Safety and Stability Leads to Success

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When Gecora and her family moved from Chicago to Minnesota, she was excited to start somewhere new. After her father’s growing struggles with addiction led Gecora’s family to homelessness, the excitement she felt turned to disappointment and fear. “I had no idea what was going to happen to us,” she said. Gecora, who was trying to finish high school and get to college, did what she could to help. But a part-time job wasn’t enough. “A lot of the money I earned, my father used to buy his drugs,” she said.

Gecora knew that the longer she stayed in an unsafe, unhealthy environment, the more she was jeopardizing any chance to succeed. She made the decision to leave her family and try to make it on her own. “I was scared, but anything else had to be better than where I was,” she said.

After spending a few nights riding the bus and wandering Minneapolis’ streets alone, Gecora learned of LSS Safe House, an emergency shelter for youth ages 16 to 20-years-old. Last year, LSS of MN metro housing programs for youth – Rezek House, LifeHaven, Safe House and the Transitional Living project – served 210 young people and their children.

“Our work is as unique as the kids we see come through our doors,” said Monica Jones, program coordinator for LSS Youth and Family Services. “They’ve each been through something different, but their need for safety and stability connects them. We make sure they know that what they’ve experienced isn’t their fault, that they are capable of turning their lives around, and that we will walk beside them every step of the way.”

When she moved into the family-style home on a quiet St. Paul street, Gecora finally had the unconditional support and guaranteed safety she needed to get back on track in school. “School was a way to get away from the real world,” she said. “It was a place where I could find support from caring teachers and social workers and have fun with my friends – many of them didn’t even know I was homeless.”

Gecora stayed at Safe House for more than a month before she was approved for an apartment at LSS’ Rezek House, a two-year transitional housing program for youth experiencing homelessness. At first living alone was scary, but she adjusted well. She got a job and regained focus to excel in her classes. While LSS staff cheered her on, Gecora worked very hard and graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA. She is now looking forward to enrolling in college courses.

“Gecora and many other kids come to Rezek and Safe House because they don’t have anywhere else to go to find the security and safety necessary to their success,” said Monica Jones, program coordinator for LSS of MN. “Here, kids know they are loved and safe and they don’t need to worry about finding their next meal. They are able to plan their futures.”

Finding Their Place in This World

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Andrew and his wife, Kelly, knew one day they’d be parents. After having two biological children, adoption wasn’t part of the plan. Then one night they were captivated by news coverage of a tsunami in Asia that made them acutely aware of the plight of orphans everywhere.

“The broadcast was riddled with stories of children who became orphans overnight,” Andrew recalled. The couple felt compelled to do more than send donations. They were moved to create a loving home for several children in need. “Without skipping a beat, we decided to take some of these kids into our home and into our family.”

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A Perfect Double Storm

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Andrea Trautman was at work with her newborn baby an hour away from home when the twin tornadoes merged into one massive funnel cloud and slammed into her community. Meanwhile, Andrea’s brother raced against the storm to pick up his sister’s older children, Graycen and Ashlyn, from daycare and get them safely to their grandparents’ house — a home built to withstand the severe weather the prairies can bring. Cuddling her newborn and following the path of the tornado from afar, Andrea listened as the storm headed for her parents’ house. Her husband, Levi, was also working that day and following the path of the storm.

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Grandma Charlotte Loves Supporting Students

Grandma-Charlotte-KasorGrandma Charlotte Kasor came to the U.S. in the1990’s from Liberia. Wanting to stay busy and find new purpose in retirement, she became a Foster Grandparent ten years ago. She works primarily with kindergartners on literacy skills, and with those who need individualized attention. She also spends time helping children in the classroom so that the teacher can continue her lesson to the broader class.

Excell Academy for Higher Learning is a charter school in Brooklyn Park with a diverse group of children, 95% of whom are eligible for free and reduced lunches. They are doing whatever it takes to close the achievement gap and encourage students to reach and exceed academic and social expectations. Excell utilizes the talents of six LSS Foster Grandparents at least twenty hours per week. They provide academic, social and emotional support.

Excell Director Ms. Williams says that Foster Grandparents support teachers and allow them to do their work in closing the achievement gap. The volunteers give their hearts and knowledge to students, strengthening both their education skills and confidence.

There is something special about the intergenerational bond. Grandma Charlotte is truly a leader who creates lasting relationships with the students, staff and other volunteers. She says that being a Foster Grandma gives her a sense of accomplishment. She sees the difference she makes in the children’s reading and socializing.

It has also made a huge impact in her own life. She says, “So many seniors sit at home, watch TV, and make trips to the refrigerator. This allows me to stay busy and useful.

It keeps me young and moving! These children make me happy every day.”

Love to Spare

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Julie Haas wanted a different kind of childcare for her children.  “kids need to be respected for the little humans they are,” she said.  When Julie wasn’t able to find a place where love and acceptance were chiefly important, she created one. For more than 20 years, Julie and her husband, Brian, have run a childcare center out of their home.

We’ve become comfortable with chaos,” said Julie. “My hope is that each child who comes into my home is set to become a wonderful, caring person.”

When she heard about the opportunity to serve as foster parents for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Julie jumped at the chance. “I’m known as Momma Haas,” she said. “My door is always open to people looking for support and extra love.”

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Confidence Found in Experience

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“Kendall has always been a strong personality,” shared her proud father, Dana Theide, who easily recalls vivid memories of his exceptionally active and vocal child. “She was talking and telling stories as early as two-years-old,” he said.

Then, Dana and his wife, Karen, began to see a change. Their social, playful daughter was suddenly keeping to herself and having difficulties relating to and interacting with others. A variety of tests revealed Kendall had Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), closely mirroring Asperger’s Syndrome.

As Kendall grew older, community support played an integral part in her development and in keeping her family connected to helpful resources.

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