Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #131. First published in the St. Cloud Times online June 2, 2018; in print June 3

In the morning you wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work. In the evening you have dinner, maybe watch some TV. At night, you sleep.

One detail is missing from this brief synopsis of your 24 hours.

Your home.  

It’s where your day starts and ends — for weeks and months and years.

Now: imagine your life if those days and nights don’t happen in a home.

Imagine further that you’re, say, 20 years old.

If you’re lucky, once in a while you can crash on a friend’s couch. That’s not really a life.

It’s likely you will sometime be in a tent or under a bridge. Wherever you are, the future doesn’t have much appeal. Surviving is the overwhelming challenge. Thriving is in a galaxy far, far away.

A bunch of people imagined what this would be like, and did something about it.

The St. Cloud area Rotary Clubs, in an astonishingly brief time, researched, planned, and built Pathways 4 Youth. (Let’s turn running the country — or at least Minnesota — over to Rotary).

They discovered they didn’t have to start from scratch. HOPE 4 Youth, a nonprofit headquartered in Anoka, is partnering with our area’s Rotary Clubs to sponsor and deliver its practical programming wisdom.

Homelessness is of course a reality that extends way beyond the young people ages 16-23 who are the focus of Pathways 4 Youth. Numerous organizations and institutions, coordinating efforts through the Homelessness Community Solutions Team of United Way of Central Minnesota, are addressing the many dimensions of this issue, such as — this may come as a surprise — the increasing number of elderly experiencing homelessness.

Rotary recognized it couldn’t tackle everything.

In conversations with social service agencies, law enforcement and school systems, they learned that there are an estimated 150 16- to 23-year-olds experiencing homelessness in the St. Cloud area each day. Clearly, there was need for a resource center in the community, a need to which Rotary, with its motto “Service above self,” responded.

Pathways 4 Youth, located at 203 Cooper Ave. N, is a 3,700-square-foot daytime resource center, currently open Wednesdays from 2-7 p.m., where persons between 16 and 23 are connected to social services and medical professionals, are offered tutoring if they wish, and are provided lockers, showers, laundry facilities, food, clothing and a mailing address.

Defining youth homelessness is by no means one size fits all. The majority of those experiencing homelessness have a history of trauma. Long-term physical, emotional, and mental health issues are part of the story for many. Others have to fend for themselves after a sudden change in family circumstances. Some have children.

Pathways 4 Youth is committed to making those who enter its doors feel safe, valued, and supported. This is true for everyone, and there is a special promise for making it an LGBTQ safe space.

Pathways 4 Youth’s partnerships with numerous local organizations and agencies enable guidance toward the future by working to provide case management services, to access housing, employment, education, health and wellness services and independent living skills.

Most important, youth are welcomed as they are and are provided assistance in real time and on their terms.

”Are welcomed.” Yes, but that by itself doesn’t get the job done. This is where you and I come in. We do the welcoming. And when there are enough of us, Pathways 4 Youth will be open every weekday.

Volunteer Service Opportunities could just as well be called Volunteer Necessities. Without volunteers helping youth meet basic needs and reach personal goals, the program simply doesn’t happen. The volunteering commitment is three hours a week — less than three percent of your waking hours.

There are several ways to be involved.

  • Mentors, who build trusting and consistent relationships with youth, and need to be good listeners, non-judgmental, patient, and flexible.
  • Donations Team, to receive, sort and organize contributions of food and clothing.
  • Meals Team, to provide and serve the daily evening meal to youth and volunteers.
  • Administration Team, for front desk, data entry, phone answering and light office work.

Rebuilding lives to reach full potential — that’s the objective. There isn’t a goal more humane, compassionate, loving than to bring into this galaxy — indeed, into our neighborhood — the chance for youth to thrive.

Next time you leave home or come home, stop, look and be grateful. Then ask yourself: “What would it be like not to have this? Awful.”

Say to yourself: “I can pay my good fortune forward by volunteering at a place where I help young people feel safe, valued and supported — just like I feel here at home.”

Arrange a tour as prelude to volunteering. Call Katlyn Walz, Volunteer Coordinator, 320-316-1637, or visit,  click “Get involved,” then “Volunteer,” then “A look inside Pathways.”

Together, we’re on our way to doing our part to renew the human community right here in the St. Cloud area.