MANKATO — When Lashanique Griffin was growing up, life was hard. Sometimes she would sleep in her car because her home life wasn’t safe or stable, she recalls.
What helped her? The Reach Resource Center, which is an agency serving as many as 80 homeless teens at any given time in Mankato and the surrounding nine-county region.
Now 30, Griffin owns a home in Eagle Lake and credits The Reach with, above all, teaching her to love herself during a time when her self-identity was wrapped up with caring for her younger siblings.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself,” she said. “The Reach helped me put myself first.”
Griffin is paying it forward, as a member of a Reach group called the Alumni Mentoring Project, whereby graduates of the program connect to mentor those currently served by the agency.
On April 19 is a Spring Carnival organized and hosted by AMP, and those involved are seeking community donations to help kick off the event. There’s no budget for it so community assistance is important, said Tasha Moulton, the Reach’s senior program manager.
“If the community supports the carnival, it could help show the youth that their community cares about them, too,” Griffin said. “A lot of youth do feel alone and don’t feel like they have the support they need. Having a strong community supporting them, I feel like that really helps.”
Saddie Peters, a member of the Alumni Mentoring Project along with Griffin, agrees.
“I think it’s a good thing that people can see how homelessness really affects people in our community,” Peters said. “As we get together to do stuff like this, we’re supporting people and letting them know they’re not alone. That’s so important.”
The Spring Carnival is designed to engage youth The Reach serves, and its organizers hope anywhere from 50 to 100 youth attend. The event is 5-7 p.m. at The Reach, 126 East Liberty St.
Donations organizers are seeking include plastic cups and plates, hot glue gun or glue sticks, plastic eggs, candy, small trinkets or toys, small stuffed animals, pre-filled Easter eggs, tissue paper, and egg-decorating supplies such as stickers and markers.
Those wishing to donate can drop off items 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays or you can schedule a drop-off time by calling 507-381-6670. Shipping items directly to The Reach is another option.
The Spring Carnival organizers ask that all donations be received by April 14.
The Reach is a program through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and provides meals, case management and counseling, among other services, to homeless youth.
Peters credits The Reach with helping her find an apartment, and not only securing a job but maintaining it. “I first went to The Reach when I was 16, 17 years old, and was struggling with youth homelessness and I didn’t have a family I could stay with,” she said.
“They were a really big support system for me and helped me figure out how to get a job and keep a job. As I’ve gotten older, they’ve helped me find a place to live, and I’ve learned about managing money.”
“It’s been a hard winter,” Moulton said of the relief the Spring Carnival provides. “We want to kick off spring for youth who are homeless or couch hopping.
“It’s a difficult time in their lives,” she went on. “If we can just come together and have some fun events like this, it gives them a sense of community and belonging.”