A mother’s car couldn’t transport a wheelchair that her child needs. Another mother has been there.
By way of the FISH Partner Network, Lisa Larson of Savage donated her accessible van to another mother in Scott County. But first, the Shakopee Lions Club covered its new tires.
“It’s kind of a small community,” said Larson, whose 19-year-old son has cerebral palsy. The recipient’s child, who also has a disability, is younger, barely a tween. “If she has questions, she can ask.”
The Families & Individuals Sharing Hope (FISH) Partner Network has helped Scott County residents since 2012 when it secured 501(c)(3) status. Last year, the network — which now counts more than 100 partner organizations in faith, service, government, education and business — fulfilled 180 of 303 requests for contributions. Thirty-five needs, valued at more than $8,200, were filled last month alone.
“There’s only so much social services, school districts, hospitals, churches can do,” said Bethany Tjornhom, the network’s executive director. “Everybody can’t help everybody, but somebody can help somebody.”
Once a partner organization registers for free, a representative can post a need online. Maybe a resident can’t make rent that month, or a kid shows up to class without school supplies. An e-mail blast reaches more than 400 inboxes, where people can click, “I can help.”
Among the growing network’s partners are the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, an auto-body shop, dozens of religious groups, school districts and the University of Minnesota Extension. The collaboration mirrors another countywide organization known as SCALE, a pool of mayors, tribal leaders and city, township or county staff who meet monthly over coffee to discuss objectives and historical lessons.
‘It’s a ripple effect’
FISH leaders want the network to be replicable across the state. Officials in Washington have called, they said, looking to mimic FISH’s services. Belle Plaine Township created a local group, too. “We had [SCALE] going, and we thought, well maybe we could do that with nonprofits, in regard for human needs,” said County Commissioner Jon Ulrich, a founding member of FISH. “The amount of partners are growing, getting more affiliates. Each one of those partners is hosting more. We’re seeing the capacity grow.”
For individual donors, often connected through social services, someone else’s need might be in their own rearview mirror. Larson has tried wedging a wheelchair into a car, or had to leave her son at home, or grappled with dependence on public transit.
“I just know what it was like when you don’t have a van and couldn’t travel places with your family,” Larson said. She and the recipient of her van have since twice gone to lunch.
Besides the network’s exchange of goods or services, a representative from partner organizations must attend a monthly meeting. Topics have included sexual violence, aging baby boomers and homelessness.
At the latest meeting, a presenter explained the Latino community’s experience in the U.S. to a roomful of nodding heads at Shepherd of the Lake Church in Prior Lake. The images depicted cultural differences; for Latinos, hugs are common and workplaces are built on relationships. Afterward, a microphone was passed around, and attendees offered personal stories.
“People will ask how you can measure the success of FISH. Ask anybody who has had their rent paid and isn’t homeless,” Tjornhom said. “It’s a ripple effect, no pun intended.”