Doing For Others

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal” – Albert Pike.

I ran across this quote today and couldn’t help but think of YOU, our faithful supporters. You gave of your time, finances and talent in 2011 to “do for others and the world.” Not only has Bridges of Hope experienced the generosity of this community; but I have personally experienced this during my ten years living in this community, especially over the last five months.

Some of you know that my mother recently passed away after a four-and-a-half month battle with Leukemia. Our family mourns this loss deeply. Friends, family and the community have wrapped their arms around us with such love and care that it brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

One of the reasons I admire my mother is the fact that she was always doing for others. I feel so blessed to be living out her example by serving at Bridges of Hope, an organization that not only does for others, but helps them do for themselves as well. I am inspired by the glimpses of my mother’s loving and giving spirit that I see in my five and seven-year-old children, especially over this last few months as they have had to endure the illness and loss of their beloved grandma.

Today I am also thinking about and feeling so humbled by the gifts made to this organization in 2011 in honor of and in memory of loved ones. I just want to take this time to acknowledge these special folks.

2011 Honoraria and Memorial Gifts:
In Honor of Dick & Carmen Holter
In Honor of Katie Sordahl
In Honor of new staff Jennifer Koenig
In Honor of Nick & Kassie Heisserer and their children
In Honor of Patty Baltz
In Honor of Val Knudsen                                                                                                                    In Memory of Charles McQuinn
In Memory of Clarice Hager
In Memory of Denise Schneider
In Memory of Mike Znameroski and in Honor of Susan Znameroski
In Memory of Pauline Bottemiller
In Memory of Winnie Lou Hern
For Bode
For Carol Marrin
For Jim Rehberger

To those of you who made these gifts, thank you for choosing Bridges of Hope and trusting in us to do this work we love in honor of Him and your loved ones.

Please click here to learn more about our programs.

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Bridge for the Arb Completed

This is a community that cares.

We are thrilled to announce that our bridge project with Nor-Son, Simonson Lumber, and the Northland Arboretum is completed!

This bridge was a great way to mark our progress toward our $60,000 Fall Campaign goal, which we reached in December–all thanks to our generous donors, who have shown us that supporting families in need is something they care about deeply (more about that here).

Both Lakeland Public Television and the Brainerd Dispatch came out for the the bridge’s completion and transport to the Arb, which you can watch here:

And here:

We are so happy to be able to provide the Arb with a working bridge that will be installed next spring. Thank you for making our work with families possible.

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Learn more about Bridges of Hope’s work with families.

Make a gift to support our work with families.

Recycle Mania

Posted by Suzanne Welch, Common Goods General Manager.

Recycle Mania Logo

recycled televisions

Common Goods held its first two-day Recycle Mania event on Jan 6-7, 2012. We had a beautiful weekend, weather-wise (practically unheard of in Minnesota!), and community members recycled over 2,3oo pounds of electronics and corded items! We were excited to give donors a tangible way to get a jump-start on cleaning up and cleaning out their storage spaces in the new year.

Hughes Technology was an amazing partner. Elizabeth and her team of passionate recyclers will disassemble the items we collected and recycle their parts properly. We are thankful for the partnership we’ve built with Hughes Technology over the past couple years, which is what helped make and event like this possible.

Common Goods strives to be more than “just” a thrift store. We intentionally use our store as a platform for education to our customers, donors and the broader community on how, where, and what to donate–and when an item has survived past its useful life, how and where to properly put it to rest–very often by recycling it.

This year we plan to once again partner with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Hughes Technology for a community-wide Earth Day event in April. Community members will be able to donate and recycle their items all at one place, at the ReStore. In November, we plan to team up with  Hughes Technology again for America Recycles Day. Mark your calendars now and watch Facebook (click to “like” our page) and our website for details!

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Learn more about the mission and volunteer opportunities at Common Goods.

Rachel is the Living Proof

Here at Bridges of Hope, almost 100% of the clients we work with are struggling financially to some extent. One of our main goals when helping a family navigate their way through a financial crisis is to try to prevent the situation from happening again, which can be pretty tough. Most of us can be a bit “stuck” in our financial habits–or don’t even know we have financial habits, let alone knowing how to go about changing them. And I’m the first to admit that in my own life, personal finances can be a difficult area to talk about openly with another person. Some of the families we work with may not be ready to adjust their financial priorities yet, but we believe it is still important to present them with some of their options anyway, so that they know how to access the help they need when they’re ready to make a change.

One of the ways we determine what those options are is by completing a budget worksheet with the family. By collecting a household’s monthly income and expenses, we are able to quickly identify any obvious gaps that low-income families might have, such as eligibility for a local food program or seasonal utility assistance to help their own funds for food and utilities stretch further. Our Financial Resources Program is specifically designed to match people with the resources they qualify for, and we have made a practice of seeking to become the local “experts” on both the area resources that exist and the guidelines or criteria needed to access them.

TV AntennaWhile working with a family, we often have to have the tough conversation of sorting out what constitutes a “need” versus a “want,” and prioritizing which kinds of bills are the most important to pay first and on time. We usually suggest expense-reducing options for categories that fall closer to the “wants” side, such as finding less expensive phone plans and cutting down or eliminating cable and internet plans. For example, our community has several free resources for accessing the internet, including our area libraries, as well as our local Workforce Center for job seekers (for resume help as well as seeking job openings). I am proud to report that I have even followed my own suggestions and am living proof that someone can still enjoy television in 2012 with just an antenna, which does not require a contract or monthly subscription fee.

