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Not Just Blowing Smoke

Written by Irene, 2018 Side by Side program graduate, along with Kassie Heisserer.

Irene first joined Side by Side in the summer of 2013: a woman determined to face whatever obstacles she needed to in order to to ultimately thrive. (Here’s how things looked when we checked in with her a couple years ago.)

Fast-forward about four-and-a-half years, from summer 2013 to January 2018, and our Side by Side program held a “graduation” celebration (a nice group dinner at a local restaurant) for Irene, who had gotten her first full-time job several months before, and who we could see was just on the cusp of breaking into a new chapter of life. Though graduation from Side by Side was bittersweet, we were all excited to see where Irene’s story would lead next.

This past month (August), Irene sent our Side by Side group an update, and since reading it gave me the personal “feel goods,” I asked if she’d be willing to share it on the Bridges of Hope blog. (She was!)


Things are going really well. Just found out I am Co-Associate Of The Month [at my job] for the month of July! I’ve shown that I’m very reliable and can reset the products on our shelves. I’m still a little slower than some but I am improving. I’m really good at taking a messy section and making it look awesome.

My family is planning our very first family vacation here in a few weeks and looking forward to seeing the sights in Duluth. [At the Afternoon Tea last spring, I won the Silent Auction] tickets to the Great Lakes Aquarium, which is giving us a reason to plan this family trip. We will also be going on a train ride, and I’m looking forward to spending time making memories with my family.

We’re continuing to make improvements to the home and property. We removed the barrier around the sandbox and reused it around one of my flower gardens. We’re working on getting electricity to the garage and will be tearing down the front deck and building a bigger one. We took the skirting off the section of the house near the garage and will be leveling everything out and placing landscape timbers down to help support the skirting and make it level, and then we’ll add a border garden around that area for hostas.

The garden is doing well and producing a fair amount of veggies. I’ve been experimenting with letting the grass grow in the garden, hoping to prevent or slow blight (so far it’s working!). We’ve been excitedly noticing all the native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, birds, etc. All my hard work to attract native animals and beneficial bugs/pollinators has been paying off. The other day we had a monarch chrysalis hatch and we released the butterfly into the yard (the picture was taken by my 8-year-old daughter). I also have invested in some native bee motels located around the yard. Bees are already using them!

Six to eight years ago, if you would have told me life would be going as well as it is right now, I would have looked away and heavily doubted it. I would have thought you were just blowing smoke, and falsely trying to give me hope that things could be better than what they were. You guys have made a huge difference in my life and my family’s. I can’t thank this group enough.

I’m enjoying hearing all the progress everyone’s been making! I have really enjoyed seeing some of you around town also. Keep up the hard work and forward progress!”



A special thank you to Irene for sharing this update with us–and congratulations again on your hard work and all of the success you’re starting to see and feel in your own life!

And finally, an opportunity: Bridges of Hope’s mentoring program is able to be successful because of our outstanding volunteer Mentors. Mentors are just regular women who are willing to give some of their time walking alongside other women. We currently need four new Mentors to support the women in our Side by Side program: click here to learn more and start your own new path today!

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