Mark Wilkening '85

Nicole Sheldon

Is faith ‘caught’ or ‘taught’? Mark Wilkening says it’s both. “While at MA, I learned that faith is a 24/7 thing, not just a Sunday morning or Wednesday night thing to do at church.” Faith was fully integrated into all aspects of Minnehaha including classes and extracurriculars, and he learned that it needed to be integrated into all areas of his life as well. He recognized early on that the teachers had a calling to teach, and specifically to teach at Minnehaha.  “That really resonated with me. It made me want to seek a call from God as to His purpose for my life.”  

Wanting To Impact The World For Kingdom Purposes

Mark’s six years at MA in Christian community gave him the desire to go to a Christian college. “I wanted to continue to do life with those who put their faith first and wanted to impact the world for Kingdom purposes.”  He went to Wheaton College and majored in Business Economics, but he jokes that he majored in ‘Blue Vans.’  “One day at Wheaton I got on a blue van. These blue vans took you to different ministry places around the Chicago area, like the Salvation Army, the Cook County Jail, Cabrini Green projects, and others. It was a wonderful introduction to the ministry opportunities that were out there. I was a Business Economics major, but as I got involved in community ministry and community development, that set the trajectory for my career choice.”   

30-year career in non-profit work

After graduation, Mark’s friends were all getting corporate jobs, but he went to LA to volunteer for a year and did inner city work with World Impact, a Christian non-profit. That solidified his desire to serve in non-profit work when he returned to the Twin Cities. He began his 30-year career in non-profit work by serving 15 years with the YMCA doing “nearly every job that you could do at the Y.”  He then worked with Youthworks! Foundation and then at Angel Foundation. For the last six years, he has served as the Executive Director of Bridging. 

Serving with the Twin Cities Non-Profit 'Bridging'

Bridging is a Twin Cities non-profit that empowers people to thrive in their homes by providing quality furniture and household goods for those pursuing housing stability. They work with more than 200 social service agencies in the Twin Cities area, who refer their clients to them. About 65% of the people they work with were homeless in the previous 12 months. The clients make an appointment and “shop” for furniture and household goods either virtually or at one of the warehouses and are guided by volunteer personal shoppers. In 2019, Bridging served more than 13,000 people, representing nearly 5,000 households. About 6% of those they serve are immigrants.  

'When Good People Get Together To Do Good Things, Then Good Things Happen'

Mark was able to spend five years in close relationship with the founder of Bridging, Fran Heitzman, who shared his passion to serve people with dignity and the love that he had for everyone in our community. “Fran had a mantra: ‘when good people get together to do good things, then good things happen.’ He had a remarkable impact on my life.”   

“I loved the model that says there are people who no longer need items--and a whole lot of people out there who need these items--why don’t we bridge the two together?” Mark also loves the volunteers that serve so faithfully to make it happen. “We have nearly 80,000 hours of volunteer service per year helping us do what we do.”

Mark has been married to his wife Brooks for 24 years and they have four children. He is currently in a couple’s small group with two of his fellow MA graduates.  “I have life-long friendships from MA. That is very special.”  

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