Local view: New center will help create positive future for youth in Duluth

On any given night in our community, 120 to 150 kids have no place to call home. To most of us, this is a surprise. We don't see them; they are invisible.

Sonja Baertsch

On any given night in our community, 120 to 150 kids have no place to call home. To most of us, this is a surprise. We don’t see them; they are invisible.
But they are here, in Duluth and surrounding areas. They might be roaming around with a backpack looking for shelter or staying with an acquaintance in a dangerous situation or crashing with a friend until they are no longer welcome.
There are many reasons why young people find themselves homeless. Home might not be a safe place; there may be emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Home might not be a place where they are welcome; a parent may have cast them out in favor of a boyfriend or because of their sexual orientation. It’s also true that there may not be a home to go to because parents, too, are on the street.  
I learned more about these situations when I started volunteering at Lutheran Social Service’s Renaissance Transitional Living Program and later when I participated in a year-long Circle of Hope advocacy group for youth. I heard many stories and of the daily challenges homeless young people face. I became aware of the waiting list to get into Renaissance, the difficulty finding affordable permanent housing, and of the many LSS services available to help at-risk and homeless youth but that are located at various places around town.
Some of us started to dream that if we raised awareness and consolidated, and expanded services, we could make it possible that no young person would have to wonder where they might sleep at night.
And that’s what Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is doing. It has plans to build a new building called the Center for Changing Lives for Youth that will serve as a hub for all of LSS’s youth services, including transitional and permanent housing. Creating this comprehensive service center for homeless and at-risk youth will make it far easier for young people to take advantage of the services they need. And by its very existence, the center will convey to kids that our community is invested in their futures.
I’m excited about this dream, this investment in creating a positive future for youth.
That’s why I’m chairing the capital campaign to build the Center for Changing Lives for Youth in Duluth. And we are making great progress. Individuals, congregations, foundations and the city of Duluth are stepping up to create this new model of support for young people in our community. We are all working together to help these kids change their stories and to let them know that, “from here on,” they will not be invisible in our community.

Sonja Baertsch of Duluth is chairwoman of the “From Here On” capital campaign to build the Center for Changing Lives, is a medical professional and is a community leader and volunteer.


More online

To hear transformative stories from kids whose lives have been changed, to learn more about the “From Here On” campaign and the planned Center for Changing Lives in Duluth, and to find out how you can get involved, visit the Lutheran Social Service campaign website,

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