Looking Ahead

Our staff and board members spent the day together yesterday enjoying good food & fellowship and we also did some planning for the future of Bridges. It was a relaxing & energizing day!

We started out by naming our burdens & distractions and giving them to God so we could be fully present in our conversations.What a relief!

photo 4After sharing a morning meal together, we spent some time “getting to know each other better.”

Now, I don’t mean the “where did you go to school and what is your favorite ice cream flavor” kind of getting to know each other. I mean the fun, quirky, silly, and interesting kind of getting to know each other!

For example, we learned about each others diverse interests such as sewing, horseback riding, “mudding,” playing the djembe, and singing. There was even one person among us who plans to water ski this weekend. BRRRR!

All of us shared how important family is, with one staff member sharing she has 14 siblings and another that her husband is extremely lucky to have been married to her for 32 years!

A few of us  are pet lovers our pets & have given them unique names (some based in Greek mythology and others named after dearly departed grandmothers).

Strategic Priorities

Bridges of Hope’s Strategic Priorities, adopted in 2011

picstitchAfter setting aside our burdens and getting to know each other better, we reaffirmed our strategic priorities.

Bridges of Hope's Strategic Priorities, adopted in 2011

Bridges of Hope’s Strategic Priorities, adopted in 2011

Then, we moved on to the important business of answering some key questions:

  • What value do we offer our community?
  • How do we know this?
  • What are some important goals for us to focus on in the coming years?
  • Is there anything we need to stop doing in order to start doing something new?
  • What are the resources we will need?

We have some gifted thinkers, listeners, & visionaries among us!

These are some of the exciting (and just plain necessary) areas Bridges will focus on in the coming years.

  • Expand our Side by Side mentoring program.
  • Encourage learning – for ourselves, our clients, our partners, and the community.
  • Mobilize volunteers.
  • Go paperless!
  • Increase use of technology to serve better.
  • Secure resources to continue the great work.
  • Share information regarding gaps in services and act as a catalyst to fill those gaps when possible.

In order to do our work and accomplish these new goals, WE NEED YOU! If you are interested in being a mentor or volunteering for other opportunities, please contact jana@bridgesofhopemn.org or click here to make a gift that can change lives in the Lakes Area!

To stay up to date on all the latest happenings at Bridges, follow us on Facebook.

Thank you for helping us build Bridges!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Numbers, and Many of Your Words

Last year was another record-breaking year at Bridges of Hope. In 2013, we received referrals, calls & requests for help from 2,896 households! Part of my role at Bridges is to crunch the numbers, which I realize doesn’t necessarily sound all that fun or exciting, but I really do enjoy it because of what it can tell us about our services to the community. For example: of the 2,896 households we were in contact with last year…

  • The majority (78%) were for help with resources through our Resource Connection Services (help with housing, transportation, utlities, etc).
  • Childcare Services (Respite & Crisis Nursery) comprised another 14% of households.
  • Family Support Services (Intensive In-Home Services, the Parent Support Outreach Program, and the Teen Parent Outreach Program) made up 7% of the households.
  • Mentoring Services (Side by Side) was the final, very tiny less-than-1%.
  • Our mission is focused on serving families, and 68% of the households were part of our target service population (families, parents, “children” 0-21 and those who care for them). We continue to offer connections to resources for those who are not part of this population.
Bridge Photo

You help us build bridges!

Unfortunately, but understandably, most  households (~63%) who contacted Bridges for help were living at or below 100% of poverty, which was an annual income of $23,550 for a family of four in 2013. Another 30% were living between 101% and 200% of poverty (this is an annual income was $47,100 for a family of four).

Another rather astonishing set of numbers is those reporting physical and mental health concerns for at least one of the members of the household: 41% of households report a mental health concern, issue, or diagnosis;  14% report a physical health concern or disability; and 23% report both concerns! We know that these numbers aren’t based off of physical or clinician diagnoses, but they DO mean that people are clearly struggling in our community, when they’re willing to self-report concerns to these extents.

Despite these somewhat sobering statistics, thanks to the richness of resources in the Lakes Area, we were able to suggest viable solutions, resources, and/or practical ideas for 92% of the households. (Another 4% didn’t stay in contact with us, we screened out 2% as inappropriate, and we were unable to find resources for 2% of the households.) On the whole, that is great, great news!

And one final number: working with 2,896 households represents a somewhat incomprehensible 2,274% increase from our first year of operation, 2002, when we served just 122 households the entire year. (These days, we serve more than that in a single month–in fact, as of January 28, the day before I wrote this post, we had served exactly 122 households so far in 2014!)

