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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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.

Having Christmas Every Day

This Christmas, many of us will have ventured out into stores to purchase gifts for our families and friends, and we may have also made a charitable contribution to one of our many worthy local causes or purchased gifts for a family in need through a program like the one at Bridges of Hope. Yes, Christmas is a time for giving, sharing and receiving.

You are probably well aware that malls, department stores, boutiques and other local businesses are very busy this time of year, but one that may not immediately come to mind is the thrift stores. Common Goods is one such place bustling with activity during the Holiday season, and it’s a great spot to shop for your holiday gifts and decorations.

The employees are helpful and very knowledgeable about what is in the store, and if you are looking for something they don’t have, they can probably refer you to another place in town that carries it.  They also upcycle some of the donated merchandise–sometimes even remaking an item into something else entirely! Some of the staff have even been around since the store opened in 2009.

One of them is Jenny. To Jenny, Common Goods is not just a place to shop, a place to donate, or a place to volunteer (although those are all great things themselves!); it’s that whatever is done at Common Goods is helping Bridges of Hope and the community. In 2009, Jenny started out working for Common Goods through our local Workforce Center, and she was soon hired on as a regular staff. Jenny loves knowing that her work benefits families in the community who are in need. She also loves meeting the variety of people who come in both to shop and to volunteer–and for the opportunity to pass on the message of helping others to her own family; one of her sons comes in to volunteer every week during the summer months. The staff at Common Goods have the blessing and opportunity to work at a place that is mission-driven and impacting the community for good.

Christmas for Jenny means a time of family togetherness, a time for giving and sharing, and or course a time to remember the True meaning of the Holiday. She sees Bridges of Hope bringing light to dark situations where parents would otherwise have to choose between paying bills or buying Christmas gifts for their children.

Common Goods StaffBut it doesn’t end at Christmas–because receiving donations from the community is like having Christmas every day! Jenny loves the fact that her work at Common Goods goes to provide help for families all year, since Bridges of Hope utilizes the profits of Common Goods to support their work with families. For Jenny, work is less about the “job” and more about the community she is serving in and the meaningful relationships she has developed with coworkers and volunteers. Helping make a difference is what motivates her every day.

From the staff at both Common Goods and Bridges of Hope Human Services, thank you for your gifts of time, talents and treasures that make Common Goods such a success–you have helped make our Christmas brighter this year!

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Want to shop, donate or volunteer at Common Goods? Learn more.

We Did It…Because of YOU

This has been an incredible year at Bridges of Hope, where we have been blessed with a multitude of gifts as well as a handful of challenges. We are thankful for both, as we are reminded daily to both be gracious and thankful to Him during good times, and persevere and turn to Him during the difficult times. It reminds us that no matter how well we may plan and prepare, life happens anyway–both in our personal lives and in the lives of the clients we are so privileged to serve at Bridges of Hope.

Noah and his mom

You've Supported Families Like Noah's

Over the past two months, our financial supporters answered the call to come alongside our work with families in the Lakes Area. As I write this, I am humbled and amazed to report that YOU were a part of a record-breaking Fall Campaign at Bridges of Hope: over $60,000 has been contributed to meet our goal and close our year-end funding gap. Our donors are truly amazing!

This has also been a record-breaking year in terms of how many families reached out to Bridges of Hope. Thanks to you, our faithful supporters, over 2,300 households have been served at Bridges of Hope so far this year. That means 1,480 households received vital support for essentials like food, shelter & staying warm; 190 parents were supported to improve their parenting skills or care for their mental health; 290 children had a safe place to stay when their parents needed a break or to attend to a family crisis; 530 households received Christmas gifts and holiday meals; and many, many other households were assisted with a variety of needs through our flexible & unique services.

As I reflect on 2011 and look forward to all 2012 will bring, I am so thankful for all that this organization has been blessed with: a strong staff & Board of Directors, faithful shoppers & volunteers at Common Goods, and supporters like you who have given generously of your time, talent & prayer support. I want to thank you again for all these ways you help us build Bridges!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

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Having an Upcycled Christmas

So my extended family has this somewhat quirky (although not completely unique to us) tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas together. Yep–on the same day. We start with Thanksgiving Dinner, have a little down time to clean up dishes and let the food settle, and then jump right back in to Christmas by late afternoon, complete with a tree, presents for the children, and a gift exchange game for the adults…and of course, another meal…as if one wasn’t enough!

