The Free Press, Mankato, MN

No Direction Home

December 15, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 2: The Reach is growing up, heading for expansion

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MANKATO — When it first opened, The Reach was serving about 15 kids a month and its staff was asking area service clubs and nonprofits if they could come in as guest speakers.

These days? The Reach — a homeless youth drop-in center — sees more like 80 kids a month. They’ve added a handful of other programs. Expanded to Rochester. And those speaking gigs?

“Those days are over,” said Rachel Johnston, executive director of The Reach. “We don’t call around and ask to speak anymore. They ask us.”

To say The Reach has grown would be a bit of an understatement. Opened in 2011, The Reach remains the only agency in southern Minnesota serving homeless youth. And in case you’re skeptical of just how much work there can be for such an agency, consider the numbers:

■ Since opening its doors in 2011, the Reach has served roughly 700 youth.

■ Of those, 73 have been sheltered in hotels with average stays of five nights.

■ The Reach has about 40 graduates from its On My Own program, which teaches life skills such as cooking to youth.

■ Statistics from Mankato Area Public Schools backs up those numbers. The district counted 61 kids who at some point reported having no place to stay. This year that number is 95.

Johnston said The Reach operates as an independent business but falls under the umbrella of Lutheran Social Service. A similar program had been operating in Owatonna, but their grant ran out and the program was ending. LSS staff in Mankato picked up that grant and opened shop in Mankato.

“At the beginning, we were hitting the streets endlessly,” Johnston said. “We’d eat lunch at the Salvation Army, immerse ourselves in the culture we’re trying to serve.”

A few months after opening, The Reach began contracting with Second Harvest Heartland in the Twin Cities to function as a food shelf for the young clients. To date The Reach has given out more than 7,600 food items, and more than 10,700 health and hygiene items.

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