Tag Archives: homeless

Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

Children’s Law Center of Minnesota

The legal system can be a difficult place to navigate for anyone, but imagine a child in foster care or a homeless young adult trying to navigate the system without any professional guidance.  Today’s organization was founded to help these kids.

In 1995, an interdisciplinary group of attorneys, social workers, youth workers, judges, teachers, pediatricians, and other children’s advocates in Minnesota realized a need to create an organization that focused on increasing the impact and effectiveness of legal advocacy for foster care and at-risk children.  They established the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota in order to help them through some difficult situations and help prepare them for successful adult lives ahead.

The mission of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota is to promote the rights and interests of Minnesota’s children, especially children of color and children with disabilities, in the judicial, child welfare, health care, and education systems.  The organization’s vision is that through their work, abused and neglected youth achieve stability, hope, and opportunity.

Since their founding, the organization has trained over 650 volunteer attorneys, represented more than 1,800 foster children, and helped promote systemic change and advocacy for vulnerable youth throughout the state.  The majority of the organization’s volunteers are trained to provide legal representation for youth who are at-risk, homeless, or in foster care.  Other volunteers work on special projects such as legal research, copyediting, and graphic design in addition to other legal, paralegal, social work, and administration volunteers and interns.

Today, they serve over 560 child clients each year.  They also collaborate with individuals and organizations in the county, court, educational, and health care systems to support coordinated efforts to ensure the basic needs of the state’s most vulnerable youth are legally met and optimized.

The Children’s Law Center also works on reform efforts that result in policies, procedures, and legislation that protects the safety and stability of foster populations.  They also provide education to lawyers, judges, social workers, educators, school administrators, law enforcement officials, youth, and other youth serving professionals on the issues that youth in foster care or at-risk situations face.

To better understand the difference that the organization makes, Heather Wolfgram, Director of Development, shared Steven’s story with me:

“Until he was 10, Steven lived with his mom and her boyfriend who was a pimp and drug dealer. The boyfriend routinely beat up Steven and his mom. Steven watched as the boyfriend killed his mother. Child protection placed Steven with his father who had remarried. Steven’s step mother hated and abused him. Eventually, Steven’s father kicked him out of the house and he ended up on the streets. Steven reentered the child protection system where he bounced from foster home to foster home and school to school. He began to act out at school, was put in detention almost daily, and was then placed in a special education program. This all happened before Steven was 14.

Children’s Law Center (CLC) was court appointed to represent Steven when he was 14. When the volunteer attorney took the case, child protection was about to place Steven in a residential treatment program for kids with mental health problems. The CLC attorney fought to keep him out of the facility and to get the mental health assessment that he had never been given. That assessment determined institutionalization was not needed. The attorney then fought to get Steven a stable placement where he felt welcomed and comfortable. The attorney also advocated for an education assessment that resulted in Steven being removed from the special education program and put into a mainstream high school program. As a result, Steven graduated from high school. Finally, the attorney fought the county’s efforts to discharge Steven from the foster care system on his 18th birthday and successfully advocated for transitional living education and funding for living expenses and job training. Steven currently has a full-time job and is living in his own apartment.”

You can also watch Sophie’s story below:

How can you help?

  • Children’s Law Center is always in need of financial support from individuals or corporations.  You can donate via their website.
  • They also have a wish list of in-kind goods and services they are seeking on their website.
  • They also have opportunities for lawyers to provide pro-bono attorney services.  You can find information on their website.
  • In addition, they are looking to partner with groups to put together birthday and graduation packages filled with items such as boxed cake mix, frosting, a card, and a gift card for the youth they work with.  Please contact them to arrange a donation.

To learn more about Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, you can visit their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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If I was ever forced to pick a new career, I would probably choose to be a chef.  Today’s organization is helping people realize their dream of working in the food industry.

