Patty Kelly, Laura Allen, Karen Stewart,
 Amy Van Polen and Joyce Hothan

Fourteen members attended a compelling presentation on Wednesday, April 20 at a Bridge Communities residential site in Westmont. Our hosts included executive director Joyce Hothan, Program Director Karen Stewart, Employment Director Patty Kelly, Resource Development Director Amy Van Polen and Board of Directors Chairperson Laura Allen of Hinsdale. Our guest speaker Megan, a former Bridge client, started the morning off with a poignant recollection of her journey from homelessness to success. Megan's story bears repeating for those who could not attend.

Joyce Hothan and Megan  

In 2005, Megan was living in Austin, TX with her husband and two sons. After her husband was accused of a crime and fled the country, Megan was in financial ruin, lost her home and moved to DuPage County where she hoped to find family support until she could get back on her feet. Unfortunately, the help she hoped for didn't pan out.
     "I called the Human Services office and by the grace of God, they referred me to Bridge Communities," Megan said.  "I couldn't imagine there was a program like that helping families."
     She was immediately interviewed by Bridge Communities, and through them, received a second interview with program partner Families Helping Families in Naperville. 
     "What Bridge does is so amazing," Megan said.  "In this situation, parents need to take care of their kids and receive help from people who they can feel safe with. I felt safe with Bridge and the sponsors who welcomed me nonjudgmentally." 
     Megan and her children moved into a Naperville apartment where they could feel safe and gain independence. 
     "That's the first boost for the client - to make a family feel like a family again," she said. 
     Before long, Megan's kids were in school, and the family was receiving counseling to overcome the trauma in their lives, being uprooted and the loss of their husband/father through divorce.  With help, she found housing, employment, a car and a renewed sense of confidence and hope. The Bridge program is a two year process that helps families move in the right direction. 
     "Life doesn't need to stop because of a crisis," Megan said. "It's incredible to me. They address everything you need and help set long term goals. There are also three month goals and two year goals."
     Megan has been working at Benedictine University since 2006 and is now an assistant registrar. She graduated from college with a bachelor's degree and is working on her masters. She is currently in the process of buying a condo.

Bridge staff with ONS co-chairs Deb Newman and
Phyllis Young

Excerpts from the presentation: 
     Laura Allen of Hinsdale, board chair, has been associated with Bridge for 11 years. She started the program partnership at Union Church and again at Christ Church of Oak Brook, where she is currently a member.
     "Megan's story is why I got pulled in and remain passionate," Allen said.  "Bridge has a deep impact on women's lives. We're helping neighbors. That's who Megan is - our neighbor. And we helped her  with dignity."
     Employment director Patty Kelly has been with Bridge for 11 years. Her job has become more
challenging in today's economy with client job searches taking anywhere from six to 12 months.
     "I try to keep clients' spirits up," Kelly said. "We look at their skills. If they're not strong on computer, we build that up."
     Kelly's approach is long term, moving women beyond a job into a career through personal assessments and advanced training or education. She helped Megan meet her goals while in the program and even helped her brush up her resume and practice a mock interview when she was up for a recent promotion.
     "It's so exciting to see the progress," Kelly said.

     Program director Karen Stewart distributed a worksheet that detailed the financial struggle facing single moms in the program.
     "One mom said she had to cut children's birthday parties," Stewart noted. "She couldn't afford to buy the gifts and she couldn't afford the gas to get there."
      Executive director Joyce Hothan paid tribute to tour Operation New Start program and built on the "around the kitchen table" concept that helps draws families together.
     "So much work goes on around the kitchen table, mentors meet with clients around the table," Hothan said. "For us, it's not just the journey of our families. We're committed to volunteers and mentors whose lives change when they walk with someone like Megan and realize she's a mom and help her move forward. That's the magic of Bridge. "
     Hothan told us about Bridge's commitment to children and the development of an on-going tutoring program that keeps them from falling behind during a crisis, and then keeps them on the right academic track as their lives get back to normal. To accomplish this, one unit in their residential complexes is turned into a Learning Resource Center where students can go after school for one-on-one teacher assistance.
     "This is critical to success," Hothan said. "Students lose six months every time they move."

     Resource development director Amy Van Polen said Bridge's signature Sleep out Saturday fundraiser came about because the founders didn't care if they never wore another tuxedo or ate another chicken dinner
     "All our events are mission driven. Sleep Out Saturday is an opportunity for people to learn about us, sleep outside and participate in 55 activities," said Van Polen, who remembers when her six year old daughter asked her where homeless kids brush their teeth.

Bridge Communities

By the numbers:
14 person full time staff
17 residential buildings in DuPage County, 
3 of which offer shared equity homeownership in Westmont, Lombard and Naperville
3-year strategic plan underway to add 
5 more buildings
101 families currently in the program, includes 
101 moms
2 dads
159 children 
4  faith-based partnerships in our immediate area  (in Hinsdale: St. Isaac Jogues Parish, United 
 Church and Union Church; and Christ Church of Oak Brook)