Part of our programming includes following up with those we worked with, to make sure we’re providing services that are truly helpful–and if not–what we can do to modify our programs for the future. While this feels a little bit like tooting our own horn, I really wanted to share some of the great things our staff hear from those we follow up with–because our clients are really the ones that matter in this equation. Bridges was founded to bridge the gap between those in need and those with the resources–all of YOU…so, in no particular order, here is a sampling of some of the feedback we received from our clients In 2013:

  • Everyone was really helpful.
  • You guys are awesome!
  • I know I can call you anytime. I’ve learned so much from you; thank you!
  • Everyone thinks very highly of you!
  • It was very helpful. I appreciate you and would call Bridges again in the future.
  • The service was excellent. Thank you very much!
  • I very much appreciate you being so kind and not making me feel like I wasn’t important!
  • I don’t know what I would have done without you.
  • You’re most helpful and very kind.
  • If I ever come into a bunch of money, I’m donating to you for all your help over the last 3 years.
  • Thank you for listening and helping in our time of need.
  • I asked for parenting tips and I got a lot of good ideas.
  • The things I got through Salem are really making this house a home.
  • You guys always do the best you can and I appreciate it!
  • This isn’t the first time Bridges has given me hope!
  • You made me feel confident even though I had no confidence.

In addition to making sure our client’s situation was resolved, we ask them to give us a rating on the quality of services from Bridges, on a scale from 1-5:

  • A 10! You guys are awesome! I don’t know what I’d do without you.
  • I would give you a 6!
  • Definitely a 5!
  • I’d give you a 6 for calling back to follow up.
  • I’d give you guys a 20!
  • 5 + + +
  • I’d give Bridges a 10 on a scale of 1-5!
  • [And my personal favorite:] Bridges of Hope is beyond a 5; you are Phi-nominal.

Thank you for the very positive feedback, as well as for all of the very the helpful and constructive feedback you give us, because it is what enables us to serve our community in ever-better, more transformative ways. Thank you to our many community partners that work alongside us every day to help our community become a better place to live. And finally, thank you to our many, many donors and funders who enable us to DO this very important work. It is ALL OF YOU who deserve the greatest praise. We are looking forward to another great year at Bridges of Hope–thanks to you!

One step forward…and another step back.

In this job we celebrate a lot of successes–both small and large–with the families we work with. However, the reality in life (for our clients and ourselves) is that sometimes, with each step forward, we are forced to take one or two steps back.

Brick Wall with Woman on GroundIt can be very frustrating for the teens I work with through our Teen Parent Outreach Program at Bridges of Hope: when they are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children, at times it seems that they run into wall after wall (or in social work jargon, “barrier after barrier”) that just stops them dead in their tracks. Luckily, more often than not, the teens I work with are very resilient and keep trying to push forward despite the difficulties. For example:

Erin is 18 and has a son, Derek, who is 11 months old. When I first met Erin, she was going to high school, was on track to graduate, and was planning on starting college in the spring (one step forward), but there was no room for her to start until the fall (one step back). At that time she was living with her dad and brother, and she found out she was going to get into housing of her own (step forward). Two weeks before she was set to move in, she found out that the previous tenant would not be moving after all (step back). Shortly after that, her family was forced to vacate the apartment where they were living, and her dad and brother moved out of town, leaving Erin alone with Derek (step back). Thankfully Erin was able to live with a friend and found a job (step forward). She began to receive some child support, and with her job, she was able to stop receiving county cash assistance (step forward). Then, her hours at work were cut and the child support stopped too (step back). Erin decided to look for more work (step forward). She is limited to where she can search because she does not have a driver’s license or a vehicle (step back). She was able to obtain a bike and a carrier for Derek (step forward). Shortly after obtaining her bike, the wheel on the carrier popped and she does not have the money to fix it (step back).

And on and on it goes for so many of the families we work with–sadly, this is the day-to-day reality for many living in our community. I see it as my job to help walk alongside and celebrate the successes, as well as provide encouragement during those (sometimes difficult to swallow) steps back.

Happily, Erin is once again on the “step forward” track: she recently obtained housing of her own, is still looking for a second job, and she continues to push forward to provide for Derek. And no matter what, I’ll be there to support her in in her journey.

