“Natalie, are you here?”
When Natalie Schmidgall heard a familiar voice while working at the Burnsville Resource Center, she knew a big hug was on the way.
The hug would come from the daughter of one of the center’s clients whom Schmidgall met last year.
When the mother first met the financial support worker Schmidgall, the conversation was about getting food assistance.
But Schmidgall felt something more was wrong.
“I asked if she was doing OK as she seemed to be having a hard day, which opened up an entirely different conversation,” Schmidgall said.
She learned the family was homeless and had been in crisis for several months.
Schmidgall bonded immediately with the woman’s daughter as they worked on coloring pages while the woman shopped in the food shelf.
From that day forward, Schmidgall got plenty of hugs from the mother and daughter as she helped the family stabilize their financial situation.
“It is moments like this that keep me going,” Schmidgall said. “Moments that I didn’t expect to turn into a financial- or a life-changing event for this family, but it did. Moments that this family will remember forever and I will always remember to keep me motivated to continue to do what I do.”
Schmidgall has helped countless families and individuals face crisis over the 11 years of her work with 360 Communities and other social services agencies. Now, as the coordinator of the Rosemount Family Resource Center, she’s hoping to help other people find hope in tough times.
Her own path
Schmidgall, of Eagan, grew up in Richfield where she attended high school.
After earning her degree in human services, she worked for seven years at Greater Twin Cities United Way at the 2-1-1 Crisis Information and Referral Line, where she served as team lead, supervisor and operations manager in her final three years.
She took some time off from the working world to be a stay-at-home mom raising her two children.
During that time, she volunteered at 360 Communities and, four years ago, started working part time as a relief staff member at Lewis House.
She spent another two years at Lewis House as an advocate for Domestic Assault and Sexual Assault Services and completed 40-hour training to be certified for Sexual Assault Services.
“This is an area of passion of mine both personally and professionally,” she said. “It has been for years and will always be; it is a topic very close to my heart.”
Her youngest child started kindergarten last year, so she took a full-time job as a financial support worker at the Burnsville Resource Center.
In July 2015, she transferred to the Rosemount Family Resource Center on an interim basis when coordinator Shira Rabinowicz accepted a job as a volunteer coordinator with Hennepin County.
Schmidgall said she immediately fell in love with the culture, people and work, and she submitted her application for the job.
“It sure is a very fulfilling place, and I can’t express how grateful I am to have so much support with my team at 360 Communities, the wonderful group of volunteers I get to work with every day and the amazing clients that access our services,” she said. “It makes coming to work every day fun, and when I leave I feel like I truly have made a difference. I can’t wait to see how we will continue to grow together as a community and organization. It is a great place to be.”
Schmidgall oversees daily operations at the center, which includes tasks such as monitoring food shelf inventory, coordinating donations and managing rescue food pickups.
She completes client screenings, intakes, applications and requests for rent, utility and emergency car repairs. She also schedules and trains volunteers.
“I have a passion for helping others,” Schmidgall said. “Bottom line – if someone walks through the doors at the Rosemount Resource Center they will be welcome, respected, listened to and hopefully we can provide them with some resources they need.”
Schmidgall said many of the people who come to the center may say they need help in one area, but often their most important desire is “a listening ear.” She said sometimes being an emotional support is all the center can offer some people whose problems are beyond what 360 Communities can offer.
“They need someone on their side,” she said. “I think the most important thing is to be kind. I feel like I am a good fit because I have patience, I understand that everyone has their own story and I manage crisis well.”
She said the center can be a very busy place and may seem hectic, but they take clients through the process one step at a time.
The job comes with its ups and downs.
“It helps to remember those positive moments when we come across some of the harder times,” she said. “However, even during some of the more challenging times, we can often find something that is either a learning or teaching moment or something to be grateful for.”
Schmidgall said donations that keep the food shelf stocked is the biggest need.
She said the holidays are a time when donations are robust, but such giving is needed throughout the year.
“We have such a generous community during the holidays that our food shelf cupboards have been looking fantastic these last six weeks,” she said in December. “I would encourage the community to continue to think of us during the spring, summer and fall as our shelves are typically not as full during non-holiday months.”
The center has a list of suggested food shelf items on its website.
The site also needs a financial boost to convert from a “pre-pack” to a “choice model.” The latter allows clients to “shop” for the items they need the most.
To do this, the center would need to purchase large shelving units, storage and sorting bins for food and additional shopping carts. She said those who are interested in helping with this project should contact her.
Schmidgall said she’s very happy to be at a center that is within walking distance of so many families, though many clients come from throughout Rosemount and Apple Valley.
“It is close, accessible and safe for families,” she said of the center that has a city park adjacent to it. “It has been a wonderful location overall for so many reasons.”
With volunteers and donations, the Rosemount Family Resource Center will continue to serve these families with support from the community.
Schmidgall said the center is in need of both all the time and it welcomes phone calls or visits from people who want to get involved.
It’s been said that people who volunteer get back more than they give. Schmidgall has realized as much since she was an intern 18 years ago at the Lewis House.
“It is really the genuine moments when you can tell you have made a difference in that person’s life,” she said. “Each story is different, everyone is unique and everyone deserves someone to listen to their story.”
More about the center is at 360Communties.org or 651-322-5113.