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We Help Youth in Crisis.

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.

Text Hotline for Teens Launches at The Bridge for Youth

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SEPTEMBER 9, 2015–MINNEAPOLIS –The Bridge for Youth launched its new 24-hour texting hotline for teens and families today.  The crisis hotline, (612) 400-SAFE, is staffed round the clock by professional staff and volunteers, trained to de-escalate crisis, provide emotional support, and connect youth and families with critical resources.

Volunteers at The Bridge for Youth provide counseling via text to youth in crisis with “With 400-SAFE, kids can connect with us anywhere, at any time,” said Ali Kier, Youth Response Center Supervisor at The Bridge for Youth.  “They can text us at school or from any unsafe situation at home or on the street.”

The new service gives teens a safe, anonymous way to communicate difficult information  — and get help.  Staff and hotline volunteers are trained to address a wide variety of sensitive topics including bullying, family conflict, homelessness, violence, sexual exploitation, anxiety, depression, gender identity issues, self-harm, and suicide.

With cell phone use at an all-time high for teens, introducing a texting crisis counseling program is well-timed. Pew Research reports in their 2015 study on youth and social media that a typical teen sends 30 texts per day. And, in today’s wired world, only 12% of 10-17 year olds say they don’t have access to a cell phone. Teen cell phone ownership is highest among African American teens, with 85% reporting they own a smart phone.

The biggest challenge facing The Bridge for Youth now is to get the word out to teens about the service. “Our hope is that friends will tell friends and (612) 400-SAFE will get entered as a contact into a lot of cell phones.  It’s a tool that can save someone’s life. We want every kid to know this number,” said Kier.

The Bridge for Youth is seeking volunteers to help staff the crisis line at its Youth Response Center in Minneapolis.  Click here for more information.

Developed by software development firm DevJam, 400-SAFE was funded with grant support from Target, Microsoft, Shavlik Family Foundation, Youthprise, Pohlad Family Foundation, the State of Minnesota, and RBA.





Leadership Change

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – (July 22, 2015) The Bridge for Youth announces that Daniel F. Pfarr, Executive Director, has accepted a new position as Executive Director at social services agency 180 Degrees.

Pfarr, a highly regarded leader in the social services field, has been at the helm of The Bridge for Youth, one of the nation’s first homeless youth shelters, for the past five years. He guided the agency during the tough times of the economic recession and championed growth and change.

“The Bridge for Youth board and I congratulate Dan on his new position with 180 Degrees, an organization providing vital residential program and mental health services for youth, families, and adults across Minnesota,” said Deb Bauman, Board Chair for The Bridge for Youth.

“Under Dan’s leadership, The Bridge for Youth has emerged as a much stronger agency and is now well-positioned for growth,” said Bauman.

Pfarr’s contributions to The Bridge are significant for a $3 million agency. In addition to guiding the agency through the recession and restoring funding cuts, he pioneered a new concept for transitional housing for teens resulting in The Bridge being one of only seventeen agencies nationwide to receive a 5-year federal grant totaling almost $1 million.

After receiving innovation funding from Greater Twin Cities United Way and Delta Airlines, Pfarr secured financing and led the development of a suite of technology initiatives designed to improve access to services for homeless youth. Today, The Bridge has a robust new client database, is presently launching a 24-hour text-for-help crisis service, and manages a web app that provides real time data about availability of shelter beds and services. The text-for-help service and the web app are first-of-a-kind services for the homeless youth sector.

Recognizing the acute need for more shelter beds for homeless youth, Pfarr laid the groundwork for an ambitious expansion beginning this fall. With support from the City of Minneapolis, 150 more youth annually will have access to safe shelter when The Bridge increases bed capacity from 18 to 24 units in its Minneapolis facility in October.

Through an innovative partnership with Chanhassen-based Open Hands Foundation and Westwood Community Church in Excelsior, The Bridge plans to open a new 6-bed emergency shelter serving youth in crisis in the southwestern suburbs in late 2015. 2

“It has been a wonderful experience to lead The Bridge for Youth,” said Pfarr. “I’m proud of our many accomplishments and confident that the board, leadership team, and staff are committed to our growth plans. I am honored to join 180 Degrees and guide the future direction of agency that is a safety net for so many people across the state.”

Pfarr will remain at The Bridge through September 5. Plans for the leadership transition are underway.

