MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Many of us take things like making friends or living independently for granted. When one Twin Cities mom felt her daughter wouldn’t have the same opportunities as others, she did something about it.

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So, WCCO’s Amelia Santaniello surprised Denise Martin with a $500 check from US Bank. It’s our way of thanking her for “Making a Difference” in the lives of young adults who have special needs.

Martin’s daughter, Natalie, has a learning disability. Martin felt her daughter Natalie was isolated and not easily connecting with others her age.

“They’re a hidden population within the community and they live at home with their parents,” said Martin. “I thought there’s got to be a way to connect the computer and friends that are like her.”

There was a way.

Six years ago, Denise started this project of love: an online niche group, called Bridging Hearts.

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“In researching this, there is nothing like this,” said Martin. “There’s nothing with an online connection and events where they can get together locally.”

The online community has fostered friendships between Natalie and its 45 other members.

In fact, it’s how she became friends with her roommate Kelly.

“We had problems before in high school or whenever in school, we can just talk and chat about those issues,” said Natalie.

The group does more than chat online. Members have social events and have gone on trips together.

“It’s been a relief to know she now has friends and a connection with people who are like her and she’s happy,” said Martin.

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Martin meets with every member of Briding Hearts and helps set up their profile.

Amelia Santaniello