Serving the Homeless with Time, Talent, and Love

Shortly after my father-in-law “Mr. Bob” started serving the homeless in downtown Milwaukee, the entire family realized that his passion for finding and connecting with those who were seemingly forgotten would only continue to grow. And indeed, it has. Nine years ago Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge didn’t have a name and was only Bob and my mother-in-law, Sue, putting together hygiene kits and backpacks full of supplies in their basement. Now, more than 60 volunteers, including 11 directors on the board, are providing clothing, hygiene packs, coffee, and food to a majority of the approximately 1,000 homeless people living on the streets and under bridges in our city.

Board of Directors for Mr. Bob's Under the Bridge

Board of Directors for Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge

The seed for Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge was Bob’s love and his drive to help those less fortunate. But, the expansion of his ministry and the enormous impact it has on the homeless community in Milwaukee is a result of other selfless individuals volunteering their time to show compassion to fellow human beings. Many of Mr. Bob’s volunteers learned about the organization by simply stopping by the park when they saw the truck and crew in action on a Saturday morning. They asked the question, “How can I help?” More than 60 people have asked that question. And, through Mr. Bob’s, God has answered.

homeless, milwaukee, support, donate

Mr. Bob’s volunteers at an appreciation dinner at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center on April 15, 2015.

In the past year, Mr. Bob’s volunteers have:

  • Provided 4,160 hygiene packs
  • Served 13,000 cups of coffee
  • Distributed 18.2 tons (yes, tons!) of clothing
  • Supplied 4,500 pairs of socks
  • Driven 4,620 miles in the distribution truck
  • Spent at least 4,800 hours serving Milwaukee’s homeless

This is in addition to the immeasurable acts of caring and concern these volunteers show to the homeless community on a daily basis; especially on Saturday mornings, which is an important time of fellowship.

It’s my pleasure during National Volunteer Week to say “thank you” and recognize the people who are the heart and soul of Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge, because without your time, talent, and love the organization couldn’t be what it is today.

And, I also extend that “thank you” to the many, many others who donate clothing, food, hygiene items, money, and the like in order to provide our homeless friends with a fraction of the necessities they deserve.

Interested in getting involved? Contact us for more information about volunteering or donating.

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Miss Cathy December 2015

This is a message of thanks. We at Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge would like to thank the many people who make this ministry run. Therefore, we wish to thank the following:

 All of the people who spend their time sorting the clothing on Thursday evenings.

 Our “park gang” who show up in all kinds of weather to distribute coffee and clothing to our friends.

 New Creation and Faith Harvest Outreach who come weekly to provide sandwiches and hot soup.

 Our board members who keep things running smoothly behind the scenes.

 Everyone who has taken the time to go through their closets and donate clothing and shoes

 Everyone who has made other donations, such as hygiene, coffee, or cash that allows us to purchase much needed items.

 The many strangers who have stopped at the park to see what we do, only to become donors themselves.

 Advent Lutheran Church, for allowing us to operate from that facility.

 Our many friends that we serve at the park, Salvation Army, and in the various other places, for giving us the gifts of gratitude and humility.

May your holidays be filled with gratitude, kindness, and peace.

Cathy Norene

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Advent Lutheran’s Youth Group

Our youth group joined us on our weekly outreach to share with our friends in the city.  I’m so proud of our church and Sarah Slavin for teaching our youth that serving others should always be part of your life.  They warmed my heart as I watched them interact with our friends

I love you guys!

Mr Bob



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Meet Our President Cheri Hesse

admin-ajaxMy husband Phil and I have 2 grown children and have been members of Advent Lutheran since 2002. As a member of Advent, I have had the opportunity to get involved in several ministries and I have found my passion with Mr. Bob’s UTB. I am currently the secretary at Advent and have previous secretarial experience in insurance and property management. These fields have given me a varied background to help with the ministry. I have watched the ministry grow along with Bob from filling up one small trailer to having a truck and large trailer, adding hygiene packs and coffee to the Saturday morning provisions provided in the park. I am very proud of this ministry and the diverse people that is has brought together.

