Lisa Jacobson comes to Hope 4 Youth with decades of career experience serving at-risk youth and families.
She was hired as the local non-profit’s executive director last month and took over the job Feb. 22.
Hope 4 Youth, based in Anoka, operates a drop-in center and provides support for young people experiencing homelessness.
Jacobson brings 15 years of leadership experience to her new role, most recently serving as the vice president and chief advancement officer at the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.
It was while working at TreeHouse, an organization that supports at-risk youth and families, that Jacobson discovered her passion for helping teens who need it most.
“I watched lives change through mentor relationships,” said Jacobson, who in 2013 was named Youth Mentor of the Year by the Northwest Hennepin Human Services Council for her work as chairwoman of the Brooklyn Park Community Foundation, volunteering as a Girl Scout leader, volunteering as a mentor for at-risk youth in her community and raising funds for the Brooklyn Avenues project, which provides shelter for homeless teens.
She realized that most young people are just one bad decision away from disaster.
“Every teenager in our community needs to be loved and told they are worth something,” Jacobson said. “Many of these kids have really been dealt a bad hand.”
Jacobson tells the story of a teenage girl, whose single mom doesn’t make good choices and is constantly bringing home different men. As this girl grows up, she becomes an attractive target for those men.
“This is a girl who feels she is safer living outside than in that place she is supposed to call home,” Jacobson said.
Monday through Friday 25-40 young people use the drop-in center. They get a hot meal, can shower and do a load of laundry. Case workers and volunteer mentors provide support.
Hope 4 Youth helps to meet the basic needs of homeless youth as well as helping youth find jobs, finish school, secure housing and access health and wellness services..
Case workers estimate about 25-30 percent of the young people who visit Hope 4 Youth are chronically homeless. Others are couch hopping, living with friends.
An estimated 900 students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District are homeless.
There is a goal on the horizon to end youth homelessness in Anoka County by 2024. That’s just eight years from now.
“We’re still working on what that looks like and how to make it happen,” Jacobson said. “But this is a real thing that we talk about. I want to be here when we close our doors.”
For now, Hope 4 Youth is helping homeless teens one small, or big, step at a time.
Their accomplishments are celebrated on a bulletin board when you first walk through the door of the center. They are getting jobs, cars and apartments. They’re making plans to go back to school.
Hope 4 Youth is also in the process of building a transitional housing facility in Coon Rapids. Jacobson brings her experience as a volunteer with the Brooklyn Avenues project to Hope 4 Youth’s effort.
The organization needs to raise another $800,000 to $1 million to open the doors of that transitional housing facility, which it hopes to do this fall. A new capital campaign is getting underway.
But Jacobson has already been blown away by the generosity of the community and the support for Hope 4 Youth.
When she opens the door to a storage room of food – stacked to the ceiling – she is in awe.
“This is the only place I’ve ever worked where money just shows up, without even asking,” she said.
Last week, the Knights of Columbus presented Hope 4 Youth with a $1,000 check from funds raised at a recent spaghetti dinner.
Jacobson has spent her first month on the job reaching out to the community. She has already collected a stack of business cards 4-inches thick.
She said her door at Hope 4 Youth is always open.
“I want the community to be able to come in and see what they have done here,” she said.