moved to the area to escape an abusive relationship, needing connections to employment and housing.
  • “You were extremely helpful in making our home feel like a home.”–a recently single mom who had moved into a new apartment and needed household furnishings.
  • “Thank you Bridges! God Bless you.”–an elderly woman who needed home repairs.
  • “I feel the love Bridges of Hope has for the people you help.”–an adult couple in their 70s; the wife needed new dentures and hadn’t been able to eat solid foods for awhile.

Thank YOU, Lakes Area, for making it possible for Bridges of Hope to love our neighbors as ourselves every day.

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Make a gift to support a neighbor in need this year: a gift of $175 helps us support one family. Your donation is 100% tax-deducible.

Charlotte’s Moment

I had the blessing of visiting with Charlotte about her experiences with Bridges of Hope over the last couple of years. Charlotte is a wonderfully warm, compassionate, confident, and strong woman. She didn’t always feel that way, though.SONY DSC

A few years ago, low self-esteem and a general feeling of being “lost” had taken their toll on Charlotte. She found herself feeling depressed and alone and spent the next few months trying to get her life back on track.

Charlotte told me that at first, “it felt like nobody was interested in helping.” Then she received a letter inviting her to participate in the Parent Support Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope, and she was excited. Charlotte recalled, “before that, I thought everything was done for. I didn’t know where to turn.”

Charlotte connected with us and soon started working with one of our staff, Jennifer, who helped her identify goals and break them down into manageable steps. One of those goals was to find affordable housing. The Lutheran Social Service HOPE Housing program was able to assist Charlotte with the funds needed to rent a new place; however, there was one small barrier: Renter’s Insurance. Charlotte was able to put some money toward it, and Bridges helped with the rest. In talking with me, Charlotte reflected that it was a little thing that made a huge difference.”

Charlotte at her college graduation with her mentor, Sheila!

Charlotte at her college graduation with her mentor, Sheila!

Now that stable housing was in place, Charlotte could focus on being a good parent to Hunter and on being a great student, since she was also enrolled in classes at Central Lakes College (CLC). A few months later, Bridges of Hope invited Charlotte to participate in our Side by Side Mentoring Program. She needed a little extra boost of support, and our volunteer Mentors provided just that.

Charlotte shared, “I looked forward to the monthly meetings, the text messages from Sheila, and coffee dates with Jan [both Charlotte’s Mentors]. They even brought meals over a few times when I was studying!”

Charlotte graduated from CLC this year and now and works at Lutheran Social Service helping others through difficult situations.“If it weren’t for Bridges, I really don’t think I would have graduated.”

When I asked her what is different now, Charlotte said, “I’ve finally figured out who I am; I feel more confident and connected. For the first time, I feel like I have people in my life who are proud of me.”

We are so proud of Charlotte for her hard work!

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Help make more stories like Charlotte’s possible:

  • Make a gift today to help us reach our $80,000 Fall Campaign goal. We just reached the halfway point and have two weeks left to raise another $40,000 to help serve the households (like Charlotte’s) that will still reach out to us this year.
  • Shop at Common Goods; proceeds stay local and help us help families in the Lakes Area.

The Top Seven Reasons Why You Should Make a Gift this Fall

Bridges of Hope is in the midst of our Fall Fundraising Campaign, and this year we need your support to help us reach our goal of raising $80,000 by year-end. Your partnership with Bridges of Hope ensures that your friends, neighbors, and family members are able to get the help they need during a difficult time, and when you make a gift to Bridges, YOU GIVE THE POWER 2 HOPE to nearly 3,000 households in the Lakes Area every year!

