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From the Executive Director: Reflections on the Bridge for Youth

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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.

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Success Story: Whitney Blount Smith

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Whitney Blount Smith was only 15 when she was legally emancipated. That big moment was just one step on a long path to independence.

Whitney took this picture in front of Transitions in 2009, on the day she moved in to the dorms at Augsburg College.

Whitney’s mother was an addict, and she ran away multiple times in her early teens because it wasn’t safe to stay at home. During one of those periods, she found her way to The Bridge. Counseling helped her return home, but the stability didn’t last.

Even after being emancipated, Smith felt a responsibility to her younger brother, who was ten years old at the time. “I stayed with my mom for about a year after that, because I wanted to be there for him,” she said.

Finally, she realized she had to move out in order to move forward in her own life. That’s when she found her way to Transitions.

“The Bridge was a haven for my safety and growth when I was in high school,” she said.

Whitney spent parts of her junior and senior year living at The Bridge, where she received counseling for trauma and depression. In Transitions, she found a safe place where she could learn how to take care of herself and work toward her goals. She still remembers the day she received her acceptance letter to Augsburg College.

Today, Whitney is a valued employee of Penumbra Theatre.

“Everyone was freaking out with me,” she said. “It was really beautiful, it felt like I had been accepted into a family outside of my blood.”

She graduated with a double major in Creative Writing and Sociology, and a minor in Social Welfare. She started working part time at Penumbra Theatre after graduating, and has worked herself up in the past 2.5 years to Executive Assistant.

“It’s taken a lot to get here. I have a lot of lumps and the scars to show for it,” Whitney said. “But looking at where I am, I’m proud of what I’ve overcome.”


We’re proud of Whitney, too. To help young people like Whitney reach their full potential, donate today.

Updated mission, vision and organizational values

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Earlier this summer, The Bridge’s staff took some time to reflect. Working together, we developed a new mission and vision statement for The Bridge for Youth, and redefined organizational values. These new statements blend our past and our present while envisioning a bright new future.

Mission: To provide runaway and homeless youth safe shelter, assist in the prevention and resolution of family conflicts and reunify families whenever possible.

Vision: The Bridge for Youth will be a premier resource for diverse populations of youth and families needing help by offering:
– Support that empowers
– Safe shelter
– Sustainable tools for success and restoration of relationships
– When possible, reunification.

Organizational values:
Focus – Our commitment to youth and families drives everything we do.
Excellence – We are relentless in our pursuit of greatness.
Service – Our mission will be at the core of every decision we make.
Village – We cannot do this alone and are part of a broader web committed to protecting runaway and homeless youth.
Integrity – We meet our commitments and are ethical, responsible stewards of our resources.
Teamwork – All of us are part of a team and each of us individually will do everything we can to make sure the entire team succeeds.
Rooted – We will be nimble and adaptable while maintaining our core.
Inclusive – Diversity in thought, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, economic status, political orientations and ideas is our greatest resource.
Bold – We are not afraid to ask hard questions and face difficult realities.
Lighthouse – The clients we serve may be in crisis but our organization will not operate from a crisis point of view.

The Bridge for Youth Announces Hiring of Jennifer Harding as Director of Development

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Jennifer Harding

Jennifer Harding, Director of Development, The Bridge for Youth

The Bridge for Youth are pleased to announce that Jennifer Harding will be joining us as our new Director of Development! Jenny brings to The Bridge for Youth (Th Bridge) more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit development and fundraising. Her experience includes having served as the Development Director at the Children’s Law Center, MELD and WATCH. In addition, she has served as a Gifts Officer for Augustana Care, the Associate Director of Corporate Giving for the Guthrie Theater and Development Manager at the Page Education Foundation among other positions. Her wide-ranging experience includes consulting with and working for organizations committed to legal services, human services and education. Jenny also has volunteered in various capacities in the nonprofit sector. Jenny holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Dartmouth College. When she is not at work, Jenny enjoys spending time with friends and family including her rescue dog Jackson. She is particularly passionate about child welfare, youth issues and social justice and is excited to be joining The Bridge! Jenny will be a great asset to The Bridge for Youth and its fundraising efforts, we look forward to her starting her new position in mid-August.

Alisha Olson Manages the “Epicenter” of The Bridge

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Alisha Olson outside The Bridge's Youth Response Center office. Mary, a sixteen-year-old from Minneapolis, first reached out to The Bridge for Youth via text message through The Bridge’s (612)400-SAFE text for help line. Through her text messages she expressed to The Bridge’s trained staff that she was suicidal and strongly considering self-harm. After a series of text conversations Bridge for Youth staff were able to deescalate the youth’s crisis and convinced her to come into The Bridge.

