This spring, Dakota Woodlands welcomed Jessica Sprenger as our new Program Director! Please take a moment to learn a little more about her background and hopes for the program at Dakota Woodlands!
Tell us about your experience working with people experiencing homelessness.
I started out working with families in Head Start who were struggling to make ends meet; many ended up going through the eviction process with their landlords. That’s when staff would become more involved with the families, working more as case managers rather than teachers, helping them to connect with resources in the community. That’s when I realized it takes more resources and support (wrap around services) to help families become stabilized, independent and successful in life.
After my twelve-year career in Head Start, I decided to work with the single adult male homeless population. I was intrigued not only working with a population I had not worked with before but also to be involved in an opportunity to open a brand-new state of the art facility (Higher Ground-MPLS), specifically designed to house the homeless, which seemed challenging and exciting to me. I had never been a part of an experience like that before and it was very rewarding. After working there for five years, we were seeing men who were struggling with mental health (trauma) and chemical dependency issues, have access to stable housing and the resources they needed to stabilize their home environment and their lives. It was a very humbling experience and I really enjoyed meeting and working with all the men who came to Higher Ground.
What would you want people to know about families/individuals who are experiencing homelessness?
That there are so many barriers and they are often judged for what is seen on the outside rather than the trauma they experienced throughout their whole lives. In working with children and families in poverty, you start to see the generational poverty and trauma they experience. I’ve learned that if people don’t get the resources they need (counseling, therapy, stable home life, non-abusive home) many will end up fleeing the abuse or unsafe environments and turn to the streets. Many of the men in shelter were abused and in poverty as children. If they didn’t have access to the resources in the public school system or in their family life, many of them came through Higher Ground. In my opinion, we need to spend more of our dollars on prevention and interventions services, starting at younger ages and through high school. We have to work on the stigma attached to mental health and spread the word that seeing a therapist is self-care and not the fault of the families and child/children.
What excites you about becoming the new Program Director at Dakota Woodlands?
The opportunities and potential for growth, especially in providing services to our families. Forming community partnerships is vital to offering our families services. We are all in this together and our families are going through hard, challenging times. Some of us have the families, friends and resources to tap into, others do not. It takes a village and helping others navigate through it, I have found, is my purpose in life. I have lived experience being homeless for a short time in my life. I was in an unsafe environment as a child and if I can help another child, youth, or family get through a very scary, uncertain time in their life, with the resources that I have, then I do my best to make that happen. I consider my “success” in life is when clients I’ve worked with come back to me and say, “Thank you for making a difference in my life!” There’s nothing better. To give back to others and put a smile on their face, brings me absolute joy in my life.
What are you most looking forward to?
Providing a safe and supportive space for all our families to thrive in and most importantly, for them to feel empowered to be independent and successful wherever they go.
Do you have any exciting changes or additions to the programming at Dakota Woodlands?
Yes, my first priority was to re-open the child care and we have done that successfully! The child care room is set up to foster a safe, secure, and comfortable environment for the children/youth. It is based on routine and schedules that allow them to feel in control of their environment, to know what is happening now and what is happening next, and allows for engagement in learning and knowing how to complete an activity or task. Not only do routine and schedules support stabilization for the children, it also allows for them to become more prepared in transitioning into the classroom setting.
Where can people learn more?
You can learn more about schedules and routines at the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, free resources and online articles are provided by Head Start. For more research on schedules and routines, you can also read the research done by Hemmeter, Ostrosky, and Fox 2006.
How can people help?
We need more support and volunteers as helpers in the classroom. Donations for child care room furniture and any information on external connections or partners that would be willing to offer their time and resources to our families in the areas of health and well-being, exercise classes, legal advice, etc. would be greatly helpful to our program!
By Jennifer Harrison
Ericka is a 25 year old new mom who found herself homeless after leaving an abusive relationship last fall. Ericka left her job when she was pregnant with her son, so she didn't have the income needed to get an apartment on her own. Her dad had just passed away, and her mother lives in another state, so after staying with friends for a short time, Ericka had nowhere to go.
Upon arriving to Dakota Woodlands, Ericka worked with staff at Dakota Woodlands to get enrolled in a few classes to work towards her degree so she could secure a good job with steady income. She also took advantage of the in-shelter classes on financial management, parenting, and how to be a good renter.
Just after St. Patrick's Day, Ericka moved into an apartment with her son and has been able to continue her schoolwork while seeking steady employment. She told staff that after her stay, she feels stronger and more prepared to live on her own and raise her son.
Your support allows families like Ericka's to get the support they need to regain their independence.
By Jennifer Harrison
Adrianna is a 34 year old mother with multiple medical diagnoses. She actually lived at Dakota Woodlands as a child, along with her mother and three sisters. Her three sisters have also returned to Dakota Woodlands, since becoming adults.
After her divorce, Adrianna was left with nothing and was homeless for about a year before coming to Dakota Woodlands. Despite the many challenges Adrianna faced, her main goal was always to create a better life for her child. She was a very positive and pleasant resident and a great mother.