In 1988, David Lee, a chef in Seattle, Washington, saw a need to serve the local homeless with culturally appropriate and nutritious food, so he started a for-profit business called Common Meals.  Through this work he recognized that food was a powerful way to help individuals transform their lives, so he transformed his company into a 501c3 nonprofit job training program named FareStart in 1992.

The mission of FareStart is to provide a community that transforms lives by empowering homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and families to achieve self-sufficiency through life skills, job training and employment in the food service industry.

Their adult culinary program is a comprehensive 16 week program that builds a strong foundation and support system by working with students individually.  The program combines hands on food service training and classroom instruction along with individual case management and job placement services.

The program is free and allows students to give back to the community by preparing food that is delivered to homeless shelters and low income daycare centers.

Homeless and disadvantaged men and women in the program are prepared for jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry after completion of the program.  Today the program serves more than 750 individuals a year with over 80% of the program graduates securing living wage employment in the food service or hospitality industry.

In 2003, FareStart added a Barista Training and Education Program (in collaboration with YouthCare) to provide at-risk youth on the job training, life skills classes, and counseling to youth between the ages of 16 and 23.  Students provided an opportunity to build a better future through the program.  In 2011, 52 youth graduated from the program and 80% secured employment or went back to school.

Over the past 20 years, nearly 6,000 people have found opportunities to transform their lives through the FareStart program.  At the same time they have served over five million meals to disadvantaged men, women, and children.  You can read stories of some of the program’s graduates here.  In 2011, FareStart launched Catalyst Kitchens to bring the success of FareStart to communities around the country.

FareStart has a restaurant, café, and catering business that helps support the adult culinary programs.  The restaurant serves lunch Monday through Friday and has a guest chef night on Thursday nights.  The lunch service provides a training opportunity for students to work in a kitchen serving real customers.  The Thursday night meals give the students an opportunity to work directly with a local chef to create a gourmet three course meal.  The FareStart Café is an on the job training site for the Youth Barista Training and Education Program.  They offer a full selection of espresso drinks as well as pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches.  The revenue from these businesses are used to fund the training programs.

How can you help?

  • If you live near Seattle, you can visit their restaurant or café or hire their catering service.  In addition, you can support the companies who have hired graduates of the program or have supported the organization in other ways.
  • FareStart also has a variety of volunteer opportunities including shelter meal delivery, counseling, study hall tutoring, and mock interviewing, among other opportunities.  You can find all the opportunities and an application form on their website.
  • Anyone can make a financial or in-kind donation.  You can find donation opportunities as well as their current wish list on their website.
  • If you are not in the Seattle area, take a look at the Catalyst Kitchens website to find a similar program near you.

To learn more about FareStart, visit their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Beverly’s Birthdays

Beverly’s Birthdays

A birthday is a day to celebrate and feel remembered and loved.  Every child deserves to celebrate that special day each year.  Today’s organization was inspired to ensure that happens.

In March of 2011, Megan “Megs” Yunn was volunteering at an afterschool program helping a young girl named Beverly complete her homework.  Beverly was asked to use the “accustomed to” in a sentence, Megs offered an example, “At a birthday party people are accustomed to eating what?”  To this, Beverly responded, “I have never had a birthday party or a birthday cake.”  At 12 years old, Beverly had never had a birthday party of her own.  Megs was inspired by her story and decided to start an organization to provide birthday celebrations for homeless youth in the Pittsburgh area.  In June 2011, Megs submitted her idea to the “BE BIG in Your Community Contest,” of the ongoing Clifford The Big Red Dog® BE BIGTM campaign.  Her idea for Beverly’s Birthdays was selected as a first place winner out of over 1,000 entries in the nation which provided the starter grant to make her dream a reality.  Beverly’s Birthdays became a registered nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania in February 2012 and hosted their first birthday party that same month.

