Inspiring stories shared at first HOPE luncheon

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

At 15, Janea left home to live with her boyfriend. He was abusive and addicted to methamphetamine, but she thought she could “fix him.”

She became pregnant, and the abuse stopped. But only temporarily.

When her daughter was 6 months old, her boyfriend’s abusive streak returned, but this time she wasn’t the target. Her daughter was in intensive care for two months after a broken arm, two broken legs, 10 broken ribs and a fractured skull.

Janea found herself homeless.

“I was in a really dark place,” she said. “Every day was just a nightmare.”

Fast-forward four years: Janea’s life has turned around completely. She has two beautiful children, a steady job and is an honor roll nursing student.

She credits HOPE 4 Youth with helping her through dark days.

“I know I have these people in my life and HOPE 4 Youth every step of the way,” Janea said to an audience of about 225 people at HOPE 4 Youth’s inaugural Inspiring HOPE Luncheon May 4. “This is just the beginning for me.”

Last year HOPE 4 Youth served 732 young people age 23 and younger at its drop-in center in Anoka. In December, HOPE Place transitional housing opened in Coon Rapids with capacity to serve a dozen youth.

“They are still children, and they deserve a chance and a future where they aren’t homeless,” said Jay Olstad, a KARE 11 reporter and master of ceremonies at the Inspiring HOPE Luncheon, held at Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens in Brooklyn Park.

The program served as a thank you to all who have supported HOPE 4 Youth this past year, but also as a call to action. Work is far from done.

On an average night, about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar shared with attendees in a video message.

“That’s simply unacceptable,” she said. “If we’re going to tackle youth homelessness, it’s going to take all of us.”

Eight Inspiring HOPE Awards were distributed to community members who “have changed the life trajectories of young people experiencing homelessness who have walked through HOPE 4 Youth’s doors.”

Connexus Energy took home the Inspiring HOPE Business award, Chain of Lakes Church accepted the Inspiring HOPE Faith Partner award, Power of 100 Twin Cities received the Inspiring HOPE Foundation award, Champlin Park Baseball Association came away with the Inspiring HOPE Civic Group award, the Coon Rapids City Council accepted the Inspiring HOPE Elected Officials award, the Mellem family walked away with the Inspiring HOPE Volunteer Family award, the Lee family accepted the Inspiring HOPE Place Partner award and Duane and Jodi Stark received the Inspiring HOPE Education Partner award.

“You are doing tangible work every day, impacting people’s lives,” Olstad said.

Janea and Leroy, another youth who has a new start thanks in large part to HOPE 4 Youth’s assistance, addressed the audience.

Leroy’s father moved his family to the United States without a plan for his family’s future, Leroy said. He secured his own green card at 18 and graduated from Blaine High School. But assimilating to the culture here put him at odds with his dad. Eventually, Leroy’s father said he never wanted to see him again and threatened his life. So he found himself homeless and sleeping outside of Anoka-Ramsey Community College when he was referred to HOPE 4 Youth.

“I needed somebody who had the plans for me,” Leroy said. “They have a plan.

HOPE 4 Youth walked him through the appropriate steps he needed to take to secure housing and work.

Today, he has an apartment and two jobs.

“Our journey does not define who we are,” said Andover Fire Chief Jerry Streich, a HOPE 4 Youth board member who was homeless himself as a youth. “It helps us become who we are.”

He urged attendees to give generously. A $41 donation supports drop-in center services for one youth for a month.

The Inspiring HOPE Luncheon was sponsored by Financial One, Connexus Energy, The Paul Ekstrom Team, Culligan, Midwest MRI Center, The Power of 100 Twin Cities, Thrivent Financial and KARE 11.

Thrivent Financial North Central Associates donated supplies for 150 summer care kits to be distributed to youth at the drop-in center and asked attendees to help assemble the kits before and after the meal.

For more information about HOPE 4 Youth, visit

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Formerly homeless, Janea shared her powerful story with attendees at HOPE 4 Youth’s first Inspiring HOPE Luncheon last week. Blaine’s Chain of Lakes Church was awarded the Inspiring HOPE Faith Partner award. Before accepting the award, the Rev. Paul Moore presented HOPE 4 Youth with $3,000 brought in through a recent silent auction at the church. The Mellem family, of Andover, was awarded the Inspiring HOPE Volunteer Family award May 4. HOPE 4 Youth Executive Director Lisa Jacobson addresses approximately 225 guests gathered at Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens in Brooklyn Park May 4 to support HOPE 4 Youth. KARE 11 reporter Jay Olstad served as master of ceremonies for the first Inspiring HOPE Luncheon.
Blaine’s Chain of Lakes Church was awarded the Inspiring HOPE Faith Partner award. Before accepting the award, the Rev. Paul Moore presented HOPE 4 Youth with $3,000 brought in through a recent silent auction at the church.