“Looking back over the past ten years, it’s scary to think what might have been,” said Amber*, one of the first moms to ever receive services from Lutheran Social Services’ Healthy Families program.
After learning about the program through her doctor, a Healthy Families support worker soon contacted Amber to set up a schedule of in-home visits.
“Healthy Families isn’t a dead end," Amber said. "For me and my children, it was a new beginning.”
While growing up in Kinsha, Congo, Dola was used to big households: She was the youngest of 17 children.
In 2010, after Dola had started a family of her own, war broke out in the Congo. Dola and her four children came to American as refugees. All alone, she worked hard to support her family in this strange, new country, as her husband wouldn't be able to join them for a few years.
After living in the U.S. for a few years, Dola decided to give back by training to become licensed as a foster parent for LSSND’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, providing long-term support for refugee youths who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or guardian.
Soon after, URM staff approached Dola about taking in a family— and it was a big one: six kids, with the youngest just 4 years old. Dola said yes.
“It’s normal to me,” says Dola, who also works as an office coordinator at LSSND. “I knew I could handle it.”
Today, Dola's household contains a big, happy mix of her own children, along with her foster family of siblings. She doesn't differentiate between the two: She considers them all to be her family. "I just try my best to give them my love," she says.
Eleanor* has volunteered with Lutheran Social Services as a Senior Companion for the past 14 years.
“It’s something to get out of bed for,” said Eleanor.
“I look forward to starting my day and seeing clients.”
The Senior Companions Program at LSS pairs elderly clients with senior citizen volunteers who help them with everyday duties, making it possible for them to remain independent for longer.
The program also nurtures connection and friendship, addressing the epidemic of loneliness reported among our elderly population.
Eleanor, now 86, has up to eight clients at one time.
“It’s such an enjoyable program,” Eleanor explained. “I get just as much benefit from it as my clients.”
Emma*, a young, single mother, had just signed a lease for her new apartment managed by Lutheran Social Services Housing. While staff conducted a pre-move-in inspection, her toddler was sitting on the floor.
"He hardly knows how to play on a floor," she said. "This is the first time he's lived anywhere but a car."
The mother was so overcome with gratitude for her new home that she burst into tears.
"She cried, I cried, the site manager cried," recalls Paulette Paulson, director of LSS Housing.
"We all stood there and just cried."
George* had lost so much in the last six months. First, the 92-year-old man lost his health and self-sufficiency after sustaining serious injuries from a fall. Then his wife of 52 years died. And when the World War II veteran was moved into the VA Hospital to get proper care, he lost the home he knew so well.
Overwhelmed by grief, George slipped into a major depression. His family grew especially concerned when he began talking about suicide and even shared a plan on how he would carry it out.
George needed help. In efforts to find a therapist who could truly connect with George,
VA staff reached out to someone outside of the VA system – Jeff Stine, a licensed clinical social worker with Abound Counseling and retired master sergeant who spent 20 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard.
By the time Stine met with George, the older man had been moved to a nursing home in an assisted living facility and had so given up on life that he was on Hospice care.
Because of George’s health, Stine agreed to come to him for sessions. “He was quiet at first, but then the floodgates opened,” Stine says. “He wanted to release.”
It didn’t seem to matter that their military service had been more than 50 years apart or that George had fought in Europe while Stine served in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Kuwait. The two men clicked.
“I believe it was the veteran connection that allowed it,” Stine says. “No matter the age or generation, it’s the commonality we all had of our service experience. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Although it was their military history that bonded them, the two men rarely discussed the service during sessions. Instead, they explored his recent losses and the normal process of grieving. Stine also educated George on the seriousness of major depression, informing him that talk therapy was not enough to treat it and that medication could help.
By the end of their sessions together, George was a different man. He was taking antidepressants and his health had improved so he no longer needed Hospice.
He was again making plans for the future and talked of transitioning to a place where he could be even more self-sufficient. As George still had loving family in the area, Stine believed he could still live independently.
“He’s just a wonderful, wonderful man,” Stine says. “He had family support, which was key.”
But it also didn’t hurt that this 92-year-old World War II soldier and a 40-year-old Iraqi Freedom veteran found common ground, then used that connection to perform their own life-saving mission.
Luke and Molly’s story
Luke* and Molly* were struggling with addiction when they found out that they would be parents.
Lutheran Social Service's Healthy Families program provided the support they needed to overcome their addictions and embrace the new family they were becoming.
“Finding sobriety and being in the program—we needed it,” said Molly. “We couldn’t have done it without Healthy Families.”
“We have Jenna*, so we don't have to turn to drugs or anything like that,” Luke explained. “That's what makes me happy.”
Serving as a family-strengthening, home-visitation program, Healthy Families provides new families the support, advice and encouragement they need to thrive.
“The whole program really gives us hope for being parents,” said Molly. “We were clueless at first, and now I feel like we’re getting to be pros.”
“This is what happens when you turn your life around,” she continued.
Jace and Eli’s story
Jace* and Eli* were just 2 and 4 when the drug-enforcement agents broke down the door to their family’s house and arrested their dad and stepmother. At age 4, Eli could describe in detail how to inject drugs because of his parents' use.
The boys were referred to LSSND’s Abound Counseling, where trauma screenings revealed severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A course of extensive treatment followed, with the young boys spending six to seven hours per week in intensive outpatient therapy with Abound therapists.
This year, the two boys are back in school and thriving. Their IQs have tested off the charts and they are no longer having behavioral problems in school.
While there may be challenges ahead, their story illustrates how early and appropriate intervention can heal even severe cases of trauma.
“It’s two little kids who didn’t get medicated, who didn’t get kicked out of school, who got appropriate therapy. With appropriate treatment, they are now developmentally on track,” says Sara Stallman of LSSND Abound Counseling.
Sophie’s* parents did not know what to do. As her depression began to spiral out of control, her mom, Heather* remembers feeling lost.
“We tried everything from tough love to negotiating to
screaming at each other,” she said.
They tried therapy and other means, but nothing worked to provide Sophie the healing and help she needed.
Then, a pastor told the family about Luther Hall, which was their last—and best—hope. Sophie’s first few weeks at Luther Hall weren’t easy, but she slowly started to interact with staff and the other residents. And with time, Sophie began to feel more like herself.
“They didn’t give in to her and they didn’t give up on her,” Heather said.
Faced with both the stress of an abusive relationship and her first pregnancy, Kate* did not know where to turn.
That’s when she heard about the Healthy Families program at a doctor’s appointment.
“Even though I am a very independent person I knew I was going to need help if I was going to survive."
Kate was soon contacted by one of Lutheran Social Services' family support workers. For the next three years, she received advice, encouragement and support free of charge through Healthy Families.
“They gave me what I needed most at that point in my life,” said Kate. “She listened without judging.”
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients and their families.