I have to admit that it’s kind of nice, celebrating two holidays at once. It can also be fairly exhausting, like this year, when I was tricked (yes, tricked) into acting as Team Leader in a post-Thanksgiving-full-afternoon Gingerbread Decorating Contest. (I do happen to think we ended up with the best gingerbread house, but that of course is beside the point.)

This dual-holiday tradition started with my grandmother, when my mother and her sisters were teenagers, and it has persisted since then…growing as our family has grown. This year there were nearly 40 people there, representing four generations and even three different countries!

But I haven’t even gotten to the pinnacle event of the day: the gift exchange among the adults. We call it simply, “The Game.” The rules are as follows: anyone age 18 and over is welcome to participate. The host site for the year chooses the theme–and both the host and the theme are generally selected right after The Game concludes the previous year. If necessary, there is a short decision-making period allowed of the host, but there begin to be more than a few sideways glances if the theme is not chosen within about a two-week period following the Thankgiving-Christmas celebration.

The gift chosen by a participant must relate (in some way) to the theme. My husband, for example, thinks it’s hilarious to bring venison every year and make a case for it somehow fitting that year’s theme. At the actual event, the adults place all gifts in the center of the room and play a variation of a “stealing” game (again, exact details are determined by the host), where gifts previously opened by one participant are snatched away by a later participant…only to be claimed again by a still later participant. Clearly it is to one’s advantage to be the last name called. The Game is played in fun, with plenty of raucousness; and for my family, it has also helped to remove the sometimes-awkwardness (and added expense!) of multiple gift purchases for extended family–especially for newer members just getting to know everyone.

We have had many, many themes over the years: a Hollywood Christmas, a Recycled Christmas, a Handmade Christmas (not to be confused with Homemade, mind you–that was a different year), a Patriotic Christmas, That 70s Christmas, a White Christmas, an International Christmas, and so on. This year, our theme was Old Fashioned, which lent itself well to finding a gift that has been previously “loved.” Happening to know a place where previously loved treasures gain a second life, I went directly to Common Goods in search of something that had been “upcycled.”

Upcycled Cradle

If you’re not familiar with the concept, the creative minds at Common Goods have become masters at repurposing some of the items that have been donated to the store–reimagining them as something different, and remaking them into something new, something UPcycled.

Table & Chairs Before

Before...

Table & Chairs Afterward

...and After

If you’ve never been inside the store, it’s totally worth a visit. But fair warning: you might have to come often, since the upcycled items often leave in the hands of a delighted customer almost as quickly as they appear! In my case, I didn’t find an upcycled treasure that day…but I DID find a fabulous hand-crank ice cream maker, made all the more popular during The Game because we had actually made and eaten homemade icecream earlier that afternoon (although I nearly missed it, since I was elbow-deep in gingerbread and icing). It went through several rounds of stealing, including from myself (oh yeah, another one of the rules is that it’s okay to steal your own gift back). I didn’t win it in the end, but I think my cousin went home very happy that day.

Hand-crank Ice Cream Maker

Next year, our theme is to be a Rustic Northland Christmas. Hmm…I wonder if those snowshoes I saw at Common Goods the other day are still there….

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Learn more about supporting Bridges of Hope by shopping, donating and volunteering at Common Goods.

Not Having to Choose Between Gifts or Rent

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some of the families working with Bridges of Hope. Often, families have to make tough financial choices, which might mean choosing between giving their children Christmas gifts or providing for their everyday needs.

Naturally we want to support families who are making the tough decisions to keep paying for things like their monthly housing and heating costs…even when it means sacrificing on Christmas gifts for their family. That’s one of the reasons Bridges of Hope coordinates the Christmas Gift Program. This program matches families in need with local sponsors who purchase gifts for children in need. Carly, our student intern, recently posted about this program (read more).