The mission of Beverly’s Birthdays is to provide birthday celebrations for homeless children living in shelters in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.  They believe in spreading birthday cheer 365 days a year and that every child, regardless of personal or financial circumstances, deserves to be celebrated.  They are currently the only organization with a mission to provide birthday celebrations in Pennsylvania.  Their specific mission provides something that the homeless children they serve would go without.  Their goal is to eventually be able to serve all the homeless children in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The organization currently partners with two local facilities, Sojourner House MOMS and Auberle.  Beverly’s Birthdays hosts a party each month for the children living in the facility.  The parties are for any child who has a birthday during that month and the other children in the program are the party guests.  Each party includes pizza, birthday cake, treat bags, and games.  The child also receives a birthday box filled with small presents on his or her actual birthday.  In addition, Beverly’s Birthdays provides Birthday Cheer Bins to local emergency shelters so children can celebrate a birthday that happens to occur during their stay.

Beverly's Birthdays

During the September celebration at Auberle, a teenage boy came up to Megs and said, “Ms. Megs, I don’t know what to wish for on my birthday, but this party is better than anything I could ever wish for.  Thank you for making me feel special.”

In 2012, Beverly’s Birthdays hosted 15 birthday parties that celebrated the birthdays of 60 children at four different agencies and raised $18,000 to spread birthday cheer.  In 2013, they have plans to provide parties for 200 children at seven agencies.

How can you help?

Beverly’s Birthdays offers a variety of ways to get involved.  You can contact them via e-mail to inquire about any of these volunteer opportunities.

  • Volunteers are needed to staff the birthday parties.  Typically there are one or two parties each month.  Volunteers must be at least 18 years old or accompanied by an adult.
  • Birthday Bakers are important volunteers who bake cupcakes or cookies for the parties.  The bakers need to accommodate nut-free treats for at least 3 dozen people.
  • Volunteers are also needed to shop for specific birthday wish requests from the children.
  • In addition, volunteers are needed to serve on the administrative team of the organization.  They are currently seeking individuals to assist with party planning and fundraising.
  • They also accept in-kind and financial donations.  Their current wish list as well as information about making a financial donation can be found on their website.

You can learn more about Beverly’s Birthdays on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and via e-mail.

Beverly's Birthdays

Related Post: Cheerful Givers


Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Nonprofit Organization


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Several organizations offer assistance to those dealing with homelessness.  Today’s organization helps bridge people into a home while helping reduce the waste that goes into landfills.

In 1987, Fran Heitzman was working as a custodian at a church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  A woman brought in a crib and asked Fran if it could be used in the church nursery.  There wasn’t a need in the nursery, but Fran was sure he could find a home for the crib.  After finding a social service agency that wanted the crib, Fran thought he should be able to find a home for other furniture items to truly help those in desperate need and Bridging was born.

The mission of the Bridging organization is to provide families and individuals transitioning out of homelessness and poverty with a gift of quality furniture and household goods to stabilize and improve lives while effectively using community resources.

They are headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota in a 26,000 square foot warehouse.  They also have another 22,000 square foot warehouse in Roseville, Minnesota.  Together, these two locations serve over 4,000 households from the Twin Cities Metro Area each year.  Since its founding in 1987, Bridging has served over 57,000 households consisting of over 175,000 people.  87% of these families have an annual income of less than $15,000

Bridging is now the largest furniture bank in North America and was one of the founding members of the Furniture Bank Association of North America.  By accepting quality used furniture and household goods, Bridging reduces the amount of waste going to landfills by approximately 7-10 million pounds every year.

To receive services from Bridging, clients are referred by one of their 140 community partners. Comprised of social service agencies, nonprofit organizations and churches, these community partners verify there is a need for each client prior to coming to Bridging.

Bridging clients are very grateful.  One client said, “After months of sleeping on the couch, it has been great to have a bed.  We have a couch that doesn’t sag, enough towels and sheets, a coffee maker and a blender.  I used the light you gave us to finish my first year of nursing school.”  Another said, “Words are not there to say what this means…beds to sleep on, a couch with my kids sitting next to me.  It’s the little bitty things that matter.  I’m so thankful that people gave these things to Bridging. It makes a world of difference to those who don’t have.”  You can find even more success stories on the organization’s website.

