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.

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.

 

 

She is Clothed with Strength and Dignity…

Defeated…worn out…confused. These are some of the words that Cindy used to describe herself and her situation when I first met her. Cindy is a young mom with three small children: Luke, Isabelle, and Nicholas. When she first started working with me, she and her children were homeless and living in a shelter. Cindy was a victim of domestic abuse and made the choice to leave her relationship to make a better life for her and her children, but it wasn’t easy, and she faced many challenges along the way. Not only did Cindy lack stable housing, but her children were displaying some concerning behaviors. One of her sons was becoming more defiant, the other was often sad and reclusive, and her daughter struggled with outbursts and tantrums. To make matters worse, Cindy had many financial concerns due to limited financial resources. Thankfully, she was referred to Bridges of Hope at just the right time.

three-siblings1I worked with Cindy through the Parent Support Outreach Program for three months and met with her weekly to provide resources, guidance, and support. Though Cindy felt scared and overwhelmed, she continued to work hard to do everything she could to improve her situation. While participating in this program, Cindy was connected with county assistance, where she accessed childcare services, food support, and some financial assistance. She also attended financial counseling through Lutheran Social Service, which helped her prioritize her expenses and get a handle on her debt. She was already enrolled in classes at Central Lakes College, and she was able to reduce her course load to something more manageable. I was able to help Cindy connect with in-home counseling services to help her children work through the trauma and life changes they had experienced in such a short time, and she was eager to make the first appointment. Cindy’s strength and perseverance paid off. She found housing, and Bridges of Hope was able to assist her with the deposit she needed to move in. Cindy was also connected with Salem WEST to provide her with furniture and household items for her new home, and Cindy was thrilled!

Cindy is an amazing woman who has faced many significant challenges, but with the right supports and resources and a whole lot of resilience and determination, Cindy made huge changes for herself and her children. Her entire face lights up when she talks about her home, and I’ve seen more smiles on the faces of her kids since they’ve had a place to call their own.

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Help Bridges of Hope continue to be able to be there for other families like Cindy’s this year: make a donation today!

Callie’s Moment

Callie is a mom of three kids: Damion, Alayna, and Alexa, and is in the process of divorcing from her husband of many years. Even though it was emotionally and financially difficult, sad womanshe was learning to manage living on one income and providing for her kids on her own. In the midst of this transition, she was let go from her job. Callie was devastated. She had done her best to fulfill her job requirements throughout this transition, but between changing schedules, caring for her kids who were struggling, and her own mental health struggles, it was just too much. Her employer, after offering as much grace as they could, had to make the difficult decision to let her go.

Callie’s job had provided her with a wage that had been enough to provide a fairly comfortable living. Callie knew immediately that she needed to find other employment (and began the search) but in the meantime, she had no idea what to do. Rent was due for the month and any savings she and her husband had was gone with the divorce. Callie had never been in this position before and was not aware of the resources that were available to her, and she quickly found out that she did not qualify for most resources because she was over their income guidelines (even though she didn’t currently have any income, many agencies have guidelines that look back a few months and include any income you have received in those prior months).

Fortunately, Callie connected with an area church that referred her to Bridges of Hope. Callie began working closely with a Resource Specialist regarding her situation. Callie explained the steps she had already taken to find a new job and expressed her concerns for the immediate future, as well as sharing her discouragement of being told ‘no.’ While working with Bridges, Callie was able to get an interview as well as a few good leads on some part-time work.

steppingoutinfaithAs Callie progressed towards getting closer to a new job, our staff prayerfully considered her request for help and came to the conclusion that this was a time that God was leading us to step out in faith, knowing that a job was just around the corner for Callie. Bridges of Hope was able to partner with an area church to come up with a majority of the rent, and Callie was able to pay the rest. Through her tears, Callie thanked staff for helping her when no one else could.

When a Bridges staff called Callie a couple weeks later to see how she was doing, she had already started working a part time job on the weekends and would start a full time job in the coming week.This story is a great example of how Bridges of Hope is able to be flexible because we do not have specific income guidelines, and because we have such amazing partnerships with our local churches. God is good!

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  • Do you know someone facing a difficult situation? Bridges of Hope can talk with them about what community resources they may be able to tap into. Call our office at 218.825.7682 to speak with one of our staff today.
  • We are able to do this kind of work because of our invaluable donors and supporters.Your gift is tax-deductible and will go to work right away helping those in need in our community. Make a gift today.

 

A Fairy Tale Ending

Over the past two and a half years, I have had the privilege to work with 44 teen parents through our Teen Parent Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope. As the program comes to an end, I am saddened to not continue to work with such wonderful people; however, I am so grateful that our amazing community partner, Crow Wing County Community Services, will continue their great work with teen parents in our community. I’d like to share with you a story written by my counterpart and “good witch”–you’ll understand after reading the story (Kaylo Brooks, MFIP Outreach Worker at Crow Wing County). This story was shared at a graduation celebration for one of our teen dads, James, and is used with his permission:

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James & His Girlfriend Catherine

Once upon a time a long, long time ago (well, okay, 8 months ago) in a village far far away (well, actually just in Brainerd) there lived a boy who had the magical superpowers of, um, playing video games. This boy was really skilled at “gaming” and could do it day in and day out, even in the nighttime! This boy was very bright, well-mannered, had a very kind heart, and was adored by all who knew him. This boy had a beautiful baby with fiery red hair and eyes like the ocean who was the center of his universe and he of hers. When you saw them together you knew that theirs was a bond that would forever remain. He also had a spectacular girlfriend who cheered him on and gave him courage and encouragement and knew all along in her heart that his potential was limitless.

But alas, as always in stories such as this, there comes along a witch–or in this case, three. They wrote a book of spells (also known as a Social Service Case Plan) which encouraged the boy to go to school and look for work and do good in the world. The boy, overcome by the persuasive witches, decided to follow the path the witches laid out in front of him. He took one step down the path, and then another, and another. The path was curvy, bumpy and often uphill, but before long the boy was sprinting down the path–fiery haired baby in one hand and holding his girlfriend’s hand in the other.

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James & His Three “Witches”

Despite their broomsticks and cauldrons, even the witches couldn’t keep up with the boy! He graduated high school months earlier than the school said was possible, he earned awards at school for perfect attendance, and he was the Area Education Center Student of the Month in May. He missed one day–and one day only–when the blizzard wizard created a snow storm so deep that even the good witch, Kaylo, could not keep her broomstick on the road and therefore could not get the boy to school. He was loved by teachers and staff alike. One teacher told the witches that in all her years of teaching she has never seen a boy with such tenacity, perseverance, or work ethic. She said that above all that he is one of the nicest kids she has ever worked with, and with tears in her eyes, she said she was so very proud of him.

The path also brought the boy to a job at Target where he sometimes walks eight miles round trip to keep his job. (Yes, really!!) And most importantly, on this path, he has committed to his daughter by attending weekly classes at TCC for parenting skills: not because he isn’t good dad, but because he is willing to do whatever it takes to be a great dad.

And so here we are today, at the end of the boy’s path but certainly not the end of his journey. And without any hocus pocus, magic wands or fire breathing dragons, the boy and hero of our story, right before our eyes, has turned into a man.  

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What an amazing honor it has been to be a small part of Cat & James (and many others’) paths!

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Get Involved:

  • Learn more about our programs and services.
  • Financially support our work with children & families in the Lakes Area.
  • Refer someone needing assistance to call Bridges of Hope (218.825.7682).