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Ms Cathy June 2015

JUNE 2015

Several people have asked me if I ever get tired of seeing the same people every week. They cannot fathom why anyone would want to keep going downtown to give clothing and hygiene products to people who keep coming back.

“Shouldn’t they be able to make it on their own without your handouts? Why don’t you tell them that you have already given them enough, instead of always giving them more things? Maybe that would be the nudge that they need to stop living on the streets! Why don’t you just do that?”

These words were actually part of a conversation that I had with an acquaintance the other day. I simply sighed and tried to explain that our mission is merely providing basic necessities – clothing and hygiene – to the people who need it. We do not judge why they are there or how often they come to us for assistance. Many of our homeless friends fit into one or more of these categories:

o They are victims of abuse.

o They suffer from mental illness.

o They suffer from addiction.

o They are physically ill.

o They are children and have no say in the matter whatsoever.

o They have been homeless for so long that homelessness is the only life they know how

to lead.

o They are the working poor.

o They lost their jobs and have not been able to find work, thus losing their homes.

o They were faced with medical bills that cost them their homes.

The list goes on, but I think that you get the picture.

So why do we help the same people week after week?

 Because we can.

 Because it is the right thing to do.

 Because we are not put on Earth to judge those who are less fortunate that we are.

 Because there but for the grace of God go we.

 Because they are our friends.

 Because we love them.

 Because by helping others, the people we help the most is ourselves.

May you always have people who love you and are willing to help you when you need it, no matter how often that may be.

Cathy Norene

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Meet Board Member Bill Cardiff

Mbilly wife, Sharon, and I are long time residents of Mequon and joined Advent Lutheran church as members in 2001. We are in constant amazement with the number of important social ministries supported by the church and its members. A number of years ago (I don’t really recall how many) we decided to support Mr. Bob’s by helping out with the sorting of clothes and other donated items. It quickly became a weekly event every Thursday night on our calendar, not only to help with tasks of sorting, loading the truck and preparing for Saturday’s delivery, but to also share the companionship with the other volunteers. Two years ago Mr. Bob extended an invitation to me to join his Board of Directors. I am hoping my 30+ years of business experience can, in some way, help create growth opportunities and sustainability for Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge in order to achieve the long-term goals of this incredible organization.


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Meet Our Treasurer Bill Taylor

William James Taylor is a resident of Cedarburg, Wisconsin and has served as a director and officer of a number of not-for-profit organizations. He is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and has assisted numerous clients and organizations to achieve their goals through sound business practices. In addition to his ongoing consulting practice, he holds a PhD in business and retired as Professor Emeritus from the Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. In his spare time he enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with family and friends both in Wisconsin and at his Colorado cabin.

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Our Newest Board Member Alex Heyn

AlexAlexandra provides development support to Under the Bridge team. Alex became involved with UTB while working as the Advocacy and Awareness chair for Habitat for Humanity at UWM about 6 years ago. After working in the downtown Milwaukee area and meeting several of our friends who have been served by Mr. Bob’s, she was immediately pulled towards supporting the future of the organization in any way possible. She received a BA in Communications and Community Education from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with a focus in Non-Profit Management, Mediation, and Peace Studies. Alex developed a strong sense of devotion for the nonprofit sector from her parents, a firefighter and non-profit director, and her faith. Her volunteer, career, and educational experiences continue to drive her interest to support, and deeply appreciate, those who seek to improve the quality of life for those in need.

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Saturday at Ziedler Park with Moxie Pictures

moxie-logoYesterday, Moxie Pictures a production company out of New York filmed Mr. Bob’s Under the Bridge for Aurora Health Care.  Aurora Health Care is calling it “Invisible Bonds”.   The commercial will be about people helping people in Milwaukee as I understand.  Although feeling very blessed for the opportunity it brought me challenges, are we exposing our friends to something for only our gain,  how will our friends react to such a large production (at least 25-35 people plus tons of equipment from Moxie), and lastly will this help the homeless community as a whole.

