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Work Ambassador Guides the Way to Employment

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A first job is a rite of passage. Many of us have fond memories of afternoons, evenings, and weekends spent working the drive-through, scanning groceries, or making coffees. For many teens, a first job is the first time they’ve had money to call their own and responsibilities to people outside of school and their family.

Many people end up leaving their first job behind after a short time, but the skills they learn there carry them through the rest of their careers. Those hours scanning tickets at the movie theater teach us the skills we need to be a professional: showing up on time, getting along with coworkers, handling unhappy customers.

Our youth gain all these skills from their first jobs, and more. A first job can be a step on the ladder out of poverty and homelessness, and toward a better future. However, getting a foot in the door isn’t always easy, especially when you don’t have mentors along the way.

That’s why we’ve created the Work Ambassador program.

Our staff help young people through every step of the process. Youth can get resume help and interview coaching, advice on what to wear to a job interview and where to find postings. They have the opportunity to start by working right here on site, assisting with basic repairs and cleanup at The Bridge. Then, we help connect them to job opportunities with our community partners such as UPS, The Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, Award Staffing, and Kowalski’s, and offer coaching along the way.

Young people don’t need to be staying at The Bridge to receive employment support. We offer Work Ready, a weekly support group where we answer questions and provide the same kind of coaching to youth new to the workforce.

A job means opportunity and freedom, and the Work Ambassador program helps young people get and succeed in their first job, so they can start climbing the ladder. We’re thrilled to give our youth a leg up – who knows where they’ll find themselves next?

To support Work Ambassador and the rest of our programs, click here. 

Self-Care for Sustainable Nonprofits

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

After spending more than two decades working in nonprofits, I know how dangerous burnout can be. Nonprofit employees are passionate about the causes they work for, and are often asked to take on extra workload or work longer hours for the cause. After all, issues like homelessness and hunger don’t go away just because the clock strikes 5 p.m.

Our employees care for the youth that we serve. They’re motivated to work hard so that young people don’t need to be homeless. They want to provide support, connect youth with resources, and help them start down the path to a happy adulthood.

But sometimes, the best way to do that is to go home.

In 2015, the average turnover rate for nonprofits was 19 percent. That means that almost a fifth of the staff leaves every year. Direct service positions – the people who work directly with clients – see the most turnover. People leave jobs for many reasons, but one of the most common in the world of nonprofits, especially for direct service staff, is feeling overworked.

For a nonprofit to be sustainable, they can’t operate in crisis mode. While homelessness is absolutely a crisis for every individual experiencing it, it’s day-to-day work for us. That means that if a youth walks in as we switch from day to night staff, we don’t ask the day staff to stick around an extra hour to do another intake. We expect them to walk out the door, enjoy their evening, and come back in the morning refreshed and ready to do their job.

We encourage self-care in other ways as well. We offer all of our employees 4-6 weeks of PTO annually, depending on their tenure. We allow some staff to bring their cats and dogs to the office, which has been proven to reduce stress. We recently held a mandatory all-staff training on self-care. We believe that our staff are people first.

A culture of overworking employees is all too common in the nonprofit sector, because the work we do is so consequential. I’ve learned that it’s too easy for overwork to lead to burnout, and the only way we can continue doing good work is by giving our staff the chance to take a break.

Meet Kachina: An Artist Getting Her Start at Rita’s House

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Easter 2017 was Kachina’s first day being homeless. She first went to Hope Street, a partner shelter in South Minneapolis, where she could stay for 90 days. After leaving there, she found a place to sleep through the Facebook group Queer Exchange for a couple of weeks, then it was back to Hope Street for another few months. She stayed with a family in Eden Prairie for about four months through the Host Home project, and then moved in to Brooklyn Avenues for another couple of months. In the meantime, Kachina started a tarot business called Esoteric Therapy and began working as a Contemporary Artist at Juxtaposition Arts.

All in all, it was a busy year.

“I never felt super unsafe and I never was out on the street,” Kachina said. “I was just looking for stability.”

At Rita’s House, she’s found it.

Kachina moved in to Rita’s House at the end of March, and can stay until she turns 22. She will be starting school in the winter for Visual Arts and Entrepreneurship. In the meantime, she’s honing her skills at Juxtaposition Arts, a North Minneapolis organization that employs young artists.

“Creative freedom and independence are really important to me,” she said. “I just want to help people.” She considers herself a Creative Humanitarian.

Living at Rita’s House is giving Kachina the foundation that she needs to pursue her goals. She enjoys living in the quiet leafy neighborhood, and appreciates the support of staff in helping her find resources and plan for college and her future.

By 22, Kachina hopes to move to Atlanta – a city she says is full of black creative entrepreneurs who inspire her to pursue her dreams.

You can learn more about Kachina at her website,

Help support Kachina and youth like her by donating to The Bridge.

Helping homeless youth is the right thing to do. It’s also a smart investment.

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

I’ve dedicated most of my career to serving young people. I do it because I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to grow into a happy and productive adult. I believe in the inherent worth of the youth who are our clients, and in the importance of giving them a leg up. If you’re one of our supporters, I bet you believe in those things too.

You probably also have a limit on how much you donate each year, and want to be confident that your money will make a difference.

Serving homeless youth is not cheap.  Last year, the Bridge provided housing, crisis counseling, support groups and other services to over 15,000 youth and families translating to a cost of less than $230 dollars per client with strong outcomes including 73% of the youth served in our shelter exiting to safe and stable housing.

This is not just an investment in our youth today but an investment that saves countless dollars down the road in corrections, long-term welfare dependency and healthcare costs.  That’s why investing in homeless youth is one of the best uses of your charitable dollar.

In 2015, Foldes Consulting completed a report for YouthLink on the economic burdens of homeless youth.

Serving a homeless young person for a year by providing both basic needs (housing, medical care, chemical dependency treatment) and transformative services (education, counseling, job training) costs an estimated $12,824.

That’s a lot of money, but nothing compared to the lifetime costs if a young person continues to need public support.

The Foldes study found that over the course of their lives (ages 20-64), the average homeless or at-risk youth will directly cost taxpayers $248,182 in costs like the criminal justice system, welfare transfer payments, and other government assistance. They’ll cost society an additional $613,182 in costs of crimes to victims and their own lost earnings. That means an average homeless youth costs society an estimated $861,364 over the course of their life.

The study estimated a net present value (in 2011 dollars) of potential savings on each youth of $211,059.

Of course, not every young person will be able to fully overcome the many obstacles in their way. Luckily, they don’t need to for our work to be worthwhile, even in the strictly financial sense. If only 6.1% of the youth we serve become self-sufficient, the savings in decades to come will cover the cost of caring for all of the youth today.

By donating to The Bridge, you help young people get on the path to financial independence, so that homelessness can be just a small piece of their life-long story. It’s one of the best ways to improve lives and lower taxpayer burdens in the long run. Would you consider supporting us today?

Donate here.

What Makes a Great Board Chair

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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

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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

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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               

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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

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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?

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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.