Liz’s Moment

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Liz is a 45 year-old with bright green eyes and an infectious personality whose dream was to move out of a group home and into her own place. Liz would call our office almost like clockwork once a month, requesting help with either gas, clothing, or furniture. Each month, we would kindly remind Liz that all of those needs were taken care of for her through living at the group home. Her disability made it difficult for Liz to fully understand why she didn’t need these items, and each time our staff would patiently explain the process she needed to follow first before calling us.

Then one afternoon late last fall Liz called again, and once again I expected to talk to her about why she didn’t need any gas, clothing or furniture yet, but this time, Liz had moving plans! We were thrilled for her. We were able to confirm the details with Liz’s mental health worker, and then things really started to take off. Because we all wanted this move to be successful for Liz, I talked to her about her new responsibilities; such as paying her rent on time, buying groceries for herself, learning new transportation resources, and other details about living on your own. Liz and her mental health worker came up with a list of furniture and household items Liz would need. After all her past requests, we were finally able to say “yes” to Liz!
Moving day arrived, and Liz moved out of the group home and into her own apartment. A few days later, Liz’s donated furniture and household furnishings were dropped off. A month later, my heart sank just a little when I received that familiar monthly call from Liz. I was expecting to hear the worst–that she had lost her rent money, or her furniture wasn’t working out, or something else. But once again, Liz surprised me. She was requesting help with a bus pass. Since Liz doesn’t drive, walking and the bus were her only forms of transportation–and now that we were in the dead of winter, it was just too cold out to walk.sidewalk-goodcondition

At our weekly staff meeting, we discussed the request as a team, and we were able to provide Liz with a bus pass. A couple of weeks later, I followed up with Liz, and she positively gushed about her new life on her own. She was volunteering in the community and had already lost weight from all the walking she was doing. She was so happy!

The next month came and…I never received the familiar call from Liz. And then the next month came, and still no call. When the calls stopped coming, we knew that Liz had made her dream come true.

 

Danielle’s Moment

Nativity_tree2011If you’re like me, you are focusing some time & energy today on wrapping up loose ends at work so you can turn your focus to wrapping up gifts and the final details for your Christmas celebrations next week. Or maybe you’re that amazing person at your church who is leading the Christmas program performance this weekend (God bless you!).

No matter what our “loose ends” might be, I hope we all take more than a few moments to pause, breathe, and prepare our minds & hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

At Bridges of Hope, we are helping individuals and families with more than loose ends. We are proud to do this rewarding, tough, and sometimes heartbreaking work.

I want to tell you about one family in particular who is weighing heavily on my mind today. (I’ve changed the details about their family, in order to honor their privacy.)

Danielle called our office a couple of weeks ago. She was encouraged to do so by a hospital social worker. Danielle has been battling cancer for the last few years and just received the news that no one wants to hear: there is nothing more that can be done by her doctors. It is unclear how much time Danielle has left on this earth with her family. She was clear about this when she spoke with Jacklin in our office, though: she feels blessed. She plans to enjoy the time she has left with her husband and two young kids. And she wants to continue doing the things she loves as long as possible, including reading.

The cancer is affecting her vision, but she can still read with a magnifying glass–which is where Bridges comes in. When making some plans for her transition home, Danielle and her social worker were looking into large, hands-free magnifying glasses. They aren’t very expensive; however, the $50 – $80 cost is not in the family’s already stretched budget.

Danielle, who is only in her late 30’s, participated in our simple intake process with Jacklin and our team quickly agreed that getting Danielle a magnifying glass, utilizing our Spirit of Kindness Fund, was absolutely the right thing to do! Just a couple of hours after we made this decision, Jacklin approached me and was excited to report that she ended up connecting Danielle with a local office who wanted to help an individual or family out at Christmas. This amazing group of office folks now plans to purchase the magnifying glass and shower Danielle with a few other goodies for the holidays (another community group has already committed to adopt Danielle’s kiddos for Christmas).

This is a little thing that means a lot for Danielle and her family and they prepare for the uncertainty ahead during this Christmas season.

YOU make it possible for us to extend Christ’s love to Danielle and the hundreds of other individuals and families who are reaching out to Bridges of Hope during this holiday season. As you know, we are nearing the deadline for our year-end “I Hope” campaign and we’ve raised $34,039 so far. Thank you!

IThermo_04n order to continue making a difference in big and small ways, we must reach our goal of raising $60,000 by December 31st. Can you help provide hope still this year to others like Danielle? A gift of just $175 will allow us the honor of serving one household.

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Will you help us build Bridges today? On behalf of the Bridges staff & board, I ask that you consider pausing from whatever you might be doing right now and make a gift, big or small, to support our work with families in the Lakes Area. Your gift will truly make a difference!

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Beauty in the Storm

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In the midst of a storm, the last thing many of us witness is beauty. However, one Brainerd area couple saw just that in the hours, days and weeks following the July 12th storm that hit the Lakes Area this past summer.

Tom and Marlene Larson have called this area home for over 50 years. But never has the Brainerd couple witnessed a disaster matching the magnitude of the storm on Sunday, July 12, 2015.

During the storm, the Larsons had three layers of trees fall on the west side of two garages, leaving gaping holes in the roof and a daunting job of clearing.

Despite the irreplaceable damage to property and the emotional toll it took on so many, Tom and Marlene noted that it was an opportunity for community to come together and witness the generosity and giving spirit of so many willing to step forward in times of need.

“We were so thankful to have little damage to our home, but we hardly had a tree left on our property,” Marlene noted. “It took six of us to open our driveway.”

