Over the last two decades, things have continued to evolve and change on the south side of town where Community Pathways of Steele County calls home.

Home of the Marketplace and Unique Finds, serving as Steele County’s food shelf and clothesline, Community Pathways has continued to serve Steele County throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with co-executive directors Nancy Ness and Maureen Schlobohm saying the need never went away.

“If there is one thing that has been highlighted during the pandemic, it is that our merger came at the perfect time,” said Schlobohm, who heads up Unique Finds. In the beginning of 2020, the two organizations merged to formalize a collaboration that in many ways was already in place. As COVID-19 ramped up in Minnesota, the organization decided to temporarily shut down Unique Finds in order to better serve the customers in need of help through the Marketplace.

“We ended up really relying so much on that space for help,” Schlobohm said. “Unique Finds basically became a warehouse for us.”

Storage space – or the lack thereof – was another element amplified and highlighted by the pandemic for the organization. Due to the growing need within the community, Community Pathways publicly announced this week the kickoff of their capital campaign to expand the facility. Once complete, the space will not only be doubled but will also offer more services and improve the already existing resources for the community.

“The pandemic emphasized it, but at the same time it doesn’t have anything to do with the need,” Schlobohm said. “We outgrew this space a long time ago and have been juggling for years with an ongoing effort to improvise more and more.”

“This is a really important step for a lot of reasons,” Ness said, adding that the organization had originally planned to kick off the campaign last spring but held off due to the pandemic. “We continue to try to do the best we can with the space we have, but it’s proven to be difficult.”

The capital campaign – titled Building New Pathways – has a goal of $2.6 million, which includes the $1.6 million construction costs to purchase the current building and the lot next to it in order to double the size of the facility. The remaining funds will help aid with the organization’s annual operations costs. While the additional storage space will allow for more donations to be accepted, something they have had to continually turn away during the pandemic, the facility will also include space for two other local nonprofits: Let’s Smile Inc. and Steele County Transitional Housing.

“This collaboration has been a vision for a long time,” Ness said. “It just makes sense to bring the three of us together under one roof.”

Let’s Smile provides dental health care services at no charge for children in need up to age 19. The nonprofit – which has been in Steele County since 2013 – has been operating out of Community Pathway’s 100-square-foot kitchenette. With the expansion to the facility, Let’s Smile would be provided two separate rooms for dental treatment as well as an office area.

Transitional Housing is an interfaith nonprofit organization that responds to people with housing needs in Steele County. The organization helps individuals and families locate affordable housing, assist in rental needs and continue to support clients for up to 18 months on their journey to self-sufficiency. Transitional Housing is currently located on the second floor of the Merrill Building on the West Hills campus, which is not currently handicap accessible. By moving into the new Community Pathways building, Transitional Housing will be provided three offices and a separate entrance for their customers to ensure confidentiality.

Ness said looking at the plans for the new facility, she feels it will help promote their overall mission and belief – that a healthy community is a vibrant community.

“We want people to be able to come in and think, ‘This place really cares about me,’” Ness said. “This will give everyone throughout Steele County a place they can come and feel the community impact we have with this new building.”

Andi Arnold, the new outreach and grant director for Community Pathways, said the new facility is going to further assist in the ripple effect anticipated by the pandemic as people try to get back to a new normal.

“This is going to provide an important sense of community as the needs will increase years from now,” Arnold said. “We need that healing and time to get back to where we need to be, and I think this will help us collectively try to move forward to that place.”

On March 5, the community will be invited to a public event launching the community phase of the campaign and announcing the lead gift total to date. It will be a virtual livestream event with music, an auction and raffle prizes.

The campaign is anticipated to last until December 2023.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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