How can you help?

  • Each year, Bridging has over 80,000 hours of time donated by generous volunteers.  There are opportunities for individuals and groups to help clients pick out furniture, sort donated items, and provide administrative support.  You can learn more about volunteer opportunities on their website.
  • You can also learn more about donating your stuff to Bridging on their website.  There you will find a list of accepted items as well as drop off locations and hours.
  • Each winter for the past 14 years, a local ski hill has been the host of the Subway Bedrace for Bridging.  Teams race down the hill and raise funds for the organization.  In 2012, this event raised $80,000 for Bridging.  Check out their website for information on getting involved in this event.
  • You can also make a monetary donation directly on the organization’s website.

You can learn more about Bridging on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Pajama Program

Tomorrow is pajama day at my daughter’s school.  She gets to wear comfy pajamas to school all day – she can even bring a blanket or stuffed animal along with her.  It makes me a little jealous that I don’t get a pajama day at work.  Maybe I will work from home tomorrow and have a pajama day on my own.  Well, some kids don’t even know the comforts of nice pajamas.  Today’s organization is trying to change that.

The Pajama Program was started in 2001 by Genevieve Piturro.  She was volunteering at a homeless shelter reading to the children and noticed that they did not have pajamas to wear to bed at night.  Instead they slept in the clothes that they had on all day.  Genevieve came back the next week with 12 pair of pajamas.  She handed them to each child when one girl asked what they were and when she would wear them, Genevieve’s heart sank.  Within weeks the idea for the Pajama Program was starting to form.  She told everyone to bring her new pajamas and she gave them to the children.  In late 2001, Parenting Magazine published an article about the pajamas and new books that were being donated and suddenly boxes started arriving from around the country.

The mission of the Pajama Program is to provide new pajamas and new books to children in need.  These children may be waiting to be adopted, children in homeless shelters or temporary living situations, orphanages, or children removed from their homes for various reasons, such as abuse.  The program headquarters is in New York, but there are over 70 chapters throughout the United States and Canada.

Since their founding, over 1,000,000 new pajamas and new books have been given to children.  These books are theirs to keep – a book and a pair of pajamas to hopefully bring some comfort to these kids.  It doesn’t take long reading thank you notes from children who have received a Pajama Program donation to know that they really make a difference.  The Pajama Program also has additional programs for teens to help them express their feelings with poetry and to learn about money and budgeting.

You can help!

  • The Pajama Program website has everything you need to run a pajama collection in your community, school or business.
  • You can also donate online using a credit card.
  • You can find a chapter near you and volunteer your time.
  • There are also some wish lists on the organization’s website.

You can learn more about the Pajama Program on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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363 Days

Recently I helped setup for a community event that served people struggling to meet basic needs by providing a wide variety of services such as medical care, haircuts, housing information, employment assistance, legal help, and a meal.  During this setup I helped make bagged lunches of sandwiches, chips, and an apple.  Kids and adults came together to assemble hundreds of sandwiches with bread, meat and cheese for what may be the only guaranteed meal for some of the people visiting the event.  Today’s organization also brings people together to assemble sandwiches and provides a way to get them into the hands of people who need a meal.

Mr. Allan Law taught in Minneapolis, Minnesota Public Schools for over 30 years.  During that time he began working with youth to provide after school, weekend and summertime programs and started a non-profit called Minneapolis Recreation Development, Inc, but that is another story.  In 1999 when Mr. Law retired from teaching, he set off on a mission to help feed the homeless.  The organization inspired by Mr. Law’s work is called 363 Days because the focus is feeding people on the 363 days a year (all but Christmas and Thanksgiving) that others forget about those in need.

