Need Help?
TXT (612)400-SAFE

We Help Youth in Crisis.

What Makes a Great Board Chair

Posted on:

By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

The Board of Directors is an essential part of any nonprofit. An engaged, hardworking Board can take an organization from good to great. As Executive Director, I rely on the Board Chair to talk through issues, seek advice and to discuss the future of the Bridge.

Throughout my nonprofit career, I have worked with many Board Chairs and have learned first-hand how critical a strong Board Chair is to an organization’s success or failure. Here are just a few of the traits I have seen which help nonprofits flourish:

Engaged.  First and foremost, a nonprofit Board Chair needs to be engaged, leaning in and paying attention. Being a Board Chair is much more than a title, it is a critical role for your organization’s success.

Ambassador. Great Board Chairs love the organization they serve and want everyone to know it.  Whether it’s at work or at play, they are always looking for ways to make connections and raise awareness about the organization.

Knowledge Sharing. A great Board Chair should have relevant professional knowledge. That doesn’t mean you have to be a nonprofit professional, but experience in areas including human resources, finance, real estate and law, can make a big impact since those are all areas that every nonprofit executive wrestles with.

Fearless. Strong Board Chairs are not afraid to ask difficult questions and to dig into reality. They don’t operate in promises of what might happen but look to the facts and the data in order to protect the organizations they serve.

Mutual Trust. As Board Chair, it’s not your job to manage program staff and staffing decisions, dig into day-to-day operations, or worry about the regular maintenance of the building. Trust your Executive Director to manage the day to day affairs of the organizations. Conversely, it is critical for Executive Directors to trust their Board Chair.

As Executive Director of the Bridge, I am thankful we have a strong Board Chair in Scott Thomas-Forss.  Becoming a Board Chair is a big responsibility and if you have the attributes highlighted above, you are ready to take on the challenge for some lucky nonprofit!

Another Chance, Without the Record

Posted on:

An angry teenager and his mom get in a fight. She’s never been afraid of her children before, but now her little boy has turned into a 6’2” young man, and somehow this minor argument has turned into a scary situation. So, mom calls the police.

When they arrive, it doesn’t matter if he injured anyone – it’s a Domestic Assault charge either way. That means a court date, and usually having to stay in juvenile detention until that date. It can throw a young person’s life off course.

That is where the Bridge comes in.  As part of the Hennepin County Youth Intervention Programs Initiative, the Bridge provides critically needed intervention services to these youth.

Instead of going to juvenile detention, some youth with a domestic assault charge and no prior convictions can stay at The Bridge while they await their court date, as long as they attend school every day and complete other program requirements. JDAI Youth and Family Counselor Richard Bell transports them to their court dates and connects them with other resources.

If they complete the six-month program without any other charges being filed the charge is removed from their record. Youth entering the program sign a contract with their legal guardian that addresses school attendance and other issues that may have caused them to be charged with domestic assault such as anger management.

Our RESILIENT support group teaches young people about domestic violence and other social issues.

“It gives the youth a second chance to become productive citizens without a criminal record,” Richard said. The program also works with the family to develop a Safety Plan which identifies resources for the family to use in hopes of avoiding police involvement should a new conflict arise. This program is a collaborative effort between the Headway Diversion Program and The Bridge for Youth.

The Bridge also offers RESILIENT, a support group focusing on issues of domestic violence. The group is open to current and former program participants, as well as other youth. The group goes beyond domestic violence and covers social topics including black history and women’s rights, and has even gone fishing.

“I’ve been a youth advocate all my life,” Richard said. “As soon as I started sitting in on these meetings and helping to encourage these families, I knew it was a place where I could make a huge difference.”

By the time they complete the program, 70 percent of participants report having the ability to decrease their risky behavior.

The JDAI program goes a long way towards helping young people grow up to be productive adults, and we’re glad to provide them a comfortable place to stay while participating.

To support JDAI and the rest of our work, donate here.

Pets Welcome! Why We Have Animals in the Office

Posted on:

By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

Take Your Dog to Work Day will be celebrated on June 22 this year. At The Bridge, we celebrate it every day.

With HR approval, our employees are welcome to bring their friendly pets to work with them, and the policy makes our workplace a happier, less stressful place.

Bringing pets to work has been shown to have all sorts of benefits for our employees.

A reminder to take a break

Our job is never done – there is always another youth in crisis, and there’s always more we can do to help. Everyone who works here is dedicated to their jobs, and it can be hard to remember to step back and take a deep breath. Dogs serve as a great reminder to step outside for a walk around the block, so

HR Director Angela Alvarez’s kitten Harriet visited the office at eight weeks old.

our staff can come back refreshed and ready to serve the youth.

