"I always wanted to work for Bridges of Hope some way, some how," Andrea Martin said.
That wish was granted two and a half years ago when Martin began working at Common Goods Thrift Store in Crosslake. She became the store's retail manager last year.
Her journey to Common Goods, which is owned by Bridges of Hope, wasn't an easy one though, nor was it in her original plans.
The Alexandria native has a degree in special education from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, as teaching was what she thought she wanted to do.
"I've always been a teacher or an educator in a lot of ways. When I went to school, I worked in group homes," Martin said. "And I got so much satisfaction out of teaching a 40-year-old woman how to tie her shoes for the first time that I thought, 'Oh, this is something I'm good at. I can teach people things.'"
After college, Martin moved to the lakes area and taught special education on a part-time and long-term substitute basis in the Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes schools for about 10 years altogether.
When Martin wasn't working as a teacher, she was a stay-at-home mom for her two young boys. Then in 2010, she found herself as a newly single mom to her baby and toddler, struggling to make ends meet.
"I was trying to reach out for help, and I didn't know how. And I was just feeling overwhelmed because I was focused on the mom thing," she said.
But when Martin got the phone number for Bridges of Hope, things started to turn around.
The nonprofit aims to support struggling families in the lakes area and link them to resources so they can get back on their feet.
Shortly after Martin called Bridges of Hope for the first time, two workers showed up at her door.
"They literally just said, 'Tell us what your fears are; tell us what you need.' And we just talked for two hours straight," she said.
Bridges helped Martin get her life back on track.
"All of a sudden, I had the answers," she said. "It's not like they filled out the paperwork or did it for me. But they showed me what needed to be done to help pull myself out of that situation, which is what I really appreciate about Bridges."
Martin got a full-time teaching job in Pequot Lakes and was able to provide for her boys. When her contract expired after a year, she took more part-time and substituting jobs. During that time, not only were here finances improving, but her personal life was as well.
In 2013, Martin moved to Crosslake, married her now-husband Tim and created a new family.
"We're a mini Brady Bunch. He's got two kids, and I've got two kids," she said. "So we mesh together for this fun little family of six."
Now back on her feet, Martin decided she needed a change from teaching. That's when she found retail.
"I always thought I would enjoy retail because all my life I've always noticed store displays and the way products are done," she said.
She worked in a thrift store for about nine months and thoroughly enjoyed the work. Then in June of 2015, out of the blue, she got a phone call from the director of Bridges of Hope.
"She says, 'Hey, we're thinking of opening a store in Crosslake - another Common Goods. We got your name through the grapevine," Martin said.
As business was booming at the Common Goods store in Baxter, Bridges of Hope decided to open a secondary location. Martin started working at the Crosslake store as soon as it opened in July 2015 and now, as retail manager, is planning for the store's expansion into the connected building next door.
A festive Christmas display lights up the window of the expansion space right now. Common Goods officially takes over the lease Jan. 1 and will have from then on to get everything approved by the Bridges of Hope board and hopefully ready to open in summer 2018.
As the pending expansion indicates, the Crosslake Common Goods has been successful since opening. Martin and much of her associates came in with thrift store experience, and she believes her teaching background has helped her in management by being able to explain things well to both customers and staff. Surprisingly enough, her special education background is useful as well.
"I'm always thinking about the customer and the different needs, like 'Is the lighting OK?' You have to think about seizures," Martin said. "When I'm in the store I see, 'Can a wheelchair fit through this?' ... I think about things that other people might not think about."
Martin's special set of skills and personal history with Bridges make Common Goods the perfect place for her. And so does a love of antiques.
Sorting through donations and finding old treasures is Martin's favorite part of the job. That's something she gets from her dad, who's an antiques dealer.
"He and I have always shared this love for antiques," Martin said. "When I don't know what to price something at, I take a picture and I call my dad."
Just like antiques has become somewhat a family tradition for Martin, Common Goods has as well.
"It's a family. It really is," she said. "I would have a hard time going anywhere else."