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!

 

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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!

Kimberly’s Moment

It’s that dreaded feeling you get…when you realize you have just been in a car accident.

What happened before the accident is usually a blur, but what happens after an accident can leave you feeling just as foggy. At Bridges of Hope we try to help lift some of the fog for the clients that reach out us. Some have experienced a figurative “car accident” that has left them spinning emotionally, and others have experienced a literal car accident that has caused injury in other ways, like in the case of Kimberly:

Apartment Building PicKimberly called Bridges of Hope a few months after she had had a car accident that left her needing neck surgery. During her recovery, Kimberly was unable to work and was let go from her job. Without any income, Kimberly also found herself without a home shortly afterward. She moved in with her mother and younger brother.

During her three-month-long recovery, Kimberly’s family was helping her pay her other bills, and they all just managed to get by. At the end of the three months, Kimberly was going to be released from her work restrictions and had already found a new job that was just a few blocks away from an available apartment. When Kimberly  connected with Bridges, she was seeking resources for the first month’s rent and damage deposit to get into this apartment.

Since her mother lives out of town and Kimberly does not have a vehicle, an apartment close to her employment is ideal. Lutheran Social Service (LSS) is one of our community partners that we regularly collaborate with in instances when a client needs help with housing. Bridges of Hope and LSS both have guidelines to ensure that the rent is sustainable for the client based on their current situation, and typically that means the housing is close to 30% of their income and fits into their budget. Based on these factors, Bridges and Lutheran Social Service were able to assist Kimberly in getting into her new apartment.

When we followed up with her a few weeks later, Kimberly stated she is loving her new job and has made great strides in her recovery. She is extremely grateful for the help!

And we are grateful to be able to be there for people in our community like Kimberly. Thank you for helping us help others! For more information about how you can get involved, please visit our website.

One Year Ago…

Where were you one year ago? I remember clearly that I was in our little office in First Lutheran Church, looking around at stacks of boxes and wondering how we ever fit so many people, file cabinets & desks into one small space! As we were in the midst of planning for our moving dayfire, we had also received word that a local apartment building had burned down the day before and that more than 20 people were homeless.

As a staff, we knew that Bridges of Hope could help these households with sorting out what to do next, but we really had no idea how to reach out to them, as in literally how to get a hold of them. Well, God is good. As our staff members were leaning on stacks of boxes & discussing ways to reach out, the phone rang. It was Pastor Erika Nilsen from Lord of Life. The owner of the apartment building had reached out to her, and Erika told her, “I know who can help. Let me make a phone call.”

Erika knew to call Bridges, hooray! She passed along contact information and I reached out to the apartment owner who told me the tenants of the building were all housed by the Red Cross & Salvation Army at a local hotel. We made arrangement for our staff to go to the hotel later that afternoon and meet with each household. That way they didn’t need to worry about running around town; we brought our process to them. We were happy to make their day easier in just a little way.

Our Resource Specialists stayed connected with each household in the weeks to come, making sure everyone had access to the help they needed to get back on their feet. In the meantime, MN Teen Challenge, Good Samaritan Society, Prairie Bay, Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union & Salvation Army came together with Bridges of Hope to host a fundraiser called, Love They Neighbor.

You, the generous Lakfood truck love they neighes Area Community, answered the call and contributed to this fundraiser which ultimately helped Bridges & Salvation Army serve the needs of the families affected by the Hillcrest Apartment Fire.

As we settle into fall, feelings of gratitude wash over me. Thank you for helping us be ready to serve the community when challenging situations arise.

Thank you for making it possible to fulfill our mission: To build bridges of support, anchored in Christ’s love, between families in need and the community assets that can help them thrive and gain hope.

Happy Fall 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.

Maggie’s Moment

Maggie is a 34-year-old single mother with a 9-year-old daughter named Yasmin. Maggie had been referred to one of Bridges of Hope’s Family Support Services programs, and I first met her at a local domestic violence shelter. Maggie wanted support during her transition from an abusive relationship to an independent, safe life for her and Yasmin.

Over three months of working together, Maggie and I met each week, and together we set several goals. The first was to find permanent housing so I connected Maggie to LSS HOPE Housing, and after three months of living at the shelter, she enrolled in a transitional housing program. This gave her the opportunity to live in temporary, affordable housing owned by LSS until she was able to locate permanent affordable, housing. It was a good in-between step for Maggie.

homeworkAnother goal set by Maggie was to address her daughter’s school performance; especially in the area of homework. With the challenges Yasmin and Maggie had been facing, Maggie was at a loss for how to help her daughter with school work. Maggie and I talked through several techniques and I encouraged her to try one at a time until they found something that worked. After about a month of trying new things, Maggie was happy to to tell me that Yasmin was keeping up with her homework and doing much better in school!

cookbook-color1Maggie also wanted to learn to be a better cook, as her ex-husband had done most of the cooking. That was a simple enough goal to work on together! We gave Maggie a couple of family-friendly cookbooks that had been donated to the organization and helped her enroll in a cooking classes through University of Minnesota Extension and she learned to prepare healthy meals on a modest budget.

