After years in corporate America, Melanie Conner felt the call to pursue something more meaningful to her. She earned her Master of Divinity and stepped into government and nonprofit roles that directly impacted people in need. Today, she’s living out her calling as the CEO of Rainbow Village, a Duluth-based nonprofit that works to transform the lives of families experiencing homelessness.

“At Rainbow Village, our goal is to provide help, hope, housing and healing,” says Conner. “We can serve up to 30 families at a time, and the majority of our clients are single moms, but we also serve single dads, grandparents raising their grandchildren and couples with children.”

Clients live at Rainbow Village for up to two years while working with the nonprofit’s success coaches to evaluate the circumstances that led to homelessness and prepare for sustainable self-sufficiency. “We look at the complete picture of the family’s experience and we do a deep dive into five areas: family stability, well-being (which includes both mental and physical health), financial management, education and training, and employment and career,” explains Conner.

Clients benefit from housing and childcare as well as education about important areas like goal setting, budgeting, the home-buying process, car loans and the importance of credit scores. Conner’s team has created a “700+ Club” for clients who achieve a credit score of 700 or higher. “We want our clients to have the same opportunities as anybody else to get housing or a car and not be taken advantage of by someone charging a 30% interest rate. We want to put them on a level playing field, and we celebrate them as they achieve goals that make that possible,” says Conner.

Conner has created interesting intersections between Rainbow Village and the for-profit business community, and the results have had a lasting impact on those being served and those serving. For example, she partners with volunteers from local businesses to come in and hold educational workshops for clients. Last year’s Moxie Award winner, Rudhill Companies, is among the companies that volunteer expertise.

“I met Hilda Abbott of Rudhill Companies through the Chamber and mentioned to her what we’re doing at Rainbow Village. She and her team jumped in and began teaching classes for our clients about what it takes to buy a home so that families understand what they need to do to have this opportunity,” she says. “Hilda and her team have also walked with some of our graduates through their home-buying experience coaching them each step of the way. And they’re even mentoring one of our graduates who is now working in the real estate field. They’re extraordinary!”

Conner encourages more people to get involved with nonprofits like Rainbow Village. “Come volunteer at a pizza party or a fun Friday, and you’ll see how much it matters. You’ll feel the energy of the littles and see how much appreciation there is for folks who want to help,” she says. She also notes that people can help with financial donations. “Funding is an ongoing need that’s critical to helping us provide these essential services,” she adds.

What does Conner wish people knew about those experiencing homelessness? “These are smart, educated, capable people who are willing to do the work. They just need some guidance and a little support,” she says. “Not everybody grew up in a home where you’re taught how to manage money. Sometimes things happen beyond your control and you need a little help.”

Conner is thankful to be able to live out her calling. “I’m so grateful to see the difference we’re making each day and grateful that we get to help our piece of the world and bring that rainbow of goodness to others.”

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