By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 21, 2013 at 1:07 PM

In 1994, the Miracle on Canal Street program started as a way to carry on the Potawatomi tradition of nurturing younger generations so they grow up to lead healthy, productive lives. The focus of the program has always been on helping children.

Every year, Potawatomi Bingo Casino raises funds for Miracle on Canal Street through a series of special bingo games. The generosity of casino guests, vendors, media partners and team members has allowed the program to grow each year.

For the second year in a row, Potawatomi chose OnMilwaukee.com as a Miracle On Canal signature media partner. OnMilwaukee.com's charity of choice is the Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center.

The Miracle bingo game is played at every session in fall. Half of the purchase price goes into the Miracle fund and half is awarded as the jackpot for that session's Miracle bingo game.

Since its inception, Miracle on Canal Street has raised more than $12.5 million, helping hundreds of local children's charities.

The Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center has worked to meet the needs of runaway, homeless and other troubled youth and their families from Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs. 

Walker’s Point, which opened in 1976, offers a live-in shelter, counseling, educational and other services. The non-profit corporation’s mission is to empower youth by helping them resolve personal and family problems in order to strengthen family relationships and support safe and stable homes.

"We provide solutions," says program director Lori Runge. 

The facility is a former duplex remodeled into a one-story residence and is located at 732 S. 21st St. in the Clarke Square neighborhood. Originally, it was in Walker’s Point, hence the name. 

The shelter is licensed to house eight youths, ages 11 to 17, for a maximum of 14 days. Residence is voluntary so kids can decide with their parents or guardians to leave at any time.

"It’s a peaceful surrounding here," says Runge. "But kids have to be willing to go through services if they stay here."

While living in the facility, the kids are required to attend daily therapy, adhere to house curfew rules, go to school and perform chores.

"This is not a hotel or a motel visit," says family support and empowerment coordinator Mary Pat O’Hara.

Young people come to the shelter because they are having serious problems at home. Many leave home because of reported physical or sexual abuse or neglect, have an alcohol or drug addicted family member or there’s been a major change in the family structure.

"Kids run away because there are changes in the family that don’t feel comfortable. Maybe mom has a new person in her life and that’s a major change and the youth feels displaced. Or maybe there was a loss of a family member," says Runge.

Plus, according to O’Hara, families are more isolated than ever. Decades ago, it was more common for young people to spend time with an aunt or grandparent living in the same community if they had an altercation with their parent or guardian, but more and more families live far apart and there is not a place they can go for a few days when they need a break from their primary caregivers.

Sometimes, older children in homeless families come to the shelter because they are unwelcome at other facilities because of their age or lack of space.

Walker’s Point Youth & Family Center also offers many programs.

Teen programs include "I Am Me," which helps teens make good decisions, along with programs specifically for teen girls (Teen D.I.V.A.S.) and teen boys (The Living Legacy: A Rite Of Teen Boys).

Walker’s Point also counsels parents through various programs who want to improve their nurturing skills and, in general, have a better relationship with their child.

"These are mostly families who are really working hard towards having a healthier family life," says O'Hara.

For example, the 12-week Nurturing Program helps both parents/parent figures and teens to better understand their own needs as well as the needs and feelings of others. The program is designed to promote more caring and nurturing behaviors as well as develop appropriate expectations for self and others.  

"We’re here, basically, to point them in the right direction," says Runge. "We work on some of the issues that are intrinsic in adolescence like independence and rebellion and then other challenges that are specific to people's homes."

For the past 25 years, the organization has offered a once-a-year facilitator training program to community members who are interested in volunteering to facilitate groups at the shelter. Offered every January, this nationally certified two-day "hands on" training includes activities, lectures and group discussions.

All of the programs are free and confidential for anyone. However, the shelter must report by law to authorities if a child reports physical or sexual abuse.

The success rates are impressive. According to the group's annual report, 94 percent of the kids discharged from the shelter returned home or went to a safe and acceptable alternative home. Also, 83 percent of resident youth reported that they felt better able to cope with the problems after spending time in the program.

"This is an agency that really reflects resiliency, hope and optimism," says O’Hara.

"In some ways, the teens and families that come here are the luckier ones because they know they need help and are getting it. Other families’ problems are invisible and they have a much harder time having a healthy family. It’s sad why people come in, but when you take a closer look, you see resilient people with a tremendous amount of strength getting the help they need at the time."

Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.

As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.

She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that. 

Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.

Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.

In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!

When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.