5,000 youth have found safe haven at the reach
Briell shared that she had been on her own since she was in high school, couch hopping and without a permanent place to land. She found essential help, emotional support, safe housing and greater stability through The REACH resource center, a program of Lutheran Social Service in Mankato.
“If I had an attitude, I could still end up coming back there,” Briell said. “I was outspoken. It was nice to have that constant to help even if you weren’t at your best. I made progress,” said the Minnesota State University, Mankato college student who is on her own now and one semester away from completing her bachelor’s degree in social work.
Nearly 5,000 youth with similar stories have been served by The REACH since it opened its doors 10 years ago in February. “It’s been remarkable and personally rewarding to see so many youth transform their lives with help from The REACH” said Tasha Moulton, senior program manager for Lutheran Social Service. ”The community has really rallied around us to help these youth find a stable path forward.”
Moulton said that The REACH evolved out of small groups of committed citizens from local congregations in the Mankato area – called Circles of Hope – that met regularly to study youth homelessness and find ways to secure safe housing options for youth. Supporters teamed up with Lutheran Social Service with financial support and donations to build on the Street Outreach that was already underway by youth workers.
“When we started discussing what would become The REACH with those who had been doing the Street Outreach, and with other churches, we would hear from community members who told us they didn’t see any youth who were experiencing homelessness in Mankato,” shared Lead Pastor Jay Dahlvang of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. “After 10 years, and nearly 5,000 youth and young adults having been served, we have seen first-hand the difference The REACH has made for our community, and for the youth, as the Reach staff and volunteers work to help them realize safe, stable, and hope-filled lives.”
Early on, The REACH provided youth with a safe place to land during the day, showers, food, health and hygiene supplies, and life skills training. As youth homelessness increased, services expanded to provide transitional housing and host homes. Today, an estimated 13,300 Minnesota youth on their own experience homelessness annually, according to Wilder Research in St. Paul.
In recent years, The REACH added education and outreach to prevent sex trafficking among youth and brought on a navigator position last year through Minnesota’s Safe Harbor initiative to build on this work.
Since 2011, staff members and volunteers have helped distribute over 30,000 snacks, 27,000 meals and nearly 50,000 health and clothing items to youth. The center also serves as a place where people can donate scarves and members who need them can pick them up from the fence outside.
During the pandemic, The REACH has been providing a meal on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4 p.m. and staff have provided ongoing support to youth virtually. “While the pandemic has definitely changed the way we’ve served youth, our commitment is stronger than ever,” Moulton said.
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota began in 1865 when a Lutheran pastor and his congregation opened an orphanage for children near Red Wing in southeastern Minnesota. Today, with 2,400 employees and 10,000 volunteers, Lutheran Social Service is committed to the vision that all people have opportunity live and work in community with full and abundant lives. Statewide, the organization seeks to foster safe and supportive homes for children, restore health and wellness in families, empower people with disabilities to live the lives they imagine, and promote health, independence and quality of life for older adults. For comprehensive information about the work of LSS, visit www.lssmn.org.