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Volunteers fuel efforts to serve the homeless in Anoka County

  • Article by: Anna Pratt
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 1, 2013 - 2:26 PM

Years ago, Junita Cathey of Brooklyn Park resolved to run a marathon by the time she was 40.

She’ll be 41 — close enough — when she enters the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3.

One day while training, she got another idea: “I decided to make it a more meaningful thing, and I thought about, ‘What can I attach to it?’ ”

Cathey — former director of Family Promise in Anoka County, an interfaith network that provides temporary housing to families in need — decided to use the race to raise money for the nonprofit.

It clicked in her mind as she headed uphill across a bridge which was quite a workout. That became a metaphor for the steep incline facing families that are out on the streets.

“It takes planning and energy to get to the top of the bridge,” which can feel like an impossible feat when you’re homeless, she said. When families that need help find their footing, they don’t have to be in crisis mode any more, she said.

Family Promise is one of a number of outlets in the north metro aiming to help the homeless, with food, shelter and other types of assistance.

Cathey’s goal is to raise $2,620, which breaks down to $100 per mile. So far, she’s about 38 percent of the way there.

But not every contribution to Family Promise or other organizations need be that ambitious, she said.

For example, Family Promise can always use volunteers to help families run errands or fill in at the day center. A number of local nonprofit agencies are also looking for mentors or people to organize food and clothing drives and the like.

Cathey encourages people to get involved in whatever ways are accessible to them, fulfilling their own goals.

Below is a guide to volunteer opportunities at north metro organizations that are working to end homelessness.

To contribute to Junita Cathey’s fundraiser, visit www.crowdrise.com/JunitaCathey/fundraiser/junitacathey1.

Family Promise

Family Promise in Anoka County, which falls under the umbrella of a national organization, partners with local churches to house families.

Irene Rodriguez, the organization’s executive director, explained that churches provide shelter to families for a week at time. They “set up a makeshift room as temporary sleeping quarters,” often in a nursery or library area of the church, she said.

Churches also help provide dinners during that time.

Family Promise assists families in the short term, until they can get back on track, Rodriguez said.

Right now, the organization has 18 partner churches. It is recruiting more churches to help fill vacancies in its 2014 schedule. Host churches usually take in four families or up to 14 people for as long as four weeks.

As for individuals, churches always need volunteers on hand to stay overnight, serve meals or participate in fun group activities. “It’s a great opportunity for college students. They can get community service credit and they can sleep or study,” Rodriguez said.

Family Promise is also looking for volunteers to staff a couple of upcoming events, including an open house at its day center on Oct. 22 from 5-8 p.m.

On Oct. 25, the organization is hosting an event called Cameron’s Dream Sleep Out from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the parking lot of Lord of Life church, at the same address as the day center. Family Promise needs volunteers to help with check-in and answer questions and direct people, Rodriguez said.

Beyond that, people can volunteer to coordinate a fund- raiser or a donation drive, she said.

Hope 4 Youth

Earlier this year, a group of concerned citizens pulled together to open Hope 4 Youth, a drop-in center for homeless youth, located in an old milk factory in downtown Anoka.

The drop-in center offers hot meals, clean clothes and job and housing assistance to youth. It’s also a safe place for young people to hang out.

Hope 4 Youth’s founders sought to respond to rising homelessness in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the website states.

The district counted more than 700 homeless students during the 2012-13 school year, according to Hope 4 Youth materials. Many of those students were unaccompanied. The year before, the district had 581 homeless students.

Karrie Schaaf, the district’s homeless liaison, helped to get Hope 4 Youth up and running.

The place, which is entirely volunteer-driven, is seeing an average of 15 youth daily, she said. “The big things when kids are coming in is food and shelter,” she said.

To address the need, the center is always looking for volunteers to help raise money, do outreach or provide office support.

More directly, it also needs volunteers to serve hot meals, lead parenting classes or stock the food shelf.

Volunteers are also needed to work one-on-one with youth to help them achieve their goals, Schaaf said.

Also, the center is hosting a fundraising gala on Nov. 16 at 5:30 p.m. (dinner will be served at 7 p.m.) at the Green Haven Golf and Banquet Center in Anoka. The event includes silent and live auctions. Hope 4 Youth will also be taking donations. To find out more about the event, call 763-496-1494.

Stepping Stone Emergency Housing

Stepping Stone Emergency Housing expanded from 16 to 60 beds when it relocated to a bigger building in Anoka in September 2012.

That means the shelter needs volunteers more than ever, especially to mentor guests, said volunteer coordinator Julie Jeppson.

Mentors act as a sounding board for people staying at the shelter. “We find there’s the greatest response when there’s accountability, someone to report to who is a healthy influence,” Jeppson said.

Stepping Stone also needs people to work with guests in groups or one-on-one on basic life skills like money management, goal setting, conflict resolution, “simple things like that, that we take for granted.”

Also, because the facility isn’t equipped to cook food, the shelter tries to find community members who can provide home-cooked meals to the guests, she said.

Often, those meals help forge relationships between volunteers and guests, she said.

 

Hennepin County Suburban Host Program

This fall, the Hennepin County Suburban Host Program is ramping up a campaign to recruit more host homes in the suburbs.

Through the program from Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis, community members open up their homes to youth living on the streets.

The program especially needs host homes in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, said program manager Jenny Lock.

“We have young people right now waiting for homes in that area,” including someone who’s been waiting for a place since March, she said.

The program began a couple of years ago to fill a void in the suburbs. In the past, housing for local youth on the streets was almost exclusively located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Lock said.

As a result, suburban youth “didn’t have any options to stay connected to their home community or to be near their high school or part-time job or their friends,” she said. “They had to cut those ties to come into the city to receive housing services.”

The situation was detrimental to them. “It’s easier to be successful when you’re connected to the community and people who care about you,” she said.

That’s where a host home comes in. Usually, an individual or a family hosts a young person for around eight months, she said.

Most of the youth are high school seniors. “They need a safe, stable place to stay while working toward graduation,” Lock said.

While staying in a host home, youth work with a case manager to get into a better position. Hosts get support from the program as well.

The program is looking for volunteers to join its action council to “help us come up with policies and outreach,” she said.

 

Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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