Sandy Munson has been volunteering as an Ambassador for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS of MN) for six years, but her connection to the organization as a volunteer extends back to 1970. In her role as Ambassador, Sandy learned about organizational impact and found innovative ways to connect her congregation, Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, to LSS’ work in community.
Now, Sandy is the 2016 recipient of the Heritage Quilt Award. This award, a handmade quilt purchased by members of the Executive Leadership team, recognizes the outstanding efforts of LSS of MN volunteers who share their time and unique talents to deepen mission impact and build stronger community.
Chanté Liddell is a polished Spoken Word artist and proud working mother at a nonprofit where she helps others find good-paying jobs to support their families.Having lived through housing instability as a child and lots of family heartache, she is a great source of encouragement and hope.
“People who have fallen on hard times really connect with me because I was there,” she said.
As a young child, Chanté remembers a happy family life that slowly started to unravel. “It was just a matter of time before my father drank himself to death,” Chanté shared.
A house fire and growing challenges with chemical dependency led to homelessness for Jennah. Out of options for stable housing for herself and her unborn child, Jennah found her way to Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s The Reach, a drop-in center in Mankato for youth experiencing homelessness and instability in their lives.
As soon as she walked through the doors, she says, she was met with overwhelming support from staff. “Those first hellos were all I needed to know I was in good hands,” she shared.
“Soldiers are trained to be heroes,” explains Jolaina Falkenstein, a licensed therapist with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s Behavioral Health team, “but we are very much human underneath.”
Every time a shooting star crossed the sky. Every time a four-leaf clover was picked from its stem. Every time a coin was tossed into a fountain. Every time birthday candles were blown out.
Every time, Ally Taubenheim made the same wish. To live a life without a rare autoimmune disease and skin disorder causing pigment to disappear, leaving white patches in its place. But most of all, she wished to look and feel normal.
Todd Kuikka’s voice is clear, calm and confident. A perfect reflection of life today, he says. “I never would have imagined my life could be this good, after it had been so bad.” His story is not an anomaly, and like many war Veterans, Todd faced a difficult struggle once returning to civilian life after multiple tours of duty. Overseas, he spent day after day in high-stress situations dismantling explosive devices and making sure fellow soldiers returned from missions alive.
“I loved my job and was proud to serve my country, but it was intense,” he shared.
His wartime experiences left crippling imprints on his soul and in his mind. Following honorable retirement from the military, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was challenging to go out in public, where the smallest noise would trigger memories and transport him back to a catastrophic environment where he saw and heard things most people wouldn’t comprehend. He was plagued with recurring flashbacks and nightmares, making it difficult to find peaceful sleep. Struggles with depression grew.
Isolation was his defense against his demons, and soon he added alcohol as a shield from the darkness his life had become. It didn’t take long before his self-medication began to erode the tight-knit dynamic of his family.
Todd and his family found renewed hope in Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS of MN) where therapists supported him and his family as he re-integrated into civilian life. Together, they reopened lines of communication and rebuilt their foundation.
“I am so thankful places like LSS of MN exist for people like my family and me. We were able to get to a place where we weren’t afraid to talk about the issues bothering us,” he said. “We reconnected emotionally and spiritually.”
Now, his priorities are nurturing his mental health and enjoying each day with family. They’ve also utilized more community resources, including LSS Financial Counseling. Greater control of their finances has afforded them freedom to focus on the future.
Last February, Todd published a book, Veteran Field Manual: Civilian Life 1-1, about learning to accept and cope with PTSD. “It’s been such a therapeutic and cathartic venue for me,” he said. It’s also been rewarding to experience the impact the book has had on the Veteran community worldwide. Todd has received notes from soldiers as far as Germany, Romania and the UK, thanking him. “It’s helped me to help other people.”
He’s also helping himself heal by continuing to explore his love of art and design. Alongside his wife, Erika, he owns and operates Loon House Designs and Concepts, a small mom ‘n pop shop. Business is good, but slow, just how he likes it. A manageable workload grants more time to focus on maintaining his stability and health.“I take one day at a time. Recovery from something as traumatic as war is never finished,” he said. “There’s always work to be done.” He journals and logs everything, including his sleep patterns. It can be a lot of work, but it pays off. He has his sobriety, his health and his family. “There isn’t much more I could ask for. I’m happy.”