Boy With SignYou may be asking yourself why your gift matters–and I’m so glad you did, because here are the top seven reasons why you should make a gift to Bridges of Hope this fall:

  1. It’s 100% tax-deductible. Sure, your support truly helps Bridges, but it can also serve as an added bonus for YOU during tax-time!
  2. If you’ve never made a gift to Bridges before, you’ll join a support network of over 2,500 individuals, businesses, churches, service clubs, and others who make a difference for individuals and families in our community. If you have made a gift in the past, you are already PART of that amazing support network.
  3. Your donation stays local. Bridges of Hope serves anyone who reaches out to us in all of Crow Wing County and the bordering communities like Pine River, Pillager, Motley, and Staples. Last year that was nearly 3,000 households, or about 8,500 people!
  4. Your gift goes to work immediately. We are currently in the midst of our $80,000 Fall Fundraising Campaign, which will ensure we can effectively serve everyone who is calling us this year. Every gift, no matter the size, will help provide hope. If you’ve already given this year, consider making an extra gift of $10-$15 as a “give up my specialty coffee week” gesture, or as a “pay it forward” gift in honor of a friend or family member.
  5. Giving makes YOU feel good! Studies (like this one) have found that when we do something good for others, we reap the benefit of feeling good ourselves—both emotionally and physically.
  6. There are nine dedicated and hard-working staff who will be personally grateful to you. Even after spending over ten (!) years at Bridges, I never cease to feel appreciative and so humbled as I watch the gifts come in each fall: only because of your support are we able to support others in our community.
  7. You can make a real difference in someone else’s life. Without you, Bridges wouldn’t be here—it’s as simple as that. Your gift makes stories like these possible.DonateButtonOrangeLogo

So there it is: your gift is needed this year more than ever before—it’s important to us, it goes to work immediately, it will make a tangible difference for someone in need in our community, you’ll be a part of a larger network of support, and you’ll feel good doing it. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to Bridges of Hope today. We are able to fulfill our mission here in the Lakes Area only because of you. Thank you.

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Click here to make your year-end gift now!

Samantha’s Moment

Samantha and Matthew have three children (Alex, Tanner, & Asher). They have interacted with Bridges of Hope on a few different occasions over the past 7 years. I recently sat down with Samantha to chat with her about her experiences and the difference that Bridges of Hope has made in her life.

Q: What was life like “before Bridges?”

A: Well, Matthew works full time and is a student full-time, so sometimes I feel like a single mom. He helps when he can, and we are lucky to live somewhere where there are extra hands to help out when he can’t. It all started when I was diagnosed with cancer and lost my job. I was uninsured at the time and we racked up a lot of medical debt. Matthew’s wages began to be garnished and we eventually lost our home. We ended up homeless—we were couch surfing between friends and family. Through this all my kids had a “schedule,” but I knew in my heart the instability was not good for them.

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Alex & Asher

In January we ended up at New Pathways. That was when I hit rock bottom and was reported to Child Protective Services. At first I was upset, but now I realize that there is a stigma about Child Protection. Just because you are reported, does not mean you are a bad parent; it just means someone is concerned for your kids. I was reported but a case was not opened, and that is how I was referred to the Parent Support Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope. Jennifer [Outreach Worker at Bridges of Hope] was great. She was open and honest with me about the referral to Child Protection, but helped me see it as a way to make necessary changes in my life. After that program was finished, I was referred to the Side by Side program and have been participating in that since July of this year.

Q: What steps did Bridges of Hope take with you to address the concerns you had?

A: Jennifer, and now the Mentors and other women in the Side by Side Program were constantly checking in and giving me resources. Stress was a big problem for me; I felt like a single mom most of the time. Jennifer let me know it was okay to feel what I was feeling and gave me skills to deal with my stress. I was connected with Respite care, which gives us a break every month—that has been HUGE!

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Samantha and her kids

Q: What is different now?

A: STABILITY! And I get out of the house! The other women participating in Side by Side have been amazing. They have been there, just like me, and I don’t feel that “shame on me” that I have felt other times in my life. They, along with my Mentors, help me see that the best I can do is good enough, but they also challenge me to be better. Now Matthew and I both have full-time jobs and we are planning on buying a house. (No, not tomorrow–its part of our five-year plan!) Our kids are happier and A LOT less stressed, and so am I. They are growing and back on track developmentally. My daughter had been behind on reading and now is reading 4 grades above where she should be.

