“We are doing God’s work” and it is vital for everyone to come together to help those in need around us in the Brainerd lakes area.

This was a message officials from Bridges of Hope — a faith-based, nonprofit organization linking individuals and families to community resources since 2002 — expressed at its annual faith leader luncheon Thursday, Nov. 14, at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd. Area faith leaders gathered and heard from Bridges’ new Executive Director Bernadette Foh, who presented an update on the organization’s program, its purpose and how everyone can come together to help support the community.

Foh started in the position Sept. 9 after Kassie Heisserer, the former executive director, resigned Aug. 14. Foh was born the oldest girl of 13 children in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in the coastal city of Freetown. Now a naturalized citizen of the United States, Foh earned a master’s of business and healthcare administration and management from St. Catherine University in St. Paul and completed her law degree at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Bridges of Hope Executive Director Bernadette Foh
Bridges of Hope Executive Director Bernadette Foh

Foh opened her presentation by letting the faith leaders know she is here to stay. She said it is her passion to make a difference in the world and she joined Bridges of Hope because it is where she can fulfill her purpose and continue Bridges’ mission of “building bridges of support, anchored in Christ’s love, between families in the lakes area and the community assets that can help them thrive and gain hope.”

“Hope is possible,” if organizations and leaders come together to try to make a difference with “the little we have,” said Foh. Currently in Brainerd there is no longer a homeless shelter. Having a homeless shelter is not Bridges’ mission, however, Foh added. “We need to help and we need to make sure we can be a part of the solution by the end of the day.”

Bridges of Hope has served 811 households, or roughly 938 people, so far this year in Crow Wing County and surrounding communities. Bridges’ programs assist families in crisis and connect them with local resources. Services include helping with child care, family support, mentoring and resource connection services, which is to help individuals and families with a short-term challenge or need.

Foh said Bridges’ goal is to position itself as a safety net in the community and to ensure everyone in need finds a solution. Foh said staff do not want to say no to anyone asking for help. They want to send people in the right direction and get them the resources they need.

Bridges of Hope will continue to provide alternatives for families who need help with child care for children up to 12 years old. Foh said to date they have helped hundreds of families who have a family emergency or just need a break, placing children with licensed day care providers offering a safe and warm place for the children.

Foh said Bridges’ goal is to reduce child abuse and neglect and to empower families to access support in the future.

Bridges also has volunteers to help with mentoring services, which offers one-on-one mentoring with a person. Foh said the volunteers who help with the mentoring services have firsthand experiences with what the person is going through, which is helpful in helping them.

Bridges also launched a self-healing communities project in Crow Wing County late last summer. The focus is the neighborhoods around Garfield and Lowell elementary schools, to work toward a safer and healthier neighborhood. It is designed to improve health and social outcomes for people by reducing adverse childhood experiences.

Bridges of Hope also plans to host a “Resource Summit” in June 2020, which will be the first of successive annual events to create a platform for all organizations to showcase what they do, learn about each other and have everything in one place, in real time for those in need.

Foh said they are always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, people can go on Bridges of Hope website at bridgesofhopemn.org/volunteer and fill out a form. Volunteer opportunities include helping at the organization’s Common Goods Thrift Stores in Crosslake and Baxter.

Pastor Tom Peterson of Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church of Garrison said it was exciting to hear from the new director of Bridges of Hope and he looks forward to working with her and her staff.

Shannon Mills, executive director of the Sharing Bread Kitchen in Brainerd, said it was nice to see all the faith leaders come together and hear Bridges of Hope’s mission.

“Everyone is willing to work together to make the lakes area a better place to live,” Mills said.

Mills said the soup kitchen is looking for people to volunteer on Christmas Day. Those interested may call the soup kitchen at 218-829-4203.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.