Patty Sue’s Story

Since joining the Side by Side program two years ago, Patty Sue is the first to admit that her life has changed for the better. Patty Sue initially heard about the Side by Side program at Bridges of Hope while receiving Respite care services for her family. A stay-at-home mom of five children, ages one through eight, Patty Sue had seen her share of hardships and hard times that made life a constant struggle.

“I was at a point in my life where I could really use it,” Patty Sue said of the outside interaction. “I had a lot of negative things in my life and really needed something positive to look forward to.”

Patty Sue had been a victim of domestic abuse and homelessness for many years. In her life, positive relationships were few and far between. “I’m the type of person who isolates herself,” Patty Sue admitted. “I would isolate myself in my house, and I knew I needed to get out; but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. So when they asked me to join Side By Side, I knew it would be a good thing for me.”

Coordinators and volunteers with the Side by Side program say they’ve witnessed tremendous growth in Patty Sue since joining the program: “She truly has become so much more of a vibrant and happy person,” one individual noted. “I know she doesn’t necessarily recognize that, but she has overcome so many obstacles and hurdles with her personal growth and mental health. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Now in her second year as a Side by Side participant, Patty Sue said she is seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. She has also created friendships and support outside of the Side by Side meetings through other program Participants.

“Having positive experiences with the other women was something I needed,” she said. “I agreed to it because you can never have too much positive in your life. It helps me get out of the house more often and visit with others who can lift you up. If I’m having a bad day, I go there and feel so much better.”

The Side by Side program is more than Mentors reaching out to Participants; it’s also about Participants finding common ground and support with each other, as well as positive interactions and words of encouragement at, oftentimes, bleak moments.

“Life throws a lot of things at you,” Patty Sue said, “and some people, like myself, don’t always manage well in reaching out. But Side By Side has helped me in so many ways.”A Mentor Walks Alongside You Quote

If you are interested in helping a woman change herself for the better, contact Kassie at Bridges of Hope for more information on becoming a Mentor.

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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.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dustyne’s Moment

Dustyne and her beautiful children had experienced too much heartache, and Dustyne turned to Bridges of Hope despite feeling nervous and afraid. She recalls: “Things just weren’t adding up. I needed help to stop going in the same circle.”

Side by Side participant Dustyne

Dustyne With Her Son Derrick

Dustyne was connected with our Side by Side Mentoring Program. She had the skills to live a healthy and successful life; she simply lacked the social connections that help everything fall into place.

Over the course of 8 months in the Side by Side program, with help from her mentors and her own strong determination, Dustyne obtained employment, moved her family into more suitable housing, and began to realize just how much she had to offer.

Dustyne reflects on her experience, one year after starting the program: “In the beginning, I didn’t think I had anything to offer. After a while, I realized other women were actually learning from me too, and that is pretty special. My mentors and the Bridges staff want to see me grow, and I thank God for putting them in my life.”

You can watch Dustyne’s story in her own words here:

A gift of $150 supports our work with one family.

A gift of $150 supports one family.

Our supporters have continued to come alongside Lakes Area families just like Dustyne’s, helping Bridges of Hope make life-changing transformations like this possible. Thousands of households are facing challenging situations and continue to reach out to Bridges for support each year.

This fall and winter we invite you to join us on our journey to raise “60K in 60 Days.” That $60,000 will make it possible to improve the lives of 400 families who will call Bridges of Hope before the end of the year.

With your support, we can reach this goal by December 31st!

Here are three ways that you can make a difference:

  • Make a gift now to support other families just like Dustyne’s.
  • Make a gift on Give to the Max Day (Thursday, November 14), and your online gift will be matched, up to $15,000!
  • Make a year-end gift in memory or honor of someone special in your life. Checks can be sent to Bridges of Hope, PO Box 742 Brainerd MN 56401.

On behalf of Dustyne & her family–and all of the families we serve–thank you for your generosity.

Jane & Sharon: Walking Side by Side

Our Side by Side Mentor Program is working to break down barriers and debunk stereotypes about poverty by building social capital in women.

“What exactly IS social capital,”  you ask?

friendsWell, Oxford says it’s a noun meaning “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.”

Dictionary.com says it’s a noun meaning “the network of social connection that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.”

So, it’s pretty much agreed that “social capital” is all about networking, social connections, relationships, etc.

Ever since Side by Side kicked off last fall, we have been fostering these networks and connections among ten women: three are “Mentees,” and seven are women from the community (“Mentors”). We have watched these relationships flourish and produce many positive outcomes in less than a year.

One great example of how the Mentor/Mentee relationship is moving women from a place of day-to-day survival to sustainability is Jane’s story:

Jane is a single working mother trying her best to balance her family, work and college. She had the skills needed to navigate everyday life but was missing one important thing: a strong support network. Jane joined Side by Side as a Mentee in November 2012, and for the past seven months she has been actively involved with the program: attending monthly group activities, meeting with a Bridges of Hope case manager and connecting with her three individual Mentors on a weekly basis. These Mentors have been available for Jane to talk through stressful situations, take a break for a cup of coffee, and even bring over meals while she was studying for final exams.

With both the support of her Mentors and her own strong determination, Jane has been able to maintain stable housing for her children, start a new job, and successfully complete another semester of college.

It’s amazing what being in “Side by Side” relationships with others can do!

The Side by Side program is currently launching its second cohort (Summer 2013) with a new group of Mentors & Mentees. If you are interested in supporting this important program, here’s what you can do:

If you or someone you know is interested in being a Mentee, or if you just want more information about Side by Side, call 218.825.7682 and talk with Carly.