Iris’ Moment

IrisIris was a widow living on her own, with her beloved dog Rosie as her constant companion. She was continually struggling to make ends meet on a fixed income, but she reached a breaking point when she received a disconnect notice on her electric last spring.

Iris’ adult son was able to help with her mortgage once in awhile; and Iris also had good friend, also a widow, with whom she would frequently car pool–but this bill was something that neither could help with.

By the time she called Bridges of Hope, Iris was 5 months behind and had accumulated a bill that had nearly reached $1,000. She had been receiving Energy Assistance through Lutheran Social Service over the winter and had been under the impression that it was taking care of her monthly bills, but in fact the assistance had run out in February, and it had only been covering a portion of her full bill amount each month. Iris had already sought out the Salvation Army for Heat Share assistance, and they were able to help with a small portion toward the total past-due bill. She was also working with her mortgage company to get her monthly mortgage payment lowered, so her entire expenses each month would be slightly more affordable.

After working with Iris over the phone, I was able to meet with Iris and look at her budget even more in-depth. Based on the information, I suggested she connect with Financial Counseling from LSS, who specializes in that kind of assistance. At that point, Iris pulled out two sheets of paper from her purse–she had already completed financial counseling with them and had her new budget right there for me to look at! Iris had still not heard back from her mortgage company about a lower payment, but she was expecting that once it was processed, her living situation would be sustainable in the future. We knew if that happened, and if we could help Iris get caught up on the electric bill, she should be able to afford her life going forward.

About a week later, Iris stopped into the Bridges of Hope office to let me know her mortgage payment had been cut in half–great news! I helped her start the process of finding resources to get her house weatherized before next winter, and I was able to let her know that Bridges would be helping her with her electric bill as well. She expressed her thanks, saying she couldn’t thank Bridges of Hope enough. Two weeks after that, we made a follow-up call with Iris to see how things were going. It happened to fall right on her 80th birthday, and she let us know that she was now caught up on all of her monthly bills and was even putting away a portion of money into savings every month. What a great turnaround for Iris and Rosie both!

If you or someone you know has fallen into hard times and could use some support bridging the gap back to stability, please call Bridges of Hope at 218.825.7682, or learn more about our services here.

Churches Play a Key Role

cross2Last Tuesday we hosted our Annual Faith Leader Lunch and were so blessed to have more than 30 of our local faith leaders in attendance. Area Churches have played a critical role in the ongoing success of Bridges of Hope since our inception.

In 2012, local churches provided:

  • Our largest non-grant source of support ($46,963 in 2012).
  • Over $23,000 to be used as direct assistance to households through the Spirit of Kindness fund.
  • Referrals to Bridges: churches were the fourth-most-frequent referral source, after Crow Wing County, Lutheran Social Service and the Salvation Army.
  • Partnership support: including sponsorship, promotion, and organization for projects like the Thanksgiving Meal program.
  • Volunteer support: from Confirmation students, youth groups, and adults at Common Goods and more.
  • Prayer support– priceless!

Our Faith Leader Lunch is one of my favorite events of the year as it gives us the opportunity to thank our faith leaders for their support, share stories of the work we do together & remind all of us about how we can accomplish more together than any one organization on its own.

If you were not able to attend the meeting or would like to know more about how your church can join this partnership, here is some info:

  • Give what you can. Whether you are able to support the work of Bridges (so that we can continue to help families navigate area resources), the Spirit of Kindness fund, or both, your support is helpful. Thank you for giving.
  • Continue to refer households to Bridges of Hope. Bridges was created specifically to partner with and cross-connect all of our community resources and supports. Bridges of Hope can help reduce the frustration that many experience, being sent to one agency after another, just to be turned down at each stop. Our staff specialize in knowing about all of the area resources and how to access them.
  • Be clear that Bridges is a resource to help people navigate the “system,” but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily receive financial assistance.While we work really hard to help a household resolve their current situation or crisis (and often try to help them think creatively about how to do that), we have found that when there truly are no other resources to assist them, families most appreciate it when we are upfront and honest with them about that.
  • If you have referred a family to Bridges,and they tell you that “Bridges told me they can’t/won’t help,” feel free to call our office to learn more about the situation. Even if we don’t have a Release of Information from the family to give you all of the details, we can tell you more about our program processes and the kinds of things we typically suggest. Though it does occasionally happen that we “won’t help” (because the request is not appropriate or legitimate) or “can’t help” (because there are simply no resources in the community), annually this is a small number of households (in 2012 it was approximately 160 households out of 2,500).
  • Remember that Bridges of Hope offers many services to help families and individuals, so even when we may not have a financial solution for a family, we may be able to support them in other ways!
  • Invite us to come & speak to you or your group about how we can work together! Call Jana at 218-825-7682 or send an email to jana@bridgesofhopemn.org.

