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The Nonprofit Beat in Central Minnesota

By Dawn Zimmerman
Photography by John Linn 

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Ashley and Vinny Dones were eager to get pregnant after they married in March 2009. 

But the Florida newlyweds’ happy news the following November came at an extremely stressful and uncertain time: Ashley was out of work and businesses were closing across their region.

The couple moved to St. Cloud so Vinny could take a more secure job as an electronics technician. But being uprooted from their support system created a host of new worries. 

Who would answer Ashley’s questions about pregnancy or help her through labor? How could they afford even the basic necessities for their baby? “We moved up here with a suitcase,” Ashley said. “That’s it.”

Fortunately for them, Ashley and Vinny found out about Stepping Stones, an incentive program that allows expectant parents to earn “dollars” to buy baby items and other basic supplies through parent education and self-improvement assignments. The program is run by Birthline, a St. Cloud-based nonprofit that provides services for unexpected or crisis pregnancies. 

Until the 2008 recession, the organization had always focused their assistance on young, single women. Suddenly, married couples were walking through their door. And Birthline wasn’t alone—nonprofits around the region saw similar surges in the need for their programs. 

Demand for housing and food services alone soared 78 percent at the end of 2009, according to a survey by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Anna Marie’s Alliance, a St. Cloud area shelter for battered women and their children, has been operating at 135 percent of capacity for the past six months.

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