A de-stressor

In 2012, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their pets to work had reduced stress throughout the day. Those employees have also been found to be more productive, more collaborative, and more satisfied with their work life. The benefits don’t only come to pet owners – interacting with a dog at all has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Lead Youth Response Specialist Joe Valentine brings his Lab Boxer, Peanut, to work with him often. “I find that the staff, especially the interns, like having a dog around,” he said. “When you have dogs in these spaces, they bring benefits to the people that are hard to predict. For some people, they’re exciting. For others, they’re soothing.”

Setting the tone for the office

Having animals around lifts everyone’s moods. It makes the office feel welcoming, flexible, and comfortable. We see young people every day going through the biggest challenges of their lives, and sometimes staff disagree on difficult decisions. It’s important for us to all remember that we’re on the same team, and pets help us do that.

My dog Rosie often spends time in the office.

Crime Victims Case Manager Alex Kewitt doesn’t bring a pet to work, but she agrees that having animals around makes it easier to stay centered. “Navigating through the multiple bureaucratic systems our youth and families are served by can be exhausting,” she said. “Working with youth in crisis and families affected by the traumatic impacts of institutional and individual racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, and more can leave one feeling disheartened. Animals have a way of softening situations, lightening the mood, disarming people and reminding us that we too are a part of the natural world, and that at the end of the day, what is important is connection.”

As Executive Director, my days are packed with meetings, difficult decisions, and the responsibility for keeping The Bridge on track. Bringing my dog, Rosie, to work with me helps me stay calm and focused on the things that need to get done.

Beginning later this month, the Bridge will also have six, certified animal therapy teams coming to the Bridge weekly to provide comfort and healing for Bridge for Youth clients.

At The Bridge, we’re focused on the well-being of everyone: youth, families, volunteers, staff, and our wider community. Allowing pets in the office is just one small way we show our employees that we care.

Why Overhead Matters               

Posted on:

By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

Every year, as we prepare our annual report, we split our spending into three different categories: Program Costs, Management, and Fundraising. That’s because many donors want to know the percentage of their donation that will be going directly to programs, which is natural – you want to know that your dollars will be doing good.

Some donors might insist that their money go straight to a specific program, or refuse to give to organizations if overhead costs take up more than an arbitrary percentage of their budget.

There’s a widespread myth that many nonprofits are poor stewards of donations – that money is being spent on extravagant offices or exorbitant executive salaries. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s much more common for nonprofit employees to be underpaid than overpaid.

“Overhead” is a vague term which encompasses all sorts of expenses. Insurance, utilities, and administrative staff all count as overhead.

Maintenance on our building is one of the many expenses that fall under the umbrella of “overhead.”

All of the money that goes into overhead plays an important role in the success of a nonprofit. The money we spend on our mortgage and maintenance means we’re able to shelter the young people who walk through our doors. Our IT infrastructure allows us to keep YSNMN running. Our talented administrative staff means that our program staff don’t need to worry about funding, data management, or stress that their paychecks won’t be ready on time. Our investment in our staff means that talented people can grow their careers right here at The Bridge.

Additionally, nonprofits operate more like businesses than many people realize. That means we analyze data, metrics, draft reports and report to donors, donors like you. The people who analyze the data and run the many reports we provide to funders are part of the “overhead” equation for every nonprofit and without them, we cannot operate.

When we under-invest in overhead, we leave our organizations weaker and more vulnerable.

Judging a nonprofit by their overhead percentage won’t help you find the best organizations to donate to – that requires researching their outcomes. If you’re looking for a place to do your own research, check out Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

In the meantime, don’t hold back on your donations because you’re afraid they’ll go to overhead costs. Those expenses are vital for keeping nonprofits strong so that they can do good for years to come.

Rita’s House featured in the Southwest Journal

Posted on:

With just a week to go until our first residents move in, we’re proud to be featured in the Southwest Journal! Read the whole article here.


Transitions Manager Kate LaCroix Peal (l) talks with Outreach Specialists Phil Henderson and Alero Ogisi at Rita’s House, which opens Feb. 1.

What is Rita’s House?

Posted on:

By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

Have you heard about our newest project, Rita’s House? We are thrilled to be adding a major new program to our offerings for youth.

Rita’s House will open in early February (join us for our Grand Opening January 18!) serving young people ages 18-21. Currently, youth age out of our Emergency Shelter and Transitions programs on their 18th birthday, so this opportunity to serve our clients and other homeless young people as they move into adulthood is an exciting expansion of our programs.

We have owned the house at 2200 Emerson Ave S for more than four decades, and it served as our primary home for many years. Generations of young people have passed through those doors during the most difficult days of their lives. This house has served as a symbol of hope and compassion for thousands. Rita’s House is named after Sister Rita Steinhagen, a nun with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who founded The Bridge for Youth.