Q: What if Bridges of Hope didn’t exist?

A: We’d have failed. Our kids would have been taken. There’s no doubt that I could not have kept it together without the support that Bridges gave me. My life is more balanced—I have learned to focus on myself so I can then focus on my kids and be a good mom.

Q: What are the first words that come to mind when you think of Bridges of Hope?

A: Supportive, Positive, Uplifting, and Genuine. Everyone I have ever talked to at Bridges of Hope has been genuine. No one has ever talked down to me or made me feel ashamed. They have always focused on the positive strengths that I have and used them to help me see the things I needed to work on.

Thank you Samantha, for your willingness to share, for your courage to make amazing changes in your life, and for allowing us to be a part of your story. We are proud of you!

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Will YOU give the Power 2 HOPE to a family this year? A gift of any size makes a difference for families in the Lakes Area every day. Make a donation today!

 

Irene’s Moment

“Crazy.” –Irene said with a little chuckle. That’s how she described her life before Bridges of Hope. Irene is able to see the joy in her life now, but that was not the case before joining the Side by Side Program at Bridges.

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Irene

A few years ago, Irene was recovering from some family circumstances that had thrown her into deep postpartum depression. She had a very difficult pregnancy, and shortly after her daughter (Mackenzie) was delivered, her fiancé was deployed. Irene was weak from the pregnancy and had very little support.

As often happens during challenging situations, people in Irene’s life shared words of advice and encouragement. Unfortunately, no one was actually there to help her when she was up all night with a new baby which often led to her other children being late to school the next day.

Irene struggled to keep up with the day to day. Not only was getting her children to school on time more than she could manage, she also struggled with the daily tasks of keeping their (at that time) very small apartment in order. Irene pointed to the size of the room we were sitting in and said—“It [our apartment] was probably not much bigger than this room.”

Even after her fiance came home, things continued to be tough. Not only was Irene still wrestling with depression, but now they began to have relationship issues. As great as it was to have him back–they had been living separate lives for over a year. These struggles went on for years–eventually Irene’s mental health issues, taking care of her home, and parenting her kids seemed like too much. And it was. The school pointed out some concerns to Irene and that was when she knew something needed to change. Thankfully, Irene was connected with a counselor at Northern Pines Mental Health Center and was referred to Bridges of Hope’s Side by Side Mentoring Program last year.

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Mackenzie (Age 4)

Bridges helped Irene gain focus through goal setting with her case manager and mentors. She addressed her mental health issues (depression, PTSD, and anxiety) and learned the skills necessary to cope with them. This has made a tremendous difference for Irene and has allowed her to work on her relationship, parenting, and other life skills.

Irene has since enrolled in school at Central Lakes College and was recently invited to join the honors program. She is hopeful that she will be accepted.

Everyone I’ve met through Bridges has helped me gain confidence to take the step and get back into school. I am now pursuing a business management degree and have dreams of owning two different businesses.

The mentors and other women in the program made a big difference in my life. They would text me just to check in and we would meet as often as we could. They have given me the confidence I need and have told me my dreams and goals are attainable. I wouldn’t be where I am at now without Bridges. It was the interactions with the mentors and case manager that kept me focused, reminded me of my goals, and built me up when others were tearing me down. I finally feel I’m on the right path—because of the support and encouragement from Bridges things are getting better– it just feels like it’s all clicking.

As Irene made these final statements…I couldn’t help but notice the twinkle of hope in her eye. Hope truly makes all the difference in the world.

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You can make a gift that will multiply hope for Lakes Area families this holiday season. Please help us reach our $80,000 fall campaign goal to make more stories like Irene’s possible:

  • Make a donation today!
  • All donations are 100% tax-deductible and go directly to serving the Lakes Area.
  • Learn more about our programs.