Community Champions a Safe Place for Youth
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 (LSS) 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.
Jennah immediately took in all that The Reach offered, including On My Own classes, where she learned how to make healthier choices.
“It helped to be around people who accepted me regardless of where I came from,” she said. “They were only concerned with where I’d go next.”
To help her move forward, volunteers and staff at The Reach empowered Jennah with skills and knowledge she needed to rent an apartment. They cheered her on as she applied for jobs and gave her gift cards for baby supplies and other household necessities.
“I could always count on staff to listen and offer supportive advice,” said Jennah. “Without LSS, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Today, Jennah is married and a stay-at-home mom of two young boys.
Support from LSS, Jennah says, helped refocus her priorities, which included re-enrolling in school and finding a career path. “I will continue setting the best example I can for my sons,” she said.
The Reach has been a collaborative project of grants and fundraisers between LSS, area churches, civic organizations and community residents — working together to raise the necessary funds to maintain the center and provide hours of volunteer support.
When The Reach outgrew its small space, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Mankato welcomed the youth drop-in center under its roof. The expanded area has allowed them to support more youth.
“The partnership between LSS and the congregation at Bethlehem Lutheran has been amazing,” said Donnette Wheelock, who volunteers in the food pantry and clothes closet at The Reach.
“I’ve learned to let the kids open up on their own time,” she said. “All they need to know is that there are caring adults willing to bend an ear or hold out a hand and who want to see them succeed.”