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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.





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

Director’s Corner: A Safe Space for LGBTQ Youth

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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

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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, click here.

Director’s Corner: Focus on Sexually Exploited Youth (SEY)

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When a young person finds themselves homeless, it takes less than 72 hours for someone to try to recruit them into the sex trade.

Human trafficking is defined as compelling someone, through force, fraud, or coercion, to enter into the sex trade or forced labor. Most people think of human trafficking as something that happens far away, but Minneapolis, for multiple reasons, is in fact an international hub for sex trafficking of children and youth.

According to Wilder Research Center’s 2015 homelessness study, more than half of homeless youth have experienced violence and exploitation while homeless. As youth spend more and more time on the streets, their chances of being recruited, coerced and forced into the sex trade increase. Once recruited, it is incredibly difficult and life threatening for youth to escape sex trafficking.

It is imperative that everyone understands the signs of trafficking, so we can all work together to prevent young people from being victimized.

One promising strategy to highlight SEY and intervene is corporate engagement in this issue. One of these leading corporations is the Hyatt, which regularly trains its employees on how to identify potential victims in its hotels. Bridge for Youth Board member, Randy Okan, is the Assistant Director of Finance at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis and explained a few of the signs they look for:

-A minor who appears malnourished or neglected

-An adult arriving with multiple different minors over the course of one or repeated stays

-Staying for a long time without very much luggage

-A young person who doesn’t make eye contact and appears frightened

-People hanging out in hallways appearing to guard a room

Any one of these signs alone may not mean anything, but if a number of them show up, it could be a clue. Some of these indications are unique to the hotel industry, but if you work in an organization where you interact with the public it’s a great idea to research signs of trafficking that might allow you to save a life.

“I can’t imagine how vulnerable it would be, how frightening, how you would feel so trapped,” Randy said. “I feel like we, as outsiders, tend to be naïve. We wonder why victims don’t just run away, or call for help – but we don’t understand the constant fear they’re feeling.”

The youth we serve are highly at risk for becoming victims of sex trafficking. It happens right here in America, right in Minneapolis, right under our noses. We make every effort to reach homeless youth within their first couple of days, so that we can protect them from the trafficking industry.

Help us keep young people safe by donating today.

Director’s Corner: Ending Youth Homelessness?

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In 2014, the federal government announced its intention to end youth homelessness by 2020 with the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. As an organization that has been devoted to helping homeless young people for more than 45 years, we are excited to see the state and the nation focusing more on this population.

One great result of this increased focus has been state efforts to forge a stronger connection between Child Protective Services and the many nonprofits dedicated to helping homeless youth. Strategies to increase child protection engagement with homeless youth would make it easier for younger kids to access the resources that are available to them.

Sadly, this increased focus is not coming with increased funding. The federal budget for runaway and homeless youth programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, Family & Youth Services Bureau, has only grown from $114 million to $119 million since 2009 – a decrease when inflation is taken into account.

Right here in Minnesota, the Homeless Youth Act was funded at $8.238 million for the 2016-17 biennium. That funding can be used for programs offering prevention, outreach, drop-in centers, emergency shelters, and permanent housing. When applications for this funding came in, the total requested was more than twice the amount available.

Anything that can be done to move the needle on the number of young people experiencing homelessness will be a positive change, but it is important to be realistic about the changes that can be made in such a short period. Youth homelessness is complex and multi-faceted. Any solutions to address it need to be multi-pronged and sustained – there are no quick fixes.

Youth homelessness has actually been increasing, not decreasing, in recent years. According to Wilder Research, homelessness among unaccompanied minors in Minnesota increased by 46 percent between 2012 and 2015. Some of that may have even been caused by HUD’s diversion of funds into other homelessness-related goals, such as ending veteran’s homelessness and family homelessness. Those are worthy causes, but focusing tightly on one population, to the detriment of others, for just a few years does not help anyone.

I’m happy to see the government taking note of the epidemic of youth homelessness, and taking steps to make a difference. I hope this short-term goal turns into a long-term commitment to helping the young people who are homeless in 2020 and beyond.

Donate today to help us make a difference for homeless youth right now and for years to come.

Director’s Corner: Why Governance Matters – Why Nonprofit Boards are Critical to Nonprofit Success

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Sometimes people ask – why do nonprofits need a Board and what do they do?  The easy answer is because it is legally required (Minnesota Statute 317A.203 requires that every 501(c)(3) have at least three board members.)

More importantly, nonprofits need them and a common characteristic you will find behind every strong nonprofit, is that they have a strong and engaged Board of Directors. 

At the Bridge, we have a Board of 18 members and who act together as a Governance Board meaning they focus their skills and talents not on getting in the weeds of day-to-day activities but instead on the overall health of our organization. They play a critical role monitoring our strategic direction and performance against our goals.

More than these lofty and somewhat vague terms is the bottom line – the Board is the final point of authority for a nonprofit and the check and balance on everything we do. The Board monitors finances, compliance, and performance against established goals and perhaps most importantly, they hire and supervise the Executive Director.

Our current board chair, Scott Thomas-Forss, joined the board in 2012. He felt drawn to The Bridge after serving as an intern here during college, and wanted to help us thrive.

As a board member, he’s able to do that by asking difficult questions and sharing his professional knowledge.

“Getting a diverse board is a great way to supplement the staff’s knowledge,” he said. “They bring expertise to the agency, and offer financial, legal, marketing, and HR advice.”

The Board guides our work, checks our work and protects our organization, as stewards, ambassadors and agents. They play a huge role in fundraising – both with their own dollars and by spreading the word about the organization. Executive Directors work hard but at the end of the day, the success or failure of a nonprofit rises and falls with its Board of Directors.

Donate to The Bridge for Youth today.