From the Executive Director: Reflections on the Bridge for Youth
It was 1970 and a fearless woman refused to ignore the growing number of runaway and homeless youth in Minneapolis. Her name was Sister Rita Steinhagen and she never accepted no as an answer and from her determination, the Bridge was born.
In 1975, the Bridge secured its property at 2200 Emerson Avenue South in Minneapolis and for many years, this property was synonymous with the identity of the Bridge. For many years, the emergency shelter program (ESP) flourished out of the house and the Bridge began to grow adding family counseling, outreach, a 24/7 crisis phone line and other services. Originally founded to focus on runaway youth and family reunification, by 2002, the Bridge was seeing a growing number of homeless youth who could not be reunified with their families and so our Transitions program was started which provides transitional housing for homeless youth who cannot return to live with their families.
The fall of 2008 saw a dramatic economic downturn across the US and as the downturn began to affect nonprofits, it began to affect the Bridge. After having flourished for so many years, the Bridge began to experience operating deficits and in an attempt to secure more funding, sought project specific grants that taxed our capacity and resulted in diluting our core strengths. Between 2008 and 2016, the Bridge struggled to regain its footing and in February of 2016, I was honored to join the organization as its new Executive Director. After founding Avenues for Homeless Youth in 1993, I have spent more than 20 years in various leadership positions in the nonprofit sector focused on organizations serving youth and families and organizational turnarounds.
My vision for the Bridge is pretty simple: strengthen the core, stabilize the organization and re-focus on what we are best at. Since February of 2016, we have accomplished many great things including:
- Financial Health: We have dramatically improved our financial health including our cash position, debt to income ratio, finished our last fiscal year with a healthy surplus in addition to being on track to finish this year with a surplus and we have established an operating reserve.
- Programming: Many of the programs that made the Bridge great were scaled back or eliminated completely between 2008 and 2016. With new funding sources, we have been able to add most of these back including street outreach and being part of the Streetworks collaborative, family counseling and aftercare, crime victim’s services, job skills development and independent living skills training.
- Focus: We have wound down programs that were either mission drift or not aligned with our core principles and values.
- Board: Our Board of Directors has grown, become more engaged in fundraising and oversight and become a strong governance Board.
- Employees: We have improved our employee training and onboarding process in addition to making deeper investments in our employees in order to be able to recruit and retain a stronger workforce. Some of these investments include: better health insurance, a retirement plan with an employer match, increased paid holidays and employee engagement committees.
As we look to the future, we look forward to continuing to strengthen our programs, particularly ESP, formalize our programs by incorporating evidence based, best practice models for service delivery, particularly in job training and independent living skills services. And perhaps most exciting, 2200 Emerson, empty since 2014, will re-open in early 2018 as “Rita’s House.” Once open, Rita’s House will provide affordable rental housing to twelve, 18-21 year old homeless youth in a safe, supportive environment paired with supportive services.
The number of homeless youth continues to grow nationally and locally. This is sad and unfortunate but we are very proud of the fact that the Bridge is in a stronger and more stable position to continue serving these youth today, tomorrow and until there are no longer homeless youth.