My heart was racing as I showed up at the park around 6:30 to start spreading the word to our friends as to what was happening.  I nearly pulled the plug on the entire operation when I saw all that was involved.  I looked up and asked, am I doing the right thing for all involved ?  Then I was reminded that I’m only able to do God’s will as he appoints me.  I felt relieved after that moment passed.  I talked with the entire production crew and expressed all of my concerns and challenges that all of us would be faced with this morning.  After a 10 minute talked and we parted I had many of them come up to me and tell me not to worry that they will respect and be as invisible as possible.  I had to snicker a bit thinking how in hell are they going to hide ? The outcome was outstanding everyone on the crew was more than compassionate with our friends.  No moves or direct contact were made without checking with me first.  You all know how much love and respect I have for our friends that I didn’t want to see any of them hurt.  I’m kinda like a mother goose watching over the flock.  It turned out to be exactly as they stated with a few glitches which were mostly on my part being overprotecting.  By the way they did change my wardrobe to this silly looking Elmer Thud cap (sorry Ben).

As well all of our park volunteers spent the morning as if it was a normal Saturday in the park.  Thanks John, Cathy, Mary Beth, Sara, and our outreach churches Faith Harvest Outreach and New Creation church for adapting to the day.

Thank you Moxie and crew for calming me to the point that even our friends were telling me “just let it be Mr Bob we’re fine”.  I’m so blown away by your ability to adapt to our situation with the main concern being our friends well being.  I look forward to seeing the final product.  I’m sure you portrayed us just like every other Saturday. With great appreciation we would also like to thank you for the generous donation.

Reality set back in (after a camera followed me around most of the day, close up shots, group shots, blah blah blah) our friend who I’ll call Jonathon asked to talk with me privately.  Johnathon had been in housing for quite some time but was released for some unknown reason.  He was crying and talking about how he didn’t want to start over on the streets again.  He explained that the streets become nearly impossible to live on after a period of time.  The addiction the survival the begging etc scares him to death.  As I listened I became somewhat emotional and shared my prayer that I say everyday with him.  The tears rolled down both of our faces as we finished.  I felt so helpless at that point as to what can I do to help outside the normal resources that are available. I’ve challenged our board this year to address these issues.  We will figure out how to help.  Our board loves input so if you have any or want to get involved let us know.  Johnathon is becoming the familiar story I hear more and more.  I choose to make a difference in Johnathon’s life and others and will not stop until we as a society treat everyone as children of God.

Be Well and God’s Blessings

Mr Bob

Here’s where Wisconsin is ranked among our surrounding states when it comes to providing for the homeless.

Total Spending - Pie Chart (1)

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Ms Cathy April 2015

April 2015

Spring may have arrived, but it is still cold. The temperature this morning hovered around 40o. As we pulled into the park, both John and I were struck by the sight of a lovely young woman. She was standing in the park, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals without socks. Her arms were wrapped around her body while she shivered uncontrollably. Within minutes of our arrival and the arrival of our partners at New Creation Church, she was enjoying a hot cup of coffee while eating hard boiled eggs, doughnuts, fruit, and a hotdog. I said a silent prayer that we would have the other items she needed.

The day continued at the park as it normally does. Hygiene items were handed out from the back of the truck. Bedding was handed out near the side door of the trailer. Coffee, hot cocoa, and food items were distributed at the tables, and we volunteers were all running around, doing the jobs that we know by heart. Before we knew it, the time had come for us to leave. While John and I were getting back into the truck, we looked to the left. There stood that same young woman that was shivering when we first arrived. Now she was wearing a pair of jeans, a sweater, coat, socks, and shoes. She had a hat in herpocket. She was smiling while she was talking to our friends who regularly come to the park. One would not have known that it was the same woman. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that we were able to help her. I don’t know her story. I may never see her again. But I am grateful that we left her  better than we found her.

God’s blessings to you and yours,

Cathy Norene

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