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Mike and Bri help their daughter off the bus

Family emerges from brink of disaster

Added on Monday, November 16, 2015

Mike and Brie Thrugstad’s lives had become so dire, they were contemplating the unthinkable.

“We were almost at a point where we were going to give up our daughters so they could have what they needed,” Mike recalled, somberly. “We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

The family in Brainerd, Minn., had been homeless, off and on, ever since Mike and Brie had married in 2011. Their two little girls, now ages 2 and 3, needed a stable home, a steady stream of food and diapers, and other basic necessities. But Mike and Brie were having trouble providing.

In possibly losing their kids, Mike and Brie were on the verge of perpetuating a tragic cycle they knew all too well: Both of them grew up living without their families. Brie spent 10 years in foster care, while Mike spent three years in foster care and six years at a group home.

“It’s hard to break the cycle,” Brie conceded.

The cycle ended a year ago, the moment they walked inside the Brainerd Salvation Army.

Building blocks

Carole Paschelke meets with a guestMike and Brie met with Brainerd Salvation Army social worker Carole Paschelke (pictured) and explained they were two months behind on their rent, facing homelessness for the fifth time.

Beyond their need for stable housing, “Our biggest goal was to give our kids the leg up that we never got,” Mike said. “We wanted to provide them the resources that were never presented to us.”

Within days, Carole had solved the housing problem. She worked with another local agency to secure a small, clean apartment for the family.

The foundation for progress had been laid.

Mike and Bri outside apartment building“Knowing we were going to have a permanent spot for our kids – wow,” said Brie, pictured with Mike outside the apartment complex. “As a child I bounced around and was homeless a lot. I didn’t want that for my kids.”

Carole has spent the past year helping Mike and Brie build a new life. She’s helped them in a myriad of ways, everything from financial counseling to baby-proofing their apartment.

“Carole helped our relationship a lot, helped us be better at communication and setting boundaries,” Brie said. “She always made herself available to talk. We don’t have anybody else we can talk to. No family support. Just The Salvation Army’s support, really.”

When necessary, Carole wasn’t afraid to give Mike and Brie a dose of tough love.

“There were times we struggled, started falling back,” Mike said. “Carole was good at giving us the boot in the butt we needed. And it worked.”

Carole thinks Mike and Brie have matured beyond measure.

“Initially, Brie didn’t believe in herself as much as I did. It’s nice that she figured out how awesome she is,” Carole said. “Mike is a smart guy who grew into his ability to cooperate and work in a group. He’s a much better listener than when I first met him.”

Opening new doors

Today, Mike and Brie are knocking on the door of self-sufficiency.

“We made lifelong goals and we’re starting to achieve them,” said Mike, who is enrolled in college.

The day Mike was interviewed for this story, he had just returned from a job interview for the position of IT specialist. A few days later, he was offered the job. He’ll now receive an excellent wage, plus benefits, while he finishes school.

As for Brie, she is working full-time at a group home and loves her job.

One of Mike and Bri's two daughters“We’re finally feeling like we have our feet underneath us,” Mike said. “It won’t be long before we don’t need any assistance at all.”

It won’t be long, either, before Mike and Brie score the ultimate trophy of independence: a house of their own.

“We’re looking at a two- to three-year plan to buy a home,” Mike affirmed. “Amazing.”

Carole is proud of Mike and Brie for all they have accomplished.

“I was excited to help Mike and Brie see that where you come from does not define you,” Carole said. “My wish is for them to continue the path they’re on, set new goals, and strengthen as a family. There might be setbacks, but now they’re capable of overcoming anything.”

Emerging program

Carole helped Mike and Brie through a growing Salvation Army initiative called Pathway of Hope, which provides long-term, individualized support for families affected by poverty. Each family meets with a Salvation Army caseworker at least once a week to set goals and track progress. (Read another Pathway of Hope success story.)

The initiative targets families with children in an effort to impact generational poverty. It focuses on identifying the root causes that keep families from becoming self-sufficient.

Pathway of Hope is offered at all 30 of The Salvation Army’s operation centers in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.