Since 2013, when our programs moved across the street, the house sat empty. We considered many different options for the property, but none of them were quite right. Then, in December 2016, the Minneapolis City Council amended the Code of Ordinances to allow intentional communities.

An intentional community is a purposefully vague term. It allows unrelated adults to live together, when they function as a unit. Members of an intentional community should share some household expenses and have a set of rules governing upkeep and behavior.

That’s what we’ll be doing at Rita’s House. Up to a dozen young people can live in the house at any time, and they’ll work together to manage the household while working toward their own individual goals. They’ll learn life skills and build a rental history that will help them succeed when they’re ready to move into a market rate apartment.

While they live at Rita’s House, young people will have their own bedrooms and share the kitchen, bathrooms, and other common spaces. They’ll pay rent, but can qualify for an incentive program to earn a portion of the rent back, for use toward market-rate apartment expenses. They’ll also work with a case manager and an Independent Living Skills specialist, who will help them work towards independent adulthood.

When a young person turns 18, they are considered an adult under the law. However, as anyone who has ever met a high school senior knows, they still have a lot of learning to do. Many people turn to their parents for help learning how to grocery shop, plunge a toilet, or navigate their first job. Teenagers rarely have a credit history, so they can’t qualify for a lease if they don’t have an adult who can cosign. Formerly homeless youth have countless barriers to overcome as they step into the adult world. At Rita’s House, we’ll provide guidance and support.

Help make Rita’s House a home by contributing to our Target registry, or support all of our programs with a financial donation.





Posted on:

Curb Crowser offered to renovate our youth lobby as a holiday gift. They did an amazing job!

How Can I Support Transgender, Non-binary or Gender Non-conforming Youth?

Posted on:

Guest Post by Zan Washington (They/Them), Outreach & Support Services Manager

Is there a transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming young person in your life? If you’re cis-gender (you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), it can be difficult to understand how transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming people feel, but your support can make a huge difference.

If a young person you care about has recently come out to you, you might be wondering what you can do to help support them and help them feel safe.

As Outreach and Support Services Manager, I work with youth on various aspects of the gender spectrum, so I can give you a little advice:

  • Be supportive. If a young person has come out to you, realize that they view you as a safe person to turn to. Acknowledge them and make sure they know you love them no matter how they identify.
  • Let them define themselves. Allow young people to choose their own wardrobes, hairstyles, pronouns and name. All of these choices might change over time or even daily, but it’s okay!
  • Remind others of their gender identity. If you have extended family or community members that continue calling your child by their former name or gender, remind them to respect your child’s preferences.
  • Respect their privacy. On the other hand, if your child isn’t ready to be out publicly yet, respect that. Allow them to identify as their preferred gender only at home for a while, if that’s more comfortable for them. Don’t share their story with anyone they aren’t ready to share it with.
  • Talk to a professional. Puberty is challenging for most adolescents, but it can be particularly tough for transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming teens. Help your child access a competent therapist for any mental health issues, and talk to a medical professional if they are experiencing any gender dysphoria (the distress felt from their gender identity not matching their gender assigned at birth).
  • Don’t assume. Just because a child is transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming doesn’t mean they’ll take on the societal male/female stereotypes. A transgender boy might not like sports. A transgender girl might hate dolls. Remember that gender is just one aspect of a person’s identity – they’re still a unique individual and should be given space to explore, develop and express themselves in a way that feels comfortable for them.
  • Find help for yourself. Supporting a child as they explore their gender identity can be very demanding on their caregivers. It can be helpful to have somewhere to vent, ask questions, and process your youth’s changes. Look for a support group, online resources, and maybe a therapist of your own, so that you have people to lean on when you are struggling.

Most importantly, remember you are not alone! Many caregivers are helping their young people get through their gender identity questions and gender dysphoria. It is okay to ask questions, be confused, and grieve. Do not project these feelings onto your child and find a safe outlet to channel your emotions throughout the process. Your unwavering support can make a huge difference for the young people in your life.

Director’s Corner: A Safe Space for LGBTQ Youth

Posted on:

LGBTQ youth are at a much higher risk of homelessness than their heterosexual peers. While they make up only six percent of the general population, LGBTQ young people account for more than 40 percent of homeless youth.

Many of these young people are forced out of their homes due to conflicts surrounding their sexual and gender identity.

The challenges only increase once they’re on the street. Sex trafficking is a major concern for all young people, but LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be trafficked compared to their peers (24% versus 12%). They are also three times more likely to engage in “survival sex,” trading sex for access to food, shelter, or other necessities. LGBTQ youth also report higher rates of being robbed, assaulted, or attempting suicide.

This data is from The Center for American Progress.

