Reach the Top MN opens as nonprofit clothing closet in Rochester
Acacia Ward founded Reach the Top MN, a nonprofit built to be a one-stop shop for help with food, education, legal and shelter needs, in February 2022.
ROCHESTER — Acacia Ward kept a list on her fridge for three years. One side featured general goals and the other, her hopes to change the world.
In February 2022, Ward challenged herself with, “What can I do right now to start?”
“I always added to that list to what I wanted to do to change the world,” Ward explained. “One was a food pantry, one was legal aid, one was education support, a computer lab, resource center.”
She narrowed that list to one area: clothing.
“I figured, well, everybody has clothes to give away and everybody needs new clothes, right. Kids grow out of clothes. We gain weight, we lose weight, we come into situations, emergency situations. We need clothes,” said Ward.
With hopes of making resources easily available, Ward founded Reach the Top MN , a nonprofit built to be a one-stop shop for help with food, education, legal and shelter needs.
Supporting community clothing needs
The current requests range from women’s, men’s, teens and kids clothing to shoes and household items. Her nonprofit, like many others who have sparked change, started in a garage—well, a storage unit the size of a garage. The clothing started piling in through drop-off donations in February.
The clothing closet is open to the community. You can reach out for support or to donate clothing by contacting Ward on the Reach the Top MN Facebook page , her website or at 507-218-1158 or Acacia@ReachTheTopMN.org . Ward says word of mouth and social media are fueling the generosity.
Ward has plans to expand the clothing closet to a resource center, which will encapsulate more of her change the world list.
“For clothing-wise, I want to be able to help everybody. Honestly big picture, I want to be able to help everybody,” said Ward, who grew up in Rochester.
Thus far, the nonprofit has helped community members with clothing for new babies, size changes, new jobs, emergency situations and back to school as well as resource connections and advocating for client needs. “Little by little” Ward connects with individuals and businesses to grow the clothing closet into a more permanent space.
“People contact me and let me know what they need, and I provide that for them,” Ward said.
Finding support at Jeremiah Program
Along with her nonprofit duties, Ward is a Jeremiah Program mom. She describes her start at Jeremiah Program due to “road bumps.” The program combats generational poverty two generations at a time.
“I was pregnant with my third child, my daughter, and just ran into some road bumps and all that, so I was looking for support. Like what can I do, I’ve got these kids by myself,” said Ward.
Through her time at Jeremiah Program, Ward credits the support she’s receiving to continuing her motivation, like earning her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Ward started in child care during the onset of the pandemic after previously earning a child care certificate.
While living at the Jeremiah Program campus, Ward enjoys twice monthly meetings and visits with her family coach Bri Rollins, opportunities for her kids, hanging out with friends and occasional meals. She says the goal setting and accountability have helped her with her degree and nonprofit.
“She’s just absolutely wonderful to have a part of JP, her and her kids,” said Katie Ticho, Jeremiah Program family services director. “Acacia gets like really involved and participates in a lot of things and just really strengthens the community in really formalized ways, participating in formal activities but also in informal ways she’s a huge support to those around her and other JP moms, which is our hope for the JP community.”
At Reach the Top MN’s future resource center, there would be a computer lab with tools for starting or going back to school and finding a job, a child care center and representatives from different organizations available to help people.
“A lot of collaboration is what I have in mind,” Ward said. “The reason I want it to be a resource center for everybody is because it’s always been hard to go somewhere and get told to go somewhere else, right. That’s the big thing for me is you get a lot of, ‘Oh we can’t help you right now, but this place might be able to.’ So if I walk in the door and I need help with something, I want to be able to find that help.”
Ward said bouncing from organization to organization is common, including with her own experience being in poverty and for the people she’s trying to support.
The bundles of clothes, and the future resources, offer people hope.
“I want somebody who walks in the doors, when it becomes a resource center, … then they leave feeling like the weight is lifted. They’ve got the help they need. They’re confident about their next steps. They’re not just, ‘Oh, I could try this place’ because that only goes so far and you lose hope quickly when you’re being told to go other places,” Ward described about her vision for the future of Reach the Top MN.
She envisions the center as a “bridge” to providing connections and resources for people all in one place. Organizations like Jeremiah Program, Lutheran Social Services and the Boys and Girls Club have lifted Ward throughout her life, and she hopes to give back to the Rochester community.
A lot of what she does stems from a great love for her three kids, Chuor, Acira and Amira, who “inspire me in every way,” she said. The kids help in the effort, too, by looking through their clothes and sorting donated items.
“They just motivate me to be better and make the world better because sometimes it’s a crappy place,” Ward said.
From the heart tattoo on her eye to caring for her family and the community, Ward aims toward love. And she’s set on accomplishing her lists: attending school, having her kids healthy, working on a savings account and changing the world.