About the Bridge for Youth

Founded in in 1970 as one of the nation’s first youth-only shelters, The Bridge for Youth serves homeless, runaway, and abandoned youth ages 10-17 at its facility in Minneapolis. 24-hour services include emergency and long-term shelter, crisis counseling, and support services. The Bridge provides assistance to approximately 1,000 youth and their families each year.


Janet Hallaway, Director of Development and Communications

The Bridge for Youth

Office: (612) 230-6685

Cell: (612)237-8980


KSTP TV – Channel 5 airs Bridge For Youth news segment

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Bridge for Youth board member Ellie Krug shares her thoughts on the need for support for transgender kids and their parents. BFY’s LGBTQ Out Reach coordinator, Alicia Mehle, talks about our newly launched PACE group (Parent and Caregiver Empowerment) for parents who want to understand the issues their transgender youth face. Check out the link in the story to the PACE flyer for more details.  Click here to see the interview.


Dan’s Blog: On Social Justice and Equality

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As we look forward to celebrating independence day, I think it is important to think about a couple of things that have happened in the last week that both tugged at my heart and have given me hope for the future.  We experienced a tragic shooting in Charleston last week that reminds us all about those who hate others because of race.  We should have no tolerance of hate crimes that target people because of race, sexual orientation, age or gender to name a few.  Those who hate others must stay in the minority and those of us who believe in social justice and equality must speak up and act on our beliefs that all people are equal.  Hate crimes because of race are deeply troubling and we should not let the hopes and dreams of those who have died vanish from our memories.

In the last two days we have seen historic rulings by the supreme court that have upheld the national health insurance law and have legalized gay marriage across this country.  There will be those who speak out and try to pacify us about Charleston and try to convince us that both health care and Gay marriage are unconstitutional.  We cannot let our guard down.  We must keep fighting for what is fair, equal and just for all people.




Shirley Carter: In Her Own Words

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Bridge-1432Under the care and training of their tireless leader, Shirley Carter, interns and volunteers provided over 19,000 hours of service at The Bridge over the past year. During her 14-year tenure, Shirley has created a successful social work internship program in the community unlike any other.

What attracted you to The Bridge?

Honestly, I needed a job!  I interviewed, thinking it good practice.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Briefly describe your work.

I recruit, train, and supervise over 100 new volunteers and interns each year.  Most are undergraduate and graduate-level students pursuing degrees in social work and counseling.

Three times a year, I run a rigorous 6-week training program for these teams.  In addition to educating them about all of our programs and services, we also cover topics like cultural competency, spirituality in the workplace, restorative parenting, and working with sexually exploited youth.

I teach them new skills, develop their strengths, and encourage them to be the best they can be.  I give honest feedback that will serve them well in their future careers.  I help them learn that self-care is very important in this field.  We all deal with a lot of trauma.

What value does this program provide to The Bridge?

Volunteer and interns gain hands-on counseling experience with individuals, families, and groups.  The Bridge is different than other internships because interns engage in the work we do every day at a deep level.

My hope is that they walk out a confident social worker, therapist, or counselor.  And, I hope they understand boundaries and values through a different lens.  Most importantly, they learn how to deal with people in crisis.

When an intern leaves The Bridge, what have they learned?

They walk out of The Bridge as confident social workers, therapists or counselors.  They understand boundaries and values through a different lens that when they came to the program.  They learn how to deal with people in crisis.

Shirley, THANK YOU for all that you have done and continue to do to contribute to the Bridge’s success!

Reflecting on Ferguson this Thanksgiving

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Dan Pfarr, Executive Director The Bridge for Youth


It’s a challenging week to celebrate Thanksgiving with all of the social unrest and protests happening across the country related to the events in Ferguson, MO. These events have highlighted the fact that so many Americans are left out of the decision-making process and are experiencing bias and racism on a daily basis.   For me, it brings up a series of questions about our work at The Bridge and what we are trying to accomplish.  Over 50% of the youth that we serve are African American.  The youth and their families are living in one of the most inequitable communities in the country.  We don’t have to look any further than our own backyard to see one of the biggest gaps in education and economic opportunity for communities of color.


In essence, Ferguson is a picture of our own reality and reflects the political and social conditions that exist right here.  As an agency, I am asking for us to be engaged in the issues that affect us the most.  The issue of racial inequity, imprisonment of our young black men, social, educational, and economic bias all has a tremendous impact on the youth and families we serve.  Understanding these factors and how racism affects our community is necessary if we are going to be part of the solution.


