SonBridge fills gap in Valley's social services

SonBridge Thrift & Gift Store Manager Vera Bohlman sets up a display of items in the shop.

SonBridge Thrift & Gift Store Manager Vera Bohlman sets up a display of items in the shop. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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COLLEGE PLACE — At first glance, what SonBridge Community Center actually does and the services it provides might seem mystifying, but in actuality it’s simple. Most nonprofit agencies providing help in the community have a specific niche, or a specialty they have selected. SonBridge, at 1200 S.E. 12th St., was created to help people who fall between these specific targets.

“Our scope is large,” said Paul Rasmussen, development director. “These organizations have a budget for a certain thing. It’s very defined in nonprofits. We want to fill the spaces in between.”

Two main things lead toward implementing SonBridge’s mission: “To connect with others to serve, and to focus on undermet needs leads to our mission, which is to share the love of Christ with this community,” he said.

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LPN Karen Wall shows one of the new exam rooms in the portion of the SonBridge building dedicated to community health needs.

SonBridge has a large thrift and gift store, donation and processing center, meeting rooms, classrooms and more currently under construction. The facility houses the SOS Medical Clinic, the SonBridge Dental Clinic, Blue Mountain Television, KLRF radio and more.

SonBridge began after a group of concerned Seventh-day Adventists saw a need for inexpensive services for clients who needed help, but might not fit the criteria for other agencies in town. In addition, some local organizations needed a stable location to carry out their activities.

“We saw that the community needed space” for meetings, events and classes, Rasmussen said. “We could help the other organizations with space and we wanted to connect with the spiritual community. ... All the Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the community are sponsors of SonBridge. Adventist Community Services are just a part of what we have here.”

SonBridge has an advisory group of leaders of other nonprofits, and collaborates with other local organizations.

“We enjoy networking with the agencies,” said Cassi Meelhuysen, executive assistant.

“We closely partner with the YWCA, YMCA, Red Cross, Catholic Charities, BMAC,” Rasmussen said. “We don’t hold church functions here. It’s by the church for the community,” he said.

“There are 18 to 20 other nonprofits that partner with us in serving,” he said. “We work together in programs which lead to some of the diversity we have. We help in a crisis situation, help them get through that, with the larger goal of having them live successfully.”

Each person’s crisis is different, just as their situation is different. If SonBridge doesn’t have what the client needs, its staff can provide a referral to another organization. It has a social worker who helps direct clients where they can best benefit from available services.

“For example, someone comes in because they have no money for utilities, we can get them some financial counseling,” Rasmussen said.

The SonBridge building, a former nursing home, has been and is currently being renovated. It’s being remodeled in phases because the 40,000-square-foot building is in use during transition.

The first phase established a new wing, new parking and a more private, dignified waiting room for the medical/dental clinics.

“We had to double the parking,” Rasmussen said.

“We let the clinic come in, then we remodeled the area for the thrift store. It’s the life blood of SonBridge. We generate enough to cover our operating budget. The community donations we use to help others rather than build SonBridge,” he said.

According to Rasmussen, income from sales at the thrift store is estimated at about $250,000 a year. “It’s a real blessing,” he said.

They upgraded the thrift store, then the processing center, then classrooms. In the current phase of construction they are incorporating an emergency shelter with a kitchen, showers and medical clinic. Someone whose home just burned down can stop here, get a shower and have a place to rest before moving to overnight accommodations.

The second phase of construction will build new assembly space, The Educational Center for Better Living. It will include a large hall with folding partitions, so it will be an expandable, multipurpose space.

SonBridge’s operators initially wanted to get the facility up and running without a capitol campaign. It was taking a long time so they decided to accelerate the process because the level of need is so great. The organization received a grant of $170,000 from the Sherwood Trust. More recently, a grant of $200,000 from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust enabled them to continue with the next phase of construction.

The huge operation served more than 5,000 people in 2012. “It’s run by volunteers with a handful of paid staff,” Meelhuysen said. “I was just out of school and I couldn’t find a job for about a year. I had gotten so depressed. Then I started volunteering and I realized I need a purpose in life.”

The volunteers give to the organization and its clients, but they also receive rewards in the form of knowing that their work makes a difference to many. About 180-200 volunteers work at everything from construction to the thrift store.

The store carries a large amount of high-quality furniture and china, all donated. They gave credit to Walmart for donating a large quantity of returned items. “The community has such a willingness to give good things,” Rasmussen said.

“I see God leading us in so many ways,” he said.

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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