Maggie started out this process clearly suffering from severe depression and anxiety, and often put herself down. As Maggie worked on each of these steps in the process, it was clear that her self-esteem, confidence and overall mental health was improving!

Maggie exited services a stronger person and recently shared, “when I first started working with Bridges of Hope, I thought things were a lot worse than they were. Working with you helped me see things in a different perspective.”

Please contact Bridges of Hope if you or someone you know is facing a challenging situation. We can be reached at (218)825-7682.

Thank you for helping us build Bridges!

It’s a Partnership

There are many families right now facing very difficult times. So many, in fact, that to be frank, I realize many of you have probably grown a little tired of hearing about the tough stuff going on in the lives of men, women and children in our community. I understand. It can wear on us, too. But it got me thinking…

What does it really mean to live in poverty in the Brainerd Lakes Area?

Well, technically speaking, for a family of four, you are considered “living in poverty” if your household income is $22,350 or less. That is approximately equal to two employed caregivers working 30 hours per week at minimum wage. If a family with this income followed “the rules,” they would need to find housing for only about $550 per month (or about 30% of their income). That would leave them approximately $1,100 for food, transportation, childcare, insurance, utilities, and all of the other things in life that add up–never mind the emergencies in life.

But is poverty only about financial capital? What about social capital?

What we see over and over is that so many families who reach out to Bridges of Hope are not just struggling financially: they are lacking the kind of support network that many of us have. We know that money alone isn’t the answer AND a support network alone isn’t the answer: but having some of both can make life a whole lot easier.

Bridges of Hope was established just over nine years ago to act as a bridge between families in crisis and the support & resources that can help them alleviate that crisis. We served around 150 households that first year and over 2,000 households last year alone.

It may be difficult to imagine, but every single day we come into contact with families and children who have been through hunger, abuse, homelessness, abandonment, and more. The good news? Bridges of Hope is here to help.

When you have car trouble, an ill family member, a furnace that breaks down or your children simply have a day off of school, what do you do?

I call my husband or father for car trouble, my best friend when I need support to help me deal with the fact that my mom is battling leukemia, a trusted neighbor to consult about the most reliable furnace repair person; and luckily, I have another trusted neighbor who will watch over my kids for a couple of days so I don’t have to disrupt my work schedule.

For the families who are going through these and many other kinds of crises, we do offer financial support in some cases (when all existing resources have been tapped), but long before it even gets to that point, what we really have to offer families is a partner: a partner they might not otherwise have.

At Bridges of Hope, we are also proud to partner with local churches and other area nonprofits to deliver needed services to families in Crow Wing County. It can be overwhelming and confusing to seek help, and we aim to act as a bridge between families and what they need to be successful. We aim to see that our area resources are utilized wisely and without duplication. We never want to offer a service that is already available–and when a gap IS identified, we try to fill it or work with our partners to find a creative, collaborative solution.

We do have some specific programs (you can read more about them here), but to keep it simple, what I can tell you is that on average, we can act as a partner to a family for just $150, and we have been working hard this year to make sure over 6,000 men, women and children in the Lakes Area don’t fall through the cracks when they are experiencing a crisis in their life.

Our life-changing and life-saving work helps women like 39 year-old Connie: a working single mom who needed to leave her home with her two school-aged children because she was being beaten by her husband.

We also help people like Francine and George: Francine reached out to Bridges after George had a stroke and became paralyzed. They needed help paying for a van that could transport George to his many, many medical appointments and to family gatherings that were so important to them. Francine and George were able to pay for most of the van, Bridges chipped in for the difference, and George hasn’t missed a medical appointment or any of his grandchildren’s school programs since.

As I mentioned before, it costs on average about $150 per household for Bridges of Hope to be there when Connie, Francine, George, you, your sister or your elderly neighbor needs us.

Recently, Poverty Bound was held in Crow Wing County. It gave many of us service providers a way to tell the stories of these amazing clients we work with on a daily basis. Not all of the stories have a happy ending, but here at Bridges of Hope, we continue our work to help more and more families create happier endings to the stories they call us with.

Between now and December 31, we are working to eliminate our $60,000 year-end funding gap. This will allow us to change the lives of 400 more families we are expecting to serve between now and the end of the year. 

I hope you’ll help us as a partner in this mission. You can get involved here