With all of this sad reality in our midst, I am still grateful for a number of things and hopeful for change as we move forward.  As you can see by the protests, we are relatively free to express our views, write editorials, speak to each other about these issues, and vote.  This is a right we all have and should exercise.  I am also thankful that we have each other to stand against injustice and work toward a more just future.  We are stronger as a group than we are alone!


As I said before, we have an obligation as part of our work to pay attention to the issues that affect our youth and to speak out.  Over the next few days whether you are spending time with your family, working on the floor, or traveling to see friends, keep your freedoms in mind and your solidarity to what is happening in Ferguson and here at home.


Thank you for your commitment to The Bridge and the youth and families we serve–

Justice, Equity, and LGBT Youth at work in Minneapolis

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Dan PhotoOn my first day at The Bridge, I sat down to talk with the kids who were staying at the shelter that day. They shared with me their stories of why they were at The Bridge for Youth.

Unfortunately, the too-common theme was one that we at The Bridge hear hundreds of times a year. The variations of this story are different but the result is always the same:

“I’m being bullied at school.”

“My mother kicked me out of the house.”

“I don’t belong.”

“Nobody supports or loves me.”

“I’m angry and depressed.”

“I have turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with my true feelings”

And, as the story line often plays out for these teens,  “It’s because I am gay.”

I thought I had understood this problem, but what I realized after talking to these kids was just how different my version of the story was from what they had experienced in their own lives.

We live in a period of great social change.  Gay marriage has become the norm in many states. Sports figures, politicians are coming out publicly and speaking about their identities and encouraging the young to resist bullying.

For those of you who are in college, this is normal. But I can assure you, as I approach my 50th birthday this year, that this is not at all the case.

Back in 1983, when I graduated from high school in rural Minnesota, there was no one in my class who was openly gay.

  • In 1981, Tennis player Billie Jean King became the first prominent professional athlete to come out as a lesbian–due to this, a year later, she had lost all of her celebrity endorsements.
  • In1988 – Sweden is the first country to pass laws protecting homosexual regarding social services, taxes, and inheritances
  • In1989 — Denmark is the first country in the world to enact registered partnership laws (like a civil union) for same-sex couples
  • 1992–Homosexuality no longer an illness according to The World Health Organization

While we have seen enormous progress, of course, bias and discrimination still exist.

Recently, the Star Tribune reported that, “Gay Marriage hit a roadblock in four states where a federal appeals court upheld laws against same-sex marriage creating a legal split that increase the chances the Supreme Court will take up the issue.”

If you are a youth and you want to come out, all of these societal conflicts about gay marriage, gay rights, bias and discrimination make you feel as if something is wrong with whom you are.

Why do certain politicians keep fighting about policies that ensure rights? Why do we keep sending a negative message to youth about this issue? Do we not understand how the very questioning of these issues can send a negative message to youth who just want to be recognized for who they are?

Shortly after becoming the Executive Director at the Bridge, I was interviewed by Greg Lewis who was traveling the country seeking information and advice from organizations that had successfully worked with gay youth.

Since 1970, The Bridge for Youth has been one of those organizations that has, sometimes quietly, served, respected, and honored LGBT teens across Minnesota and their families and the broader community. There is a sign at the entrance of Bridge that says, “A safe place for everyone” and has a multi-colored rainbow to let kids know that we are open regardless of who you are or want to be.

Greg was doing this work on behalf of a group called The True Colors Fund which was co-founded by Cyndi Lauper to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness, and to inspire everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all.

Homelessness knows nothing of age or race or gender. It can happen to anybody. But when statistics show that 3-5% of the overall youth population is LGBTQ, compared to as many as 40% of the nation’s homeless youth that are gay or transgender, then we have to acknowledge that we’re facing a crisis.

The disparity suggests that gay and transgender youth stand a much higher chance of becoming homeless because of abuse, neglect and familial rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity that drive them to the streets.

From that interview, and dozens of other interviews, Cyndi Lauper’s 40 to None Project was born. The 40 to None project’s goal is to reduce youth homelessness among LGBTQ from the nearly 40 percent to 0.

In 1974, one of our local heroes, Vice President Walter Mondale, helped to champion the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. This act supported funding for shelters like the bridge to provide housing and services for