The Spirit of Service

For many middle school and high school students, Spring Break is time to head out on a family vacation or to just take it easy for a week; but for about 20 youth from Brainerd Area Catholic Churches (BACC), this year it was time spent giving back to the community.

BACC Youth Volunteering

Back in September, Bridges of Hope sent a letter to our local church youth groups (as many as we could find names and addresses for), offering to have a representative come to speak to their group about social enterprise/thrift/volunteerism and inviting them to volunteer at Common Goods. In December, Erin (BACC Youth coordinator) contacted our AmeriCorps VISTA Natasha, whose year of service includes assisting us in developing our volunteer program at Common Goods. Erin pitched the idea of having the youth do some service over Spring Break. It was exactly the kind of project we were hoping to launch!

BACC Youth Volunteering

This was our first larger-scale volunteer project, but we had a sense of how much work there was to be done and had accordingly scheduled the students into smaller groups and into multiple shifts. However, during the first day, we quickly realized that these students worked FAST–and that there were more students available than we had shifts or capacity for, so we happily “shared” many of them with the Habitat for Humanity ReStore during the rest of the week.

Working in shifts of about three students and one adult, the BACC youth volunteers started out cleaning the back rooms where we process donations: organizing items, cleaning the walls, scrubbing floors, etc. Then they moved on to cleaning walls and dusting items on the sales floor, and finally assisted with hanging and steaming clothes, sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning the windows inside and out, putting clothes away, reorganizing books and shoes, and other special projects as they arose.

BACC Youth Volunteering

By the end of the day on Wednesday, the youth were all finished and set to head out to a pizza party, and Common Goods looked GREAT.

All together, the youth from Brainerd Area Catholic Churches collectively volunteered at Common Goods for a total of 80 hours! Many of the projects the students worked on are the kinds of jobs that need to be done every week at Common Goods; and, as one of our staff put it, “it was awesome to be able to have the students really help spruce things up!”

Thanks, BACC Youth, for your spirit of service over Spring Break!

To learn more about Common Goods, visit our website, or contact Natasha at 218.825.7682 for more information about volunteering.

Andrew’s Moment

Andrew, a single father, had been unemployed for about four months, and the utility bills had begun to pile up. He connected with Bridges of Hope after his church had assisted him several times with food and his rent. The social ministry worker at Andrew’s church made the first phone call to Bridges, concerned that they would no longer be able to support Andrew financially, and our staff explained our Financial Resources Program, recommending that Andrew call right away.

Church SteepleWe also talked with the social ministry worker about how Bridges was created to assist churches when someone contacts them with  a financial crisis, since Bridges of Hope specializes in knowing about all of the local community resources and how to access them. They were relieved to learn that churches can refer both parishoners and non-parishioners to Bridges of Hope, since our role in the community is to assist with exactly these kinds of scenarios. Churches can even stay connected with Bridges about the outcome of the situation (if we have obtained a Release of Information from the person to share their information).

Andrew called that same day, and during his initial conversation with our staff, he indicated he was also out of food for his 8-year-old son’s beloved cat. We connected Andrew to an animal Food Shelf that provided him with a small supply of pet food while we worked with Andrew on his other concerns.

During that first conversation, the Bridges of Hope staff quickly realized there were a few complex pieces to Andrew’s financial puzzle, so she scheduled a meeting to sit down with Andrew and thoroughly explore his current financial situation. In particular, Andrew disclosed that a disability was causing a major barrier to his re-employment. Because he was under 200% of the federal poverty guideline, Andrew was eligible for several assistance programs, but both he and his church had been unaware of their existence prior to connecting with Bridges of Hope.

After that, we helped Andrew connect with Lutheran Social Service‘s Energy Assistance program for help with his utility bills and with County Income Maintenance for food support. We also helped Andrew access the Salvation Army food shelf and AngelFood Ministries for additional food resources while his applications were processing and connected him with the Disability Linkage Line for further support with his ongoing barrier to employment.

It was clear that it might take Andrew some time before he was able to return to work, so the Bridges staff recommended that Andrew look at moving to a lower-cost apartment, which would allow him to pay for all of his household needs on an ongoing basis. Andrew was provided with information about subsidized housing and was connected to the key person who could expedite his application, given some of the specific circumstances of Andrew’s situation.

Since then, Andrew has moved into a subsidized apartment with his son and has been able to maintain his bills. During a follow-up call to see how things were going, Andrew stated, “I can’t thank you enough. I felt like I was going nowhere with no real solutions. But you knew exactly what I needed and connected me to the right people. I’m going to pray tonight that God blesses you!”

If you or someone you know is struggling financially, contact Bridges of Hope for assistance finding and navigating the resources in the Lakes Area. If you are a local church wondering about how you and Bridges can work together to better serve families in our community, contact Jana Shogren, our Executive Director at 218.825.7682.

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Photo by Bill Longshaw