• Part 3 of 3

Young people in Pine County face more challenges than many in the state, according to Family Pathways CEO Lisa Mears.

“Let’s talk about youth,” Mears said. “In Pine County about 12% of youth experience alcohol abuse in their household, 9% drug abuse, 20% experience emotional abuse in Pine County and 15% experience physical abuse. About 33% or more than one in three youth have a parent who has either currently or in the past has been incarcerated and 11% of youth have experienced their own abuse in relationships, one out of 10.”

Mears said Family Pathways plans to work with school districts and other community organizations, offering a curriculum in the school setting and support groups for victims of violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, relational violence, we will provide advocacy services for those youth in our communities.

“The data said that youth 16-24 years of age who are not working or in school in Pine County ... are about 20%,” Mears said. “That is higher, much higher than in Chisago and Isanti even in Kanabec. That doesn’t mean that they are out doing risky behaviors but it puts them at risk of that. When you complicate that with the number of youth exposed to violence or exposed to chemical abuse, we know that puts them at even higher risk.”

Essential needs services

Family Pathways is a non-profit organization located in East Central Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

“We are an essential needs services organization with a social service blends on the way that we do our work,” Mears said. “One thing that is really unique about us as an organization is our social enterprise. Eleven thrift stores across our service area generate about 65% of the revenue for our programs. We are lucky to do that because then we are able to have a diverse portfolio of resources along with government contracts and grants and generous donors and other revenue streams that sort of disperse the way that our revenue comes in.

“It is actually one our biggest identity crises because when people hear Family Pathways, the first thing that usually comes out of their mouths, ‘Oh I love your thrift stores.’ The thrift stores are a key part of what we do but we also have some really important, incredible programming for our region.”

Mears explained that the organization recently went through some strategic planning, which helped them re-focus their priorities.

“We began to really deeply understand the needs of the community and what we also understood is where there were gaps in addressing those needs,” Mears said. “We also began to identify really neat partnerships.

 “We used to talk about our programming in terms of aging services, youth services, domestic violence services and hunger relief services. Now, instead of talking about hunger relief, we are talking about food equity and access.”

Other areas of focus are safety, housing stability, social connectedness, economic security, vulnerable populations.

“One underlying piece that came out of the strategic planning process, frankly it screamed at us, was the need in Pine, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties,” Mears said. “If I can put a challenge out to all of you, that challenge is to help us to connect our work to the resources that we need to do that work. If you see any opportunities whether it’s a partnership with a business or a funder or a grant or some money at a city or a county level, let us know about that because we are very interested in connecting the work to resources and community to resources.”

Mears departs Family Pathways

On Dec. 30, Family Pathways announced the departure of Executive Director Lisa Mears. Their previous executive director, Rich Smith, has been called in as the organization’s interim director as Family Pathways Board begins a talent search for a new executive director.

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