Adrianna completed Dakota Woodlands program and even participated in the work program to earn points for the store during her stay. Adrianna was always with her son and frequently told staff that he comes first and she is doing all of this for him. She also told staff how happy and grateful she was to be at Dakota Woodlands.
This past Fall, Adrianna moved into an apartment with her son and she said even though she knew she would be welcomed back to Dakota Woodlands, it is very unlikely that she will ever have to return here.
Your support allows families like Adrianna's to get the support they need to regain their independence.
Take a few minutes to get to know our new Executive Director, Jennifer Harrison!
By Dakota Woodlands Representative
This week brought a wonderful surprise to Dakota Woodlands. Not only was the weather beautiful with sunshine and cool temperatures of 63 degrees, we had a special visitor from Chef Lucas Pizza – serving over 31 pizzas to residents and staff! Chef Lucas is no stranger to DW. We first met Lucas Hobbs in 2016, when he was 13 years old. Chef Lucas showed up at DW with a food truck and served hot meals to the people living and working at our organization. At the time, we learned that Chef Lucas had gone through a battle with cancer and that he wanted to give back to the community that helped him put the cancer in remission. With the help of his parents and the Minnesota Food Truck Association, Chef Lucas could make his dream a reality, by sharing his passion for cooking and serving good food to the community he so loves. This mixed with his determination is what it took to grow his vision to what it is today. Now 18 years old, Chef Lucas has launched the Chef Lucas Pizza food truck to help serve that mission by bringing delicious hot and fresh pizza directly to the Minneapolis community. His 501(c)(3) charity Chef Lucas Food has served thousands of meals across the country in that effort. To learn more about this amazing individual, please visit https://www.cheflucaspizza.com/.
A MESSAGE FROM OUR BOARD CHAIR, STEVE ZWEBER
On behalf of the board of directors, I am happy to announce that we’ve selected Jennifer Harrison to be the new Executive Director of Dakota Woodlands. The board is grateful for Beth Bromen, who has led Dakota Woodlands for more than a decade, but has planned to retire this year. Beth is leaving Dakota Woodlands financially and operationally stable. On this firm foundation, we are excited to grow into the future under Jennifer’s leadership.
Jennifer’s appointment comes at the end of a thorough recruitment process in which we sought a skilled nonprofit leader with a passion for serving families and who has a welcoming, inclusive style.
She will begin her leadership role effective June 14. She will work through a successful
transition with Beth throughout the month of June.
Jennifer has more than 16 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, most
recently as the Development and Communications Director at the Greater Minneapolis Crisis
Nursery. Throughout her career she has advanced through various nonprofit organizations in
the Twin Cities including human service organizations helping individuals and families in crisis
such as Episcopal Community Services, Emerge Community Development and the Greater
Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. At each of these organizations, she sat on the leadership team, was involved in strategic planning and organizational management decisions, and worked closely with the board of directors and staff.
Jennifer is a Certified Fundraising Executive, and holds a Masters of Nonprofit Management
from Hamline University.
In her free time she enjoys getting outside with her dog, Jake, exploring local parks and trails,
running, reading, and gardening. She makes her home in Dakota County.
"I am so thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside the staff and volunteers at Dakota
Woodlands to support homeless families on their journey to independence,” Jennifer said.
Please join us in welcoming Jennifer to Dakota Woodlands!
Steve Zweber, Board Chair
MESSAGE FROM OUR VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR, BETH BURNETT
April is a National Volunteer Month and we want to give special recognition for all of the hard work that you do around our building and community and to say "THANK YOU"! We are so grateful to have a solid group of regular volunteers who show up every week to get things done as well as volunteers who may come for a one shift or a few shifts before moving on. Both types of volunteers are important to the ongoing work at Dakota Woodlands.
This past year has looked a little different for many of our volunteers, as our needs changed. I have been so impressed by the willingness to 'jump' in and help when needed as well as the flexibility to make changes. Many tasks that volunteers do often go unnoticed by residents and families due to you coming and going without anyone seeing you. However, this unseen magic is what makes the stays better for all the families.
As we look forward to the future, I am excited to see where this year goes and the positive impact that all of our volunteers will have! This month we are celebrating YOU!
On behalf of Dakota Woodlands' community, THANK YOU all for your help this year!
Dakota Woodlands (DW) and Nicole Bathgate, Deputy Executive for DW, are honored to be funded by Target Corporation to virtually participate in New Strategies, an advanced online training program conducted over four consecutive Wednesdays from March 3 - 24 by Georgetown University’s Business for Impact. Bathgate will join a class of 64 nonprofit executives from around the country to participate in New Strategies’ Symposium specifically designed to help nonprofits increase and diversify their revenue streams.
Executives will learn from leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropy fields, Georgetown business school faculty and each other on topics ranging from cause marketing, earned revenue, using predictive analytics to increase individual giving levels, deferred and major gift funding options, virtual fund raising, alliances and mergers and more. Ongoing access to the expert speakers and networking among the nonprofit executives is a hallmark of New Strategies.
There is no application to apply to New Strategies, so being named by Target Corporation is itself an honor. Only those nonprofits funded by a corporation or foundation are invited to participate in the program and only after being approved by New Strategies.