OWATONNA — “This has been talked about for a long, long time,” said Maureen Schlobohm. “Even before our time here.”
Schlobohm and Nancy Ness sat in the office of the Steele County Clothesline, casually discussing how they arrived at where they are today. With Schlobohm working as the director for the Clothesline and Ness the director for the Steele County Food Shelf, the two have worked quite literally side by side for a number of years.
As the beginning of the New Year, however, the two entities are now working as one.
On Jan. 1, the two nonprofits officially joined forces and merged into one organization, Community Pathways of Steele County. According to Schlobohm and Ness, who now serve as co-executive directors, the merger is validation of the teamwork and collaborative efforts that have been taking place between the Clothesline and the Food Shelf over the last few years to better serve individuals, families, and the community.
“These two organizations have been existing in the same building for 20 years now,” Schlobohm said. “Over the years we have moved to the same registration, the same application, and then opened up the wall between the two. We didn’t realize how efficient that would be for our daily work”
“The gains we got from that hole in the wall were unbelievable,” added Ness. “From our staff supporting us to being able to serve our customers and their needs better, it just made sense to eventually combine and become one.”
The decision was unanimously approved by the two respective boards, which have now also merged into one.
Community Pathways will remain in the same location at 155 Oakdale in Owatonna with the programs and services remaining unchanged through the transition period aside from their names. The Food Shelf will now be called the Marketplace, and Meals in Motion will now be the Marketplace Delivery. The Clothesline will now be called Unique Finds, which Schlobohm said will help emphasize the thrift store model that was adopted in recent years.
Now that the two entities are one, funds raised through the thrift store will now also support the food service branch of the single organization as well as help provide clothes to families in need.
Aside from the name changes, the women stated that they anticipate an improvement in services provided to the community now that they aren’t spending their time doing the same tasks twice for two different organizations.
“After working so close together and sharing the same vision, we began to realize that we were duplicating so much of the work,” Schlobohm said. “From paperwork to fundraising, so much of our time and effort was going into the same things needed in order to serve the same families.”
“We just want to be more efficient,” she continued.
Along with the organizations’ restructure and name changes, Ness said that this new venture will allow the programs to be brought together naturally and work in unison.
“Now we can bring coats out to people that are being served food by delivery,” Ness explained. “We were never able to do that before, and now it’s a great way to get these people a coat during the winter.”
As Community Pathways continues to move forward, the two executive directors stated that it has been a fun experience thus far, though there is definitely a learning curve involved with it. Both women expressed an immense amount of gratitude to the organization’s corporate partners as well as the entire Steele County community.
“We are just so excited to tell the community that we can now come together and work easier for the people we serve and be more efficient,” Ness said. “The community has really embraced and supported this decision.”
“We are very blessed by this community,” Schlobohm added.
The Steele County Clothesline was originally started by the Woman’s Club of Owatonna in 1963 to serve the children of the State School. The Steele County Food Shelf found their roots in 1970 when several churches in Steele County decided to start food closets to serve the needs of their members. As the organizations and the needs grew in the community, both organizations moved to the current location in 1999 where people could access resources and there was adequate physical space to accommodate the growing needs.