This time of year, we also have the sometimes-difficult “Plans for Your Tax Return” conversation with our clients. For many of the families we work with, it can be daunting to figure out the best use of a tax return, especially if it exceeds their usual monthly income (which last year averaged about $475/mo for each member of a household). We work with families to create a plan that will not only address their immediate crisis but also help create a more long-term cushion against future crises. For example…

  • If the client has been struggling to pay their car insurance each month, we may suggest that they use their tax return to pay a full year’s worth of car insurance. Not only will their car insurance be paid for a full year, but they will also save money overall, since they can avoid monthly installment fees.
  • If a client is struggling to pay their rent consistently and on time, we might encourage them to contact their landlord to see if they can pay for several months’ worth of rent at once (landlords tend to appreciate payment in full–and in advance). Sometimes this arrangement can even give the client some flexibility to negotiate for lower rent, if they are offering to pay a significant amount at one time.
  • If the immediate crisis has been resolved and there are no other no major financial issues at the time, we can suggest the client start an “Emergency Fund” at a local bank, to prevent a future crisis from happening in the event of a job loss or illness.

We also recognize that the interactions we have with our clients are limited in scope, and sometimes more in-depth financial literacy education is necessary. In this event, we make referrals to other programs with just this specialty, such as Lutheran Social Services Financial Counseling, or an extended training course such as Financial Peace University, a 13-week money management program often offered at our local churches.

I am currently working with a client who has taken steps to make these kinds of changes in her budget:

Rachel, a single mother of three, was working nearly 35 hours a week and had a fairly stable financial picture, when her child support abruptly ended, causing a hole of over $600.00 in her budget each month that she had counted on to care of her children’s needs. Through our work together, Rachel has cut her cell phone entirely and retained her land line, saving $85.00 each month. She made the tough decision to completely cut out her cable and internet packages, saving an additional $120.00/month. Due to the change in household income, Rachel now qualifies for food support and has applied for that program to help make up some of the deficit she now has.

We are continuing to work with Rachel, helping advocate for her with her landlord to allow her to pay a portion of this month’s rent next month after she receives her tax return–and to pay the next several months in advance. Rachel has really worked hard to change the way she looks at her financial situation and to gain control of it herself, setting herself up for future stability.

At Bridges of Hope, part of our mission is to strengthen, stabilize and support families. We regard building financial literacy among the families we serve as one of the most important things we can do to “help.” Each day we do our best to both provide the resources that will keep a family’s current crisis from becoming a catastrophe, and to provide the kind of education and support that will prevent a future crisis from even happening in the first place. When a family like Rachel’s really works hard to overcome their short-term crisis and set themselves up for future success, they in turn become the living proof for us that real, lasting change is truly possible for families.

2011 Blogging Review by WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Music to My Ears

For many, the Holidays are a wonderful time of year filled with family, fun, laughter, giving (and eating!). One of my favorite things about the Holidays is the Christmas music. I am an avid collector of Christmas albums, and coming from a musical family means that singing in church and playing instruments is a part of the Holidays that always brings me joy.

As the season winds down, I usually feel a slight pang as Christmas music is no longer being played in church or on the radio. It somehow feels empty. This feeling also serves as a reminder to me about how this time of year is not a wonderful time for everyone. Some are experiencing a first Holiday without a loved one, some are feeling the pain of divorce and complicated Holiday celebrations, some have to face strained relationships with family members; and for many, the “winter blues” have begun to set in.

I think at some point everyone experiences a little of the “winter blues” here in Minnesota. The void of activity after a busy few months of Holiday celebrations, the cold of January and February, and the lack of sunlight is an easy recipe for feeling down or depressed. For some, staying active with friends and family both in or outdoors is enough to shake the mood. But for others, it’s not quite that simple, and it can become a very serious concern, like what happened in Carol’s family recently:

Carol’s Moment

girl sitting by a wallCarol felt like she was in over her head. A couple days after Christmas, her eldest daughter Laura confided in her about some frightening suicidal thoughts. A home-schooling mother of four with a husband who owned his own business, Carol felt that their family life was good and had been confident she was pretty in-tune with her children. Stunned with this news, Carol acted quickly and scheduled an appointment for Laura with the family doctor.

The doctor recommended Laura see a counselor, but after striking out on her first few attempts at scheduling an appointment, Carol called Bridges of Hope. During her conversation with a Bridges staff, Carol disclosed that she too had been personally struggling with depression for most of her adult life–especially during the winter months. Bridges of Hope was able to find two available appointments for both Laura & Carol at the same local counseling center.

A couple days after the appointment, the Bridges staff called Carol to see how things were going. Carol thanked her for helping set up the counseling and shared that she and Laura were both planning to see the counselors regularly over the next few months. Carol was grateful that BoH had been able to find counselors that were such a good fit for her family, right when they needed the support.

As a staff who works directly with families who reach out for support, I help with a wide variety of situations and struggles on a daily basis; however, over the past 3 and a half years, I have noticed some trends too. One is the increase in calls during January and February that are related to help with mental health and counseling. Although we do not provide the counseling ourselves, it feels so great to be able to make really good recommendations to our local therapists, based on the knowledge and relationships we have built with our therapists and counseling agencies in the area. Knowing that I am helping someone who is facing a dark time in their life is very rewarding. Following up with someone after their first appointment and hearing the change in their voice–a more relaxed, less burdened, lighter sounding voice–truly is music to my ears.

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Are you, your child, or someone you know struggling with a mental health issue? Call Bridges of Hope today (218.825.7682). A staff member will gather some information from you and can help match you with a therapist who specializes in what you are looking for.

You can also learn more about our Mental Health Program here.