In 2006, my daughter Natalie was 24 years old, had finished her transition program, was living at home, working part-time, and spending her weekends with me rather than friends. She enjoyed using the computer, but I was concerned about the safety of online groups and connections. With Natalie’s help we created Bridging Hearts.
I envisioned a type of community where all members could feel a sense of belonging, instead of feeling lonely and isolated. Many have watched their siblings go off to college, get married, and create a life for themselves. My goal for Natalie and others like her was to have hope for a future which included friends and social experiences, just like their siblings and peers.
Bridging Hearts is primarily a private online social network. In addition, we offer monthly events in both the Twin Cities and Duluth since the start of our first Chapter on August 1, 2020. Members can meet each other in person rather than only through a computer screen. With this friend base for young adults in similar situations, the members have a social support network, non-judgmental relationships, and fun activities to do with people who are like themselves.
Bridging Hearts has been transformative for many members. These observations and feedback have come from parents, members, siblings, and support personnel like job coaches. For example, Natalie now has a very active social life, lives with another member independently, and gets together with friends (members) for bowling, shopping, movies, walking, and dining. These activities are often initiated and planned by members. This is a very significant change from her previous lifestyle.
I believe the number one factor for leading a happy life is meaningful social connections. Bridging Hearts has created a community making it easier to meet new friends in a safe and supportive environment, resulting in happier members, parents, relatives and friends.
Denise Martin, Founder
In 2016, our daughter Mariah graduated from high school and looked forward to a job, a future of creative aspirations and new friends. Mariah has always been extremely creative, spent much time making wire art, sculptures and even learned how to make balloon animals, which in turn landed her several jobs at local events. However, her friendship circle remained small, with very few local opportunities to meet other young adults in her peer group. Mariah had a lot to offer friendships and deserved a chance.
After 2 years of looking and brainstorming ideas with Mariah, we decided to start an organization where people in Mariah’s peer group could meet together on a regular basis, have activities and periodic educational events, and some type of website in hopes to develop some long-term friendships.
Duluth News Tribune was willing to share our vision, perhaps others that could come together to start, what I was envisioning, “Crosstown Friends”. After giving them a call, a reporter wrote a lengthy article covering our desire to bridge hearts with others! This was August 3, 2019.
A short time later, a friend of Denise saw our story in the Duluth News Tribune and called. Denise then contacted us and said she was me 15 years ago! We continued to talk and share our vision with one another and found them to be so similar. Rather than “reinvent the wheel”, perhaps we could be one in the same? After being invited to attend Bridging Hearts planning retreat, we were asked if we would like to be a chapter of Bridging Hearts in Duluth, Minnesota. We gladly accepted the offer and began to move forward on planning. Covid-19 hit, which set things back a bit, but just one year later in August, we have signed a contract agreement and are officially Duluth Chapter of Bridging Hearts! Our hearts were bridged! We are excited what the future holds for many Duluth families in similar circumstance. Finally, we are excited for the opportunity to connect with our Twin Cities Bridging Hearts friends!