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Future of Moorhead nonprofit Rainbow Bridge for separated families uncertain

MOORHEAD - A Moorhead nonprofit fears it may have to close this year as the effects of the poor economy slash the donations and grants that keep it afloat.

Rainbow Bridge is a haven for hundreds of families within a 50-mile radius of the Fargo-Moorhead area, supervising and helping couples who are separated or divorced visit their children and avoid conflicts.

"I don't know if the community realizes what would happen if we weren't here, and how many families that would affect," said Program Manager Jodi Hoyt. "There isn't anyone else who does what we do. Where would these families go?"

LaCinda Mielke used to go to a police station to exchange her son with his father because her former hometown didn't have a service like Rainbow Bridge - meetings she described as terrible, fearful situations. It's something she doesn't want any other parent to go through.

"You shouldn't have to be alone in that," said Mielke, who now volunteers at the center to help families going through scenarios like hers. "I want parents to have that exchange without the turmoil."

Parents like Katherine Young: "I really depend on it," said Young, who has used Rainbow Bridge to exchange her 8-year-old with the child's father for the past three years. "It just alleviates a lot of stress facing that person. Otherwise, she wouldn't be able to see her dad. There's really nowhere else."

In 2008, the center served 293 families - mostly from Cass and Clay counties.

To help those families, the center relies solely on federal, state and corporate grants or donations. So, when the center lost two state grants this year - totaling $60,000 - it was "stunning," Hoyt said.

That means the center faces an operating loss as large as $150,000 for the year. If the gap isn't plugged, that means cuts in services.

Yet this comes at a time when demand for services has also increased.

"Anytime the economy is tighter, the demand for services increase," said Joe Pederson, the president of Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership, which operates Rainbow Bridge. "We have to run our business like any other business. These are not great times for nonprofits."

"We are at risk of closing our doors," Hoyt added. "(But) we're going to go down fighting."

She's now scouring grant publications and online sites seeking any help from foundations and the public to keep the center open.

After all, she said, the real loss isn't just to the eight employees and dozens of volunteers, but the hundreds of area families the center serves.

How to help

To help Rainbow Bridge, mail donations to 715 11th St. N., Suite 101, Moorhead, MN 56560.