Lutherans in Minnesota

Volunteer lives out passion in lives of homeless youth

Mary Schlichting, a member of Incarnation Lutheran Church (ELCA), Shoreview, Minnesota, was recognized by LSS for volunteer service. Photo provided by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Mary Schlichting’s enthusiasm for serving others is contagious. Just ask the members of her congregation at Incarnation Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Shoreview, Minnesota. Together, they partnered with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) ten years ago and helped launch LifeHaven in east St. Paul — a first-of-its-kind initiative that provides transitional housing and support for six teen mothers ages 16 and 17 who are homeless with children.

“These young people are not really accepted by mainstream society,” said Jen Fairbourne, program manager for LSS. “They are homeless, they’re teenagers, they’re unwed moms — there are social stigmas attached to them out in the real world. To have someone like Mary come in and volunteer her time and donate so generously helps them know they are loved, they are wanted and they are tethered to the community.”

“I just have a passion for this,” Schlichting said of her experience at LifeHaven. “I’ve been very blessed in my life and want to give back.”

For her tireless devotion to the young mothers at LifeHaven and work to ensure they won’t have to face the ups and downs of motherhood alone, Schlichting has been chosen as LSS’s Volunteer of the Year — a special honor given to one of 10,000 volunteers involved in the organization statewide. She and her congregation were honored by the LSS Board of Directors in March with a handmade quilt and the Volunteer Heritage Quilt Award, representing the heritage of volunteers in advancing the organization’s mission and vision.

“Mary is like a guardian angel for our program,” said Susan Phillips, director of LSS Metro Homeless Youth Services. “Without people like Mary and the incredibly generous involvement of her congregation, our work would not be possible.”

Bringing the congregation in

Schlichting and more than 100 volunteers from Incarnation have been involved in the creation of LifeHaven from day one. They helped search for the perfect location, and their group, the Holy Hammers, were instrumental in the rehabilitation of the building.

Fueled by Schlichting’s passion and enthusiasm, the congregation also donates items that the young moms need including personal hygiene supplies for the babies, toys, diapers, furnishings for each bedroom in the home, and groceries.

“Our congregation is heavily involved in LifeHaven simply because, in our mission and with our ministry partners, we really stress people getting out of the church and making and building relationships with the people that we’re serving,” said the Rev. Linda Thompson, pastor at Incarnation.

“We are grateful for Mary and that she’s a part of who we are,” Phillips said. “She is woven into the fabric of what LifeHaven is and what it does.”

And LifeHaven has become a part of Mary.

“It’s an awesome place to work, and an awesome place for young moms to live,” Schlichting said. “Hopefully it will make a difference in the lives of teenagers for many years to come.”

LifeHaven will mark ten years of service with an open house on Sunday, April 21. For more information, call 651/776-9805. To learn more about volunteering opportunities at LSS, visit www.lssmn.org.

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