The single mom and her two kids, fleeing an abusive relationship, landed in Scott County from out of state with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. A county worker was able to put them in an apartment on a Thursday -- but that was all.

But by Monday, help was pouring in, recalls child protection supervisor Suzanne Arntson.

"Members of our community were donating everything from toys and educational things to diapers and new clothes to wear during a job search," she said. "Someone with a truck and a group of friends was moving an entire household of furniture. This woman had everything she needed to safely parent her kids. It was incredibly moving. The mom was brought to tears. Now she wants to give back."

Credit goes to a new organization called FISH -- Families and Individuals Sharing Hope -- that has been operating quietly in Scott County in recent months.

Late last week, the leaders of FISH convened a summit of civic leaders to formally kick things off, and to seek more help and wider community awareness.

"There is a mountain of need out there," said the Rev. Mike Golay of Friendship Church in Shakopee, which hosted the event. "People run to government, but government is overwhelmed. Workers go home exhausted, losing sleep. Meanwhile, faith communities have an army of people, some of them just waiting and hoping to serve someone. We need to link the two and crack the code."

The effort aims to combine the muscle of government, the faith community, nonprofits, service groups, and businesses and professionals, and make it far easier for people in need to know where to go for help.

Arntson told the group the story of an 18-year-old woman whose mom was behind bars and who couldn't live with her father for a variety of reasons. She'd been in foster care but was getting too old for that. She needed to go out and work, but an unsightly tooth was causing her to feel self-conscious.

"A local dentist donated his services, and asked her to volunteer to help his practice for 20 to 25 hours. She agreed. Not only did the work he do impact her self-esteem, but now she feels motivated. She will graduate, and has been accepted for training as a dental hygienist. She needed dental work, but a career opportunity happened. It's a story that gives me goosebumps."

Scott County has been instrumental in the group's creation, said FISH's chairman, the Rev. David Cuthill of River of Joy Lutheran Church in Prior Lake.

"They really helped initiate this and were thinking out of the box. Budgets are limited. Government is cutting back. They want to care for society. How do they do that in this environment? Let's not throw money at it, as much as time and community resources. Let's bring the community back into the fold.

"We all know for instance there are doctors who will serve people in need for free. We need to mask those people behind a gatekeeper so they aren't overwhelmed with requests, while connecting them with people in need."

The group's infrastructure is still developing. For instance, there's a plan for a website at, but that is not yet functioning.

FISH is not meant to become a bureaucracy unto itself, said vice chairman Jon Ulrich, a Scott County commissioner, but rather a network of participating groups.

David Peterson • 952-882-9023