I am so thankful to live in a community that works together to meet the needs of those who are struggling. God bless!

Steven and Laura’s Moment

Steven and Laura are parents of two teenagers. When Laura contacted Bridges of Hope, the couple was in the process of adopting their young niece and nephews. To say that Jack, Chloe and Dylan had experienced a difficult childhood would be to put it delicately. Their loving aunt and uncle wanted to provide a safe and loving environment for these sweet children, and this meant their family of four was becoming a family of seven.

Jack, Dylan and Chloe

Steven and Laura’s three-bedroom apartment did not fit their growing family, so they found an available townhome. A Bridges staff member worked one-on-one with Steven and Laura, helping the couple analyze their current financial situation and estimate the future expenses for their new, larger family. Happily, the increased rent payment fit into the couple’s budget, but they couldn’t afford the larger deposit. Because Steven and Laura both worked full-time, they did not meet the income criteria for other local housing resources. Bridges was able to determine that this was a perfect situation to act as the “bridge” between the family’s current space crunch and the solution that would help Steven and Laura have room for everyone.

We followed up with Laura recently and she reported that everyone loved their new home and that the kids (teenagers included) were enjoying having a backyard for the first time ever. She was so thankful her co-worker had told her about Bridges of Hope and said that she did not know what they would have done without this help.

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Your support is what allows us these beautiful moments to happen: join us in making a difference in the life of a family. A gift of $150 will support our work with a family like Steven and Laura’s. With more than 2,500 families calling us or walking through our doors this year, you can be sure that your gift matters.

Make your gift today. And thank you.

Finding Creative Solutions to Help

At Bridges of Hope, we deal with a wide variety of situations, and we try to find not only appropriate but also creative solutions for families who sometimes are facing some unique situations.

One example of the ways we are sometimes able to be creative is Sandy’s story:

Sandy is a mother of two boys: Nathan (age 7) and Kyle (age 4).  Sandy was struggling to find productive activities and healthy outlets for the boys who both have serious mental health diagnoses. Sandy had been utilizing Respite Services once or twice a month, but she was wondering what she could do to provide an activity for the times when they were together as a family. That was when Sandy was connected with Bridges of Hope.

SandboxA staff member met with Sandy and then took the information back to the entire team. As staff pondered Sandy’s story and her concerns, slowly the idea to build a sandbox began to form. A sandbox would provide the boys an active outlet for their ADHD and other mental health issues. Bridges of Hope was able to utilize its Just For Kids fund to assist with purchasing wood, sand, and other materials needed to build the sandbox.

A few weeks later, when the Bridges staff followed up with Sandy, she reported that she had made building the sandbox into a family project, and it was already getting lots of use every day. Sandy said both boys loved the sandbox, and it was a real benefit to have something for the boys to do outside together.

Over the past ten years, we have encountered many different family situations. Some happen more commonly for families: cars break down, someone loses a job, a plan for daycare falls through, or there simply just isn’t enough money to pay all the bills. Others, like Sandy’s situation, have happened only once or twice: gophers chew through wiring, a toddler is sneaking out of the house at night, two boys need a healthy outlet for their extra energy. Whatever the situation, Bridges of Hope seeks to look at each individual family’s story as its own unique situation, and we tailor our services, suggestions and resources to best fit that family’s needs. Bridges was founded on this idea: to simply be the bridge between families and those with the resources to help families. That means the bridge might look different for different families, but that’s the whole idea: that each family is different, and a one-size-fits all solution simply doesn’t work in every case.

For Sandy, her solution was a sandbox. The next time for another family it might be help with a water bill. Or referrals to a housing program. Or help setting up Respite Services to provide a break for a parent. Each time, for each family, we work to connect families with the resources that best fit them, right in the situation they’re in, given the strengths and needs they have at the time. In that way, we are able to constantly adapt our services to best meet the needs of each person who reaches out for support. And that’s what it’s all about: helping in creative ways to build bridges.

Get Involved:

  • Learn more about Bridges of Hope’s services, or refer a family in need to us.
  • Read other stories about how we are helping families connect to resources.
  • Make a donation to support our work with a family.
  • Contact us to make sure we know about the services you provide in our community.