He began by asking local convenience stores for the sandwiches that they were about to throw out.  He would drive to dozens of stores collecting sandwiches then would take to the streets handing the sandwiches to those in need.  In 2007 he ran into a former student of his and after hearing the story the former student had his bible study make 150 sandwiches for Mr. Law.  This was the birth of the 363 Days organization which has since grown to 15 drop sites with freezers full of sandwiches that are distributed to the homeless.  The organization helps coordinate sandwich making and delivery to freezers at drop-sites around the Twin Cities Metro Area.

Mr. Law now spends his nights driving to shelters in Minneapolis and St. Paul to drop off sandwiches. Shelter residents take sandwiches when they leave in the morning.  He also hands out sandwiches to those he sees on the streets.  Now he delivers over 500,000 sandwiches per year.

How can you help?

363 Days is always looking for groups to make sandwiches.  You can find all the instructions on their website.  In addition, they also distribute mittens, hats, coats, blankets, socks, toiletries and money that will help buy bus fare.  Monetary donations are also welcome to assist with the cost of transporting sandwiches from the drop sites and administration.  You can also find other in kind donation opportunities on the organization’s website.

Learn more about 363 Days at  You can also connect with them on Facebook or via e-mail,

Update: In 2012, the mission of 363 Days split into two separate organizations, The Sandwich Project and MRD 363 Days Food Program.  You can learn more about each organization by visiting their joint website,


Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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The Bridge for Youth

High school is tough!  Kids can be mean, there is homework, and your social calendar is quite difficult to manage.  Some kids have it even harder – they are homeless.  In a recent year, the Minneapolis, Minnesota Public Schools counted 5,500 homeless children in the district.  Some of those kids are lucky to find a home with today’s organization.

Bridge for Youth is a 24-hour runaway and homeless youth program in a residential setting in the Minneapolis, Minnesota metropolitan region.  Their mission is helping youth in crisis and their vision is to be the premier resource for youth and families in crisis.  They ensure a continuum of care to provide shelter and support, to reunite families whenever possible, and when it is not, to build independent living skills in young people.  The Bridge for Youth is a community leader in the development of approaches for youth and their families to resolve problems and develop healthier relationships.

The Bridge for Youth was founded by Sister Rita Steinhagen in 1970 as one of the first runaway youth shelters in the nation.  Sister Rita was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Catholic order.  She and her fellow sisters noticed that homeless youth were increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, prostitution, violence, and illness and felt the need to act. 

Each year The Bridge serves over a thousand youth between the ages of 10 and 20 years old.  The families are also helped when applicable.  A continuum of services is offered, from street outreach to homeless youth, short-term emergency shelter, housing skills and career development, and transitional and permanent supportive housing.  Their services are available free of charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If there is a young person in crisis or a parent of a young person in crisis they can call or come in and someone will be available for them.

The Bridge has some amazing results.  Here are just a few of their impressive statistics: 

  • 70% of youth served in the reunification program were safely reunited with parents or extended family.
  • 60% of youth participants in their transitional living program moved to stable living.
  • 100% of youth in transitional living were working and/or going to school.
  • 97% of youth in scattered site supportive housing retained their housing for six months.

The personal stories are also amazing.  One of the many success stories is Valencia McMurray, a young woman who has been on her own since 10th grade.  She spent time living with siblings until they were no longer able to pay rent. Then she did some couch hopping with friends until a school social worker found her a space at The Bridge.  She spent some time in the emergency shelter and then in the transitional housing program.  She was able to graduate high school and earn a four year scholarship to Augsburg College.  You can read her full story here.  There is also a video about six young adults who were impacted my homelessness.

If you live in the Minneapolis area, there are many volunteer opportunities available, including cleaning, yard work, and more.  Volunteers are always needed to do a variety of things depending on their interests and skills.  Groups and organizations are always welcome to hold donation drives or collections.  Individuals can also help with cooking, mock interviews, and more.  You can learn more about current volunteer needs at The Bridge on their website.  

The Bridge also accepts cash and in-kind donations.  You can find donation options as well as their current wish list on their website

Learn more about The Bridge for Youth on their website,

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Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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