Bridge leader eager to help Laurie Knutson sees a holistic approach for those in need

Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 2:53 PM

During a family vacation to Mesa Verde National Park as an 8-year-old, Laurie Knutson, was haunted by her imagination. Her visions included images of young Pueblo children falling from their cliffside dwellings.

“That was my overarching concern as a young girl,” she recently recalled. “What rules did they have?”

A Minnesota native, Knutson has devoted her life to helping ensure others don’t fall. And when they do, she’s been there to offer a helping hand. Most recently, she worked with adults suffering addiction and mental-health disorders in Ontario, Canada.

“Laurie brings a passion for helping folks who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances,” said M.B. McAfee, chairwoman of the Bridge board of directors. “We are honored that she has chosen to direct the work of the Bridge.”

Tapped as the new director of the local community homeless shelter and day labor center, Knutson said she loves living in a small community like Cortez. People from rural communities are forced to work together to solve larger-than-life obstacles, she said.

“There’s more general goodwill toward collaboration in small towns,” she said. “Besides that, you get to meet people in the community quicker.”

Taking part in the latest Leadership Montezuma County program, Knutson already is planning to call on her new network of contacts in the area to serve as volunteers at the emergency shelter. She believes that’s the organization’s greatest need.

“The Bridge has set such a great foundation to continuously provide people with food, clothing and shelter,” Knutson said. “That’s the base we need, but now we need to start a more holistic approach that helps people thrive.”

Armed with master’s degrees in both social work from New York City’s Columbia University and divinity from Union Theological Seminary, Knutson wants to focus on the needs of people who visit the shelter. She envisions offering more opportunities to stimulate their lives, including counseling sessions and life-skills programs. She also wants to encourage those needing shelter to give back in community volunteer roles.

“Many times with the homeless, we have to carry their hope for them until they find it for themselves,” Knutson said. “It’s our obligation to help them obtain a more full life.”

Knutson said she is extremely thankful for the food, clothing and cash donations received at the shelter on a daily basis, but she hopes residents also will take greater steps to serve as a volunteer at the shelter to teach knitting, art or guitar lessons; provide physical therapy tips to rehab joints; or simply help serve meals. It’s community building, she said.

“The goodness of people is quite astounding,” she said. “I just get excited thinking about how people can share more joy.”

McAfee is certain the shelter will thrive under Knutson’s command, describing her as a proven systems thinker who is able to initiate effective processes that advance an organization’s goal of helping individuals become self-sufficient.

“Laurie has a can-do attitude, and that is essential,” said McAfee.

For more information or to volunteer at the Bridge Emergency Shelter, call 565-9808.