Pastor Jon Nelson saw a need and so he filled the need. When he was made aware of the plight of poverty, homelessness and domestically abused women in his community of Orange City, Iowa and the surrounding communities, Nelson saw a need for transitional housing to help women emerge from these difficult situations into the lives they desire.
Nelson, the pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, and a handful of other community members began a ministry that was the first of its kind in the rural counties of Northwest Iowa. It is called The Bridge, and it opened its doors in September of 2007. The Bridge is a non-profit, faith-based transitional living program for women and their children who are emerging from difficult situations such as jail, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, poverty, a break-up, domestic violence and homelessness.
“We help (women) transition from their old life to the new life they want,” said Becky Erdmann, the current director of The Bridge.
Erdmann said that many Northwest Iowans are not aware that poverty, homelessness and domestic violence are growing issues within their communities, but the statistics show that these issues are present.
According to the Iowa Council of Homelessness in 2006, 29,075 people were homeless in Iowa with 4 out of 10 being children. In the five county area that The Bridge serves, there are 6,551 people who are living in poverty.
Before The Bridge opened, women in Northwest Iowa women facing adverse situations that could result in homelessness had very few options besides doing what Erdmann called “couch-hopping” between family and friends or moving to a city to find a transitional housing facility. The Bridge offers women an option to stay within Northwest Iowa. On the other hand, the ministry has brought women to Northwest Iowa from all over the country who found The Bridge via the Internet.
The women that The Bridge has helped transition over the last eight years have not only been from many different places, but have been of all different races and ages. They have helped women who are as young as 18 all the way to age 62.
The Bridge aims to help women transition to an independent life by using a multi-step program that is catered to the specific needs of each individual woman. Some of the parts of the program are improving mental health and social skills, providing Bible study and therapy, helping the women find employment, obtain financial independence and connect to other resources within the community.
“We try very hard to connect women to other Orange City services that aren’t connected with The Bridge so that when the women move out they haven’t lost everything,” Gina Roberson, life skills coordinator and case manager, explained.
The Bridge is located two blocks from downtown Orange City in the northwest wing of the old Orange City Health System’s hospital. The renovation of the wing created a facility that has six bedrooms, a kitchen/dining area, a living room, a laundry room and an outdoor play area for kids.
Although The Bridge has six rooms, it is rare that all of the rooms are occupied. But this does not mean that The Bridge is not full since some of the women who come also bring their children. Erdman explained that there is a difference between being physically full to capacity and being full to resource capacity.
“Often, the perception in the community is that if the Bridge isn’t full then there’s no point to what we are doing,” Erdman said. “But if we are too full no one gets good help.”
The resources that The Bridge depends on are funding from individuals and churches. The Bridge does not receive any government grants, so their funding can fluctuate from month to month.
Right now their greatest need is more volunteers from surrounding communities to babysit, drive women to appointments and teach life skill classes. Volunteers are essential because The Bridge’s only three full-time staff members are not capable of meeting all of the women’s needs on their own.
The staff hopes that as more people in Northwest Iowa continue to be made more aware of the issues of poverty, homelessness and domestic violence within their communities, more people will become involved with The Bridge. In the future, as The Bridge gains more supporters and involves more people, the staff want to expand their facilities to serve more women especially women impacted by trafficking. But even if the ministry remains the size that it is, the staff strongly believes that their presence in the community is invaluable.
The ministry’s key to success has been their view that God uses their work in someway to impact each and every woman who walks through their doors even the women who do not successfully transition into a successful, independent life.
“We realize that God has a plan in everything that happens,” Roberson said. “And just one woman being here is worth us being here.”