It’s the ‘Little Things’

Sometimes the little things are the biggest things.

Did you know that by simply making a date with your daughter, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend or any other important lady in your life, you’re also greatly impacting the life of women you’ve never met before?

It’s true.

On April 7th, Bridges of Hope will host the annual Afternoon Tea for Hope. This event will mark the fourth ‘tea party’ where women, girls and even our gentleman friends come together in their pearls, fancy hats and dresses (with the exception of our male guests!), to sip tea from delicate china, nibble on sweets and savories, listen to live music, take chances in raffles and bid in an impressive selection in our silent auction. (Psst: you can visit Common Goods to find the perfect Tea outfit!)

Last year over 150 women, girls and guys helped raise over $13,000 for the Bridges of Hope Side by Side Mentoring Program. Your support truly means the world for the women, and their families, who participate in this program.

You may ask, what is Side By Side? It’s hard to summarize this life-changing experience into a paragraph, but I’ll try! Side By Side was launched in 2012 to help adult women move from survival to sustainability by developing and maintaining long-term mentoring relationships with women from throughout our community. The women participating in the program: “Participants,” set personal improvement goals in areas including income and stability, skills and education, and relationships and meaning. The Mentors and Participants connect weekly and monthly to increase face-to-face communication and accountability.

To date, Side By Side has worked with 28 Participants and 32 volunteer Mentors to provide a ‘hand up’ for those ready and able to make a lasting change in their lives.

Please help us continue to provide this critical programming to the women who need it most in our community. Make a date for tea time! This year’s event will be held in the Town Hall at Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake. Tea will be served at 2 pm, along with additional refreshments, food, a candy table and much more.

Buy your tickets today! Individual tickets are $40, or gather a group of eight and reserve a table for $280!  BUT… if you purchase your tickets BEFORE February 10th, you’ll receive $5 off your ticket! Click here to get started, or visit our website (

Sponsorship opportunities are also currently available to help support this event. To learn more, contact Nicholle Dean at 218-825-7682.

And thank you. Your support truly has a ripple effect in our community, more than you know!


Click here to learn more and purchase tickets.


Third-Annual Afternoon Tea a Success

On Sunday, May 7, over 150 women, girls, and even some gentlemen joined Bridges of Hope at Cragun’s Legacy Pavilion on a beautiful and sunny afternoon in support of the women participating in Bridges’ Side by Side Mentoring Program, at the third-annual Afternoon Tea for Hope.

This year’s event raised over $13,000 and featured a raffle, silent auction, games, food, and the ever-popular fire fighters from Brainerd and Nisswa who served tea & coffee, took selfies, sold raffle tickets, and made the afternoon that much more enjoyable overall. Premier sponsors included Cragun’s Legacy Courses and Bloom Designs.



As the director of Bridges of Hope, it has been my privilege to get to know the Mentors, Volunteers, and Participants of Side by Side on a much deeper level over the past nine months. These women inspire me, humble me, and challenge me to be a better version of myself.

Side by Side is based on the premise that change–real, lasting change in one’s life–takes time and support from others. Our program focuses on a small “cohort” of women over a long period of time, who are tired of the day-to-day chaos and are ready to dive in head-first, taking on the challenges of chronic poverty, broken relationships, past hurts, and more. During the Tea, we showed a brief video that highlighted some of the challenges that Side by Side Participants, Mentors, Volunteers, and program staff have overcome; as well as showcasing many of the strengths of these incredible women. This video was a powerful reminder of how much we have in common as human beings, even when we might be coming from different places in life.

Bridges of Hope is currently seeking 8-10 new volunteer Mentors for Side by Side, as we have a waiting list of women ready to become program Participants, but we need enough Mentors to support them on this journey! Our program seeks a 2:1 ratio of Mentors to Participants. A Mentor is a women who wants to develop supportive relationships with program Participants; has an ability to communicate with Participants openly and non-judgmentally; shows concern for and acceptance of persons with internal and external barriers; offers practical problem-solving suggestions; demonstrates a sensitivity to and respect for persons of different educational, economic, cultural or racial backgrounds; and is flexible. Intrigued? Learn more here and email Kassie to get started.

On behalf of our Board, staff, and the women of Side by Side, I would like to thank you once again for participating in this year’s Afternoon Tea and for supporting the Side by Side program at Bridges of Hope! We hope to host a similar event sometime next year. Until then…


Nichole’s Moment

A survivor of domestic violence, Nichole describes her experience working with Bridges of Hope over the course of a few years, and particularly in the Side by Side mentoring program.

Today, Nichole works for Wadena County Human Services. Her hope is that more education and awareness about domestic violence and its effects will be shared throughout our community.

During our Fall Campaign, Bridges of Hope is seeking to raise $60,000 from the community to help us serve over 300 households by December 31. Thanks to our generous past supporters, Bridges was there for Nichole when she needed additional support for herself and her family. Will you help make a difference for someone just like Nichole this year?

Click here to make a gift today. And thank you – you are truly the reason we are able to extend hope to others.

A special thanks to Justin DeZurik, who created this video.

Patty Sue’s Story

Since joining the Side by Side program two years ago, Patty Sue is the first to admit that her life has changed for the better. Patty Sue initially heard about the Side by Side program at Bridges of Hope while receiving Respite care services for her family. A stay-at-home mom of five children, ages one through eight, Patty Sue had seen her share of hardships and hard times that made life a constant struggle.

“I was at a point in my life where I could really use it,” Patty Sue said of the outside interaction. “I had a lot of negative things in my life and really needed something positive to look forward to.”

Patty Sue had been a victim of domestic abuse and homelessness for many years. In her life, positive relationships were few and far between. “I’m the type of person who isolates herself,” Patty Sue admitted. “I would isolate myself in my house, and I knew I needed to get out; but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. So when they asked me to join Side By Side, I knew it would be a good thing for me.”

Coordinators and volunteers with the Side by Side program say they’ve witnessed tremendous growth in Patty Sue since joining the program: “She truly has become so much more of a vibrant and happy person,” one individual noted. “I know she doesn’t necessarily recognize that, but she has overcome so many obstacles and hurdles with her personal growth and mental health. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Now in her second year as a Side by Side participant, Patty Sue said she is seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. She has also created friendships and support outside of the Side by Side meetings through other program Participants.

“Having positive experiences with the other women was something I needed,” she said. “I agreed to it because you can never have too much positive in your life. It helps me get out of the house more often and visit with others who can lift you up. If I’m having a bad day, I go there and feel so much better.”

The Side by Side program is more than Mentors reaching out to Participants; it’s also about Participants finding common ground and support with each other, as well as positive interactions and words of encouragement at, oftentimes, bleak moments.

“Life throws a lot of things at you,” Patty Sue said, “and some people, like myself, don’t always manage well in reaching out. But Side By Side has helped me in so many ways.”A Mentor Walks Alongside You Quote

If you are interested in helping a woman change herself for the better, contact Kassie at Bridges of Hope for more information on becoming a Mentor.

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.

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.


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!


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!


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.



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.


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.