Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid.
Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

We did it.  We planned, prepared and executed another annual gala.  But somehow, it was different.  It had a new feel…..there wasn’t chicken for people to complain about.  There wasn’t a speaker from a national organization traveling to Iowa to share with our guests.  It was us.  It was the staff who comes to work at Center Point Road and 8th Avenue every day.  It was a client who comes to class every week and a client who was with us for a season of her life.  And it was the board members who don’t just show up to meetings but give of themselves and are invested.  It was a celebration of Bridgehaven helping families for 35 years in the community, and it was so amazing!

First of all, the banquets and galas of the past were great.  We need to be inspired by those involved in the work we do.  It is important to hear voices from around the country and personally, I thought the chicken was delicious.  However, we felt God calling us to share specifically about Bridgehaven.  At first, it seemed selfish but then we were struck by just how many people aren’t super confident about what it is that goes on in the big brown building north of the Coe College campus.  So many people are unaware that we have a Prevention team committed to helping kids in schools, public and private, in residential treatment facilities and throughout the community and surrounding areas.  There were folks who felt we were a charity and in actuality, we are working on transforming the lives of our clients.  Despite being in the community for decades, Bridgehaven was a mystery to many people.

At the beginning, we tweaked little things…..let’s just have dessert.  Let’s move it to Friday night.  Let’s push the start time back a little bit.  Let’s get t-shirts for the staff and board to celebrate the unity we feel about our mission and to let attendees know who could be approached to answer questions.  Those were all easy.  Then came the hard work of creating a program that really spoke to the heart of what we do and how we do it.  The heart of our ministry has been and always will be our Client Advocacy area.  Bridgehaven has offered free pregnancy tests since our beginning in 1983.  Ultrasound was added in 2011 and is a valuable part of what we can offer clients.  We knew the voices of our clients were the most important piece of what we could offer people.  Haley Brimmer, Director of Client Advocacy, recruited two brave women who wanted to tell their Bridgehaven stories.  It worked out perfectly because Teresa, Haley’s mother and Client Advocate, had taught both of the women in a prenatal class.  Our first meeting with the women was powerful.  When you work behind the scenes like I do, listening to how someone’s life was dramatically changed because they walked through our doors and were loved on by staff and volunteers is so humbling.  Rachel and Lily, it was such an honor to meet you and listen to your stories of courage.

Possibly the best God moment was when a sweet, generous man volunteered to help us with video, a relatively new foray for the marketing team.  Not only did he advise us on what we could do, where we should shoot, what equipment to buy and a multitude of other things related to video, he also offered to produce a ministry video focusing on why Bridgehaven is needed in the community.  With a limited budget, it was almost too good to be true.  Video is not only an expensive medium, it is time consuming. But Ben Statler of North Bend Studios was gracious enough to gift us with a moving video about the impact of Bridgehaven.  Once I saw the rough cut of the video, I knew it would start the night in a meaningful way.  His inspiration led Rachel Pheasant, Marketing Coordinator, to create sensational videos about our Prevention and Client Support areas, along with the testimony of a former client who is now a proud grandmother.  (If you haven’t seen this video, go to our Facebook page and watch it.  Have Kleenex ready.)

After that, I simply allowed the staff to shine.  Because people didn’t know for sure what we did, I knew they would be blown away by the magnificent women who serve in this ministry.  The Prevention video featured a teacher and principal talking about the way the staff is changing lives in their perspective schools.  Trisha Sellers, Director of Prevention, highlighted the tremendous growth the department has had in the last few years and how prayers have been answered and they are in both parochial schools, as well as secular organizations like the DHS Youth Shelter.   Kelli Hansen, Prevention Educator, then knocked it out of the park when she spoke about the young people she encounters every single day.  Their stories of brokenness and confusion seem dark, but Kelli only sees places where she needs to take Jesus and His story of redemption and grace.  The Prevention team fights against Satan everywhere they go, but I have to tell you…..I think they are winning the battle.  Dawn Michael, Director of Client Support, finished the ministry section when she spoke about strong initiatives that will allow clients to experience the transformation we pray they have when they come to Bridgehaven.

What I wasn’t prepared for, after months of planning, was how the story of Laurie Hamen, Mount Mercy University President and board member, would blow me away.  We have been very focused on a marketing campaign to involve the three college campuses in Cedar Rapids.  While we had marketed to this demographic before, this year features a targeted and specific movement to both love on college students and educate them about our services.  Laurie’s story of being a #mommywhodidgraduate made our current social media strategy #mommiescangraduate something tangible.  Her passion for encouraging and inspiring college students was electric.  We know that education is paramount to a family being able to experience an abundant life God calls us to.  We know better jobs are available to those with a college degree or certificate holders.  What we learned is that in Cedar Rapids, the biggest demographic living in poverty is also the demographic of Bridgehaven’s female clients.  There are over 13,000 full-time college students in our community, along with thousands of part-time students.  These young people are at risk especially if they are facing an unplanned pregnancy.  Laurie outlined ways other communities have rallied around these young people, providing opportunities for them to help themselves, buoyed by the community.  The opportunity exists in Cedar Rapids, and we need to work together to find ways to support young families so they are able to live the best lives possible.

There were surprises throughout the night.  Staff members, Ashley, Christine, Kelly and Danaca proved that Bridgehaven can do infomercials.  Sweet potato can be used to make a fabulous cheesecake.  And perhaps most important, God showed up big.  Maybe that wasn’t a surprise, but it sure was fun.  I was able to connect with a Coe College professor who wanted to get involved and find ways to help college students through mentorship or in whatever way she could.  It was her first gala and real experience with Bridgehaven.  God did that.  People who had decided early what their gift would be ripped up those checks and wrote new ones.  God did that.  He allowed everyone there to see that our vision is big.  The need in our community is big……and so, the only way to respond is big.

I hope that if you were there, your heart was moved as much as mine was.  If you were unable to be there, I hope you’ll stay tuned to our social media and website as videos are released and we share more about what the evening was about.  Whether or not you were there, I hope you add Bridgehaven and our clients to your prayer lists.  Prayer is so powerful and we need it every day.  If you were motivated by what we do, consider volunteering.  We are always in need of help in all areas of the ministry and that all begins with a tour of the center.  It is so easy – you can sign up online.  Overall, I am so proud of the Bridgehaven team and our brave clients who shared throughout the evening.  I am humbled by the donors who have already joined us on our mission and I am so, so excited about all the ways God is moving at the ministry.  I can’t wait to see what He does next…..get involved and you can find out, too.