Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota looks a little different today as it marks its sesquicentennial.
Owing its origins to a Red Wing church basement that became the state’s first orphanage, the faith-based nonprofit has since expanded to offer 23 community services in each county and says it serves one in 65 Minnesotans each year.
To celebrate its 150th anniversary, Lutheran Social Service on Saturday recognized volunteers from across the state, holding an event in Minneapolis and deeming the group “150 Great Neighbors.”
Among them was Monica Douglas, of Moorhead, who took in then-15-year-old Hung Pham in 1988 after he left Vietnam.
“It just felt like a leap of faith,” she said. “Here we are in 2015 and he is still a very big part of our family.”
Pham is now working in Chicago as a research chemist for Honeywell’s petroleum business. But before he moved, he helped mentor more than 20 other kids who temporarily stayed with the Douglases before finding permanent homes.
“I don’t consider what we did as doing anything other than what needs to happen,” Douglas said.
Lutheran Social Service CEO Jodi Harpstead said Saturday that founding pastor Eric Norelius could hardly have imagined today’s makeup of the organization.
One such example, she said, is Anita Nelson, of St. Paul. Nelson is a senior companion for a woman named Anne, who recently turned 99. Anne is still sharp mentally, Nelson said, but requires just a little help to remain independent in the St. Paul neighborhood she has called home for more than 60 years.
Nelson is there at various times throughout the week to go on grocery runs in search of the best deal on milk or to fix Anne’s coffee pot if it’s on the fritz.
“For those four hours I’m all hers,” Nelson said.
Lutheran Social Service began the same year the Civil War ended. After the 2008 recession, Harpstead said, she quelled colleagues’ fears by reminding members that the organization has survived 28 recessions, a Great Depression and two World Wars.
“You learn a lot in 150 years. You build up resilience and realize there’s nothing on our plate today we can’t work through that hasn’t been worked through before,” she said.
Harpstead said the coming decades will present a need for adoptive and foster care families and host homes. She anticipates further needs as the state continues to diversify and produce communities where cultures, ethnicities and faiths blend together.
“We need to learn to become neighbors to each other,” Harpstead said.