Since 400SAFE’s launch in October, Alisha and her staff have received over 5,000 text exchanges similar to Mary’s text conversation. Some of these texts can go on for hours and often times youth text back another day to check in.

As the supervisor of the YRC, Alisha oversees all the activity that happens in the YRC including recruiting, training and supervising over 40 staff and volunteers. Because the first point of contact clients have with The Bridge is the YRC, it has been referred to as the “epicenter” of The Bridge.

Alisha started as an intern working in the Emergency Shelter Program, then after a temporary stint as a Case Manager Float, was hired as a full time Case Manager before being promoted to Supervisor of the YRC.

She knew she wanted to go into social work at the beginning of her freshman year at Augsburg College.

“Growing up, my grandparents were always caregivers to my mother and our family, but also for my uncle who has a developmental disability, explains Alisha. “From a young age my grandparents created a value in me of helping others. I thought the natural thing to do would be to go into social work.”

Alisha’s previous practicum during her undergrad was at the Fair School Downtown, where she was supervised by the Social Worker overseeing K-3 and 9-12th grade students. In this position, she lead empowerment groups, co-facilitated a college readiness group, and did individual check-ins with students who needed additional support with academics or with family conflict.

Looking to the future, Alisha knows the 400SAFE will be a viable tool for The Bridge. “Teens lifeline is texting and now that we have 400SAFE, we can meet youth where they are and counsel and deal with crisis in a new way that is confidential and at their fingertips…literally!”.

The Bridge Adds New Board Members

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The Bridge for youth welcomed three new members this year to it’s Board of Directors.  “These individuals bring a wealth of experience in marketing, business development and technology and will help guide The Bridge as it continues to be a key resource in The Twin Cities for kids in crisis, “says Board Chair Scott Thomas-Forss,” We are excited to have their passion for helping the community and young people on our team.”

Welcome to all!

Amy_Asche (002)

Amy Asche

Amy has been employed at UPS for 15 years with various roles in sales, sales training, customer solutions and sales operations.

“As a board member, its’ important to me that we continue to expand a greater level of awareness to the issues that face our youth in our communities and how the great work that happens at The Bridge positively impacts so many young lives and families, ” Asche says, ” I am looking forward to being a part of an amazing group of community leaders focused on making a difference.”




Zoe Stern

Zoe Stern

Zoe Stern is the Associate Director for WE day Minnesota.  Prior to working for Free the Children she worked at Jewish Family and Children’s Service in fundraising and program development.  As a home grown Minnesotan, Zoe is excited and proud to be a new member of The Bridge board and looks forward to helping Minnesota youth.





anna waters

Anna Waters

Anna Waters brings over 15 years of experience in helping organizations enhance the effectiveness of their executives and leaders.  She currently works collaboratively with Korn Ferry’s clients and internal partners to effectively manage executive assessment and development engagements.

“It is a privilege to participate in something so relevant. All kids deserve to feel safe and if they don’t, it is our responsibility to make sure we have the support systems in place for them. I can’t wait to contribute to this endeavor, “says Waters about her new appointment as a new board member.

A Day of Thanks and Celebration

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BFY Southwest facility

Youth in crisis can find shelter at The Bridge for Youth’s facility in Excelsior.

It’s a big day here at The Bridge for  Youth!  After two years of hard work, the Open Hands Foundation, Westwood Community Church, and The Bridge for Youth will cut the ribbon to open the first youth shelter serving the southwest metro area.

This is what partnership is all about! Addressing community issues like family instability and youth homelessness is hard work.  Bringing together different organizations with different perspectives and strengths results in better solutions.

Hats off to Westwood Community Church and Open Hands Foundation for identifying a need in the southwest metro.  Teens are on their own every night because of family conflict.  Sleeping at friends houses, outstaying their welcome, they have no place to go.  Some drive around at night with the cops, others sleep outside.  Most are at risk for exploitation.

And, with hard work, Westwood Community Church members and Open Hands Foundation crafted and funded a solution.  They donated space for the shelter, supplies, labor, and two years of operating expenses.  And, they bring a deep commitment to giving back to the community.

The Bridge for Youth is honored to be the service provider to partner with these two fine organizations.  Rob Ward, PhD, will manage our new Emergency Shelter. An experienced social worker and passionate advocate for youth, Rob has hired a terrific team to work with youth and families in need.

The Bridge’s motto is to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone, making no judgments.   We look forward to being a part of the southwest metro community.

For information about youth emergency shelter, teen counseling, parent or caregiver counseling, call The Bridge for Youth at (612)377-8800, text (612)400-SAFE, or drop-in at 3010 W. 78th Street, Excelsior, MN.