“Yes, it was severe. Yes, there was much damage. But this has brought neighborhoods together. We think of this as ‘people helping people.’”AmeriCorps

Within days following the storm, crews arrived to help cover the holes in the roof with tarps. Bottled water and snacks were delivered, and the Larsons reached out to Bridges of Hope for additional assistance.

Fulfilling the call, Bridges of Hope partnered with local emergency services personnel to provide volunteers and necessary resources to those impacted by the storm; as well as providing spiritual, mental and emotional support to individuals and families just like Tom and Marlene’s.

Marlene shared, “It’s an appropriate name, as they were ready to assist our needs – emotional and physical.”

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You can help ensure Bridges of Hope’s services are available for all who call; help us reach our $60,000 goal by year-end! As of 12/4/15, you have given ~$23,000 to help those in need. Thank you!DonateButtonOrangeLogo

Gordon and Rhonda’s Moment

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This year marks the 10th year that Bridges of Hope has been offering Crisis Nursery Services to the Brainerd Lakes Area. Yes, you read right–TEN YEARS! That’s a decade of giving parents a safe childcare option during a family crisis, which translates into thousands of children placed into the loving care of our selfless providers since the start of the program.

So what exactly is Crisis Nursery? It is a safe, positive childcare option for parents that have nowhere else to turn. There are Crisis Nurseries all around the state of Minnesota, and while they all operate a little bit differently, they also all have one thing in common: the goal to keep kids safe while providing stability to parents during a stressful time.

What defines a crisis? A crisis can be a single mom needing a break and not having friends or family who can provide her with that break. It can be a medical issue preventing a parent from caring for their children as they normally do. Or it can be work & medical related, like Gordon & Rhonda’s situation:

Gordon called one afternoon sounding extremely stressed; his voice full of concern. He explained to me that his wife Rhonda recently had had surgery, and during her recovery she had very limiting lifting restrictions. Gordon said that not only was Rhonda unable to do normal, routine tasks; she also wasn’t able to lift their ten-month-old son. Gordon said their family members had been helping out as much as possible, but there was a day coming up when he had to work and no other family members were available to help with childcare. Gordon said it was one of those family members that told him about the Crisis Nursery Services provided by Bridges of Hope.

Ames_3410 Gordon had already taken some time off work and if he missed another shift, he was afraid he would be suspended from his job, so he was wondering if the family could use Crisis Nursery for his ten-month-old son and three-year-old twin daughters while he was at work. Gordon explained that he only needed help for one day, as his mother was coming to stay with them for about a week until Rhonda had recovered enough for her doctor to lift her restrictions. I assured Gordon that this was an appropriate situation for Crisis Nursery Services; and after a few phone calls to various childcare providers, an available provider was located. Gordon let out a HUGE sigh of relief when I told him a provider was available to care for his children.

We always attempt to follow up with parents and providers after they’ve used the Crisis Nursery, to make sure everything went smoothly, see how they are doing, and to make sure the situation has been fully resolved. Almost 90% of parents surveyed report feeling less stressed, thanks to Crisis Nursery Services.This was certainly true for Gordon:

When I followed up with Gordon the day after using Crisis Nursery, he said he was so relieved that he didn’t have to miss another day of work, and he was able to focus at work knowing that his children were in good hands. Gordon said his daughters loved the childcare provider because she was kind, caring, and she had a dog! Gordon expressed his thanks one more time and said he knows where to turn if he is ever in an emergency situation like this again.

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If you or someone you know could benefit from more information about our Crisis Nursery Services, please call 218.825.7682 to speak with one of our Resource Specialists, or visit our website.

Want to help ensure these services remain available for those who need them? Make a donation today!

Inspiring Hope

I have the awesome privilege to work for an agency that I love and in a role that is a perfect fit for me. I am an Outreach Worker at Bridges of Hope and I provide in-home support to families that are in complex and challenging situations.

inspire hopeRecently, I worked with a family that struggled with chemical dependency issues, domestic violence, mental health struggles, and financial barriers. Prior to Bridges of Hope’s involvement, Anna and Jacob (names changed for anonymity) were not actively working with any area providers. When I first met Anna, Jacob, and their children, it was apparent that they were all skeptical of me…and who wouldn’t be!? I am a stranger to them and they have demonstrated resilience and fortitude already for decades of their lives. I get it. It’s scary and overwhelming to put your trust into someone that you don’t know, and who am I to receive that trust? Yet, incredibly, that is just what they did. This family allowed me to walk alongside of them for several weeks as we worked together to build bridges of support; and not only were they part of building those bridges, but they courageously walked across them as well. 

One of Anna and Jacob’s biggest strengths was their desire for the betterment of their family and the well-being of their children. Though we all want what’s best, it takes a very strong couple to recognize that “wanting” something is not always enough. Loving someone is not always enough, either: often we don’t have the tools, resources, and skills to improve our situation. Anna and Jacob worked on their relationship, their communication with their children, setting appropriate boundaries, and collaborating with the school and other providers. I was honored to be a support for them as they did this. It was not always an easy process, as learned behaviors and unhealthy habits have a way of creeping back into our daily routines, but they stuck with it. My role was to teach the family new skills, hold them accountable, and be a cheerleader for their incredible successes…and what an awesome success they are! Anna & Jacob are now receiving therapy, chemical dependency support, school support for their children, and are successfully paying for their household expenses after obtaining employment. The families I work with are the true inspirations.

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If you or someone you know could benefit from support from Bridges of Hope, call 218.825.7682 or visit our website for more information.

 

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.