These young people face a scary and difficult road, but there’s hope.

When Stephen was 15 he was kicked out of his foster home because his foster father discovered he was dating a male classmate. He had heard about The Bridge, and came here hoping to find a safe place to stay. Our case workers welcomed him, affirmed his sexuality, and facilitated family counseling sessions. After a short time, he felt safe returning to his foster home.

Stephen has continued attending our weekly support group, where he can get to know other LGBTQ youth in a safe environment.

LGBTQ young people face unique challenges, so they need unique services. We offer the longest-running support group for LGBTQ teens in the Twin Cities, formed in 1992. Our staff are also trained in LGBTQ issues, and we offer a single bedroom for transgender youth who feel more comfortable not sharing a space.

At The Bridge, we believe that every young person deserves a safe and stable home environment. Help us provide that for LGBTQ youth by donating today.

It’s Time to Move the Needle on Nonprofit Employee Pay

Posted on:

I started working in the nonprofit sector a long time ago (in 1993) at the ripe old age of 19. I was so happy to have a job I loved, where I could make a difference, that I didn’t really care what they paid me. And they didn’t pay me. At that nonprofit, I worked for nothing the first year and a half and then for a $500/month stipend for the next several years before eventually moving up to a salary I was awed by ($45,000 dollars) for serving as the Executive Director.

In the years since, my salary has moved up, but the pay of direct service employees in nonprofits has remained far too low. While serving as the CEO for the YWCA of Delaware, we exceeded our financial goals and were able to award our employees a modest holiday bonus ($300 dollars each). That is really not a lot of money in a world where corporate executives fly around in corporate jets and earn 3 million plus salaries before stock options and bonuses. I must admit, I had not spent much time thinking about the salaries of direct service employees since – like most nonprofit executives – I spent most of my time scrapping and fighting for every dollar to keep the doors open.

All that changed for me the day we handed out those bonuses. After the staff meeting where the bonuses were distributed, one of our shelter staff came up to me in tears and told me about how she didn’t think she was going to be able to buy her kids Christmas presents and now she could. She was incredibly gracious and thankful but she probably had no idea how her words hit me. I felt like one of the world’s worst nonprofit leaders in that moment. I’d spent years fighting for our clients and the nonprofits I ran but it never dawned on me to fight for our employees too.

These are the people who stock the food shelves, who leave their families in the middle of the night to meet with a rape victim at the hospital, who expose themselves to danger by doing street outreach at some daring hours in some high crime areas. These are the people who have angry teenagers yell at them, spit at them and sometimes hit them, people who give up having kids or giving their kids vacations, health care, private schools or even a house to live in, all because they chose making the world a better place over money. Just because they are not motivated by money does not mean we should take advantage of them or take them for granted. Our Boards and our funders expect us to have low turnover, high morale and great program outcomes. Here is my question: how do you expect to achieve that when you are giving people an incredibly hard and incredibly heartbreaking and exhausting job and paying them barely more than poverty wages?

According to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits 2016 Salary & Benefits Report, direct care staff earned an average of $16.58 per hour. That’s $34,486 per year.

That’s barely enough for a single adult to live on – the living wage in Minnesota (defined as a wage that would provide for an average standard of living, with about a third spent on housing) for one person is $10.95 per hour. However, add just one child and the living wage leaps to $24.18. In a sector that’s devoted to improving people’s lives, it’s an embarrassment that the people doing that hands-on day-to-day work can’t even afford to raise a single child comfortably on their salary.

At the Bridge, we’re taking steps to change the status quo. In the last year and a half, we’ve added two paid holidays, improved our health insurance, and started offering a 3% match for retirement savings, as well as paying our employees more.

In May of 2017, we had our annual Board retreat to discuss our goals for the next few years and I am very proud to say that one of main goals we adopted for the next several years is to invest in our employees. We have conducted an analysis to market of what we pay our employees and agreed with our colleague nonprofits in the runaway and homeless youth sector specifically, to share information about salary and benefits with one another. We will use this information to set a financial goal for the next three years to move all of our employees to at least the 50th percentile for pay and if possible, to go higher than that. We are investing in our employees with better training and onboarding and employee driven committees to give employees an opportunity to tell us what they want to move the needle on morale. In addition, we are looking at adding things like employee wellness incentives, workplace incentives like the ability to bring your pet to work and keeping health insurance costs as low as possible. We are talking to other nonprofits and trying to spark a conversation across our sector and a movement to pay our direct service employees a real living wage.

It is pretty simple: if we invest in our employees, they invest in our organizations by becoming more engaged. When this happens, our clients receive stronger services and we achieve higher outcomes because our employees are not coming to work worried about buying food or paying their rent. Instead, they can focus on what they do best, changing the world.

To donate to The Bridge, visit