Sponsors help alleviate some of the stress for families around the holiday season–helping ensure that parents can focus on paying their regular household bills but are still able to see smiles on their children’s faces on Christmas morning around the tree.

I’d like to share with you one of thank you cards I received from a family served by the Christmas Gift Program last year:

To: All Staff & Associates of Bridges of Hope

I don’t know where to begin exactly… I applied for your program because as a single parent of four children I was really struggling to make it this year. I was devastated because it was so close to Christmas and me and my kids were forced out of our home on the 20th of December. [With] no house & very few gifts, I didn’t know what to do. [Then] I got a phone call from [name omitted for confidentiality] asking questions about my children and me. I learned they had adopted my family for Christmas through your program. What a blessing we received because of Bridges of Hope. Christmas morning was all smiles here. You are so appreciated and are included in daily prayers for your continued support to those in need in our community. Thank you for your kindness.

~A Very Thankful Family

Bridges of Hope would like to extend a big thank you to our wonderful Christmas sponsors that help make stories like this happen. Because of you, over 160 families will have a brighter Christmas this year. We currently have approximately 50 families awaiting sponsorship: learn how to become a sponsor here. Thank you for making a difference.

Thanksgiving and Christmas

For many of us, Thanksgiving and Christmas are days where we spend time with loved ones, attend a special evening service at our place of worship, eat turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes until we can hardly move, and watch as our family members open nicely wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree.  We never worry that we are not going to be able to provide a meal for our family, or that we will not be able to afford to buy our children or grandchildren gifts for the Holiday season.

Though many of us don’t have to worry about those things, there are thousands of families living right here in Crow Wing County who do.

For those living in poverty, or those going through a prolonged illness, unexpected injury, or other rough spot, spending decisions are much more limited–generally based on the largest bills and basic needs.

Just consider your household’s monthly expenses for a moment: do they add up to $3,000? $4,000? More than that? The Jobs Now Coalition estimates that the basic monthly household expenses for a family of four in Crow Wing County (with two adults working full time) are around $3,900–or that their income would need to be just over 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Last year, Bridges of Hope worked with over 1,500 households who were living below this 200% threshold. Families right here in our community struggle every month to make ends meet.

For many of these families, there simply isn’t enough left over at the end of the month, which, at this time of year, means no Thanksgiving dinner, no traveling to Grandma & Grandpa’s house, and not a single toy, book or new piece of clothing under the tree for their children.

That is why Bridges of Hope, with the help of our local human service agencies, churches, service clubs, individuals, and businesses, offers the Thanksgiving Basket and Christmas Gift programs. Through these programs, families in need are supplied with food for a Thanksgiving meal and Christmas gifts for their children. The programs exist entirely due to generosity of the sponsors, who volunteer to receive the name of a household (or several households) they are sponsoring, go shopping, and then deliver a basket or gifts to a family.

In 2010, Bridges of Hope coordinated the distribution of Thanksgiving meals for 198 households and Christmas gifts for 222 households. This year, as I write this post, we are just finishing up coordinating the distribution of Thanksgiving meals for a record number of 270 households: a 36% increase over last year…and if this trend continues, our Christmas program could serve up to 300 households.

As a student in the College of St. Scholastica Social Work program, part of my senior internship experience included coordinating these Bridges of Hope programs. During this experience I have gone through a rollercoaster of emotions: nervousness, since I have never been in charge of something this large; excitement as I saw families matched to sponsors; and extremely touched too, as I watched the generosity of our community pouring out through these programs.

Last Friday when I left Bridges of Hope, 210 families had been sponsored for Thanksgiving. That meant that yesterday morning I came into the office with 60 families still awaiting sponsorship. By 10:30 am, thanks to several local churches putting out the word over the weekend and a couple of businesses making one last announcement on Monday morning, every single family who had signed up had a sponsor for Thanksgiving. 

I am proud to say that I am a member of a community who reaches out their hands to a stranger, to ensure that they may have a memorable Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday too.

Thank you for your generosity this season.

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Want to become involved too? We have approximately 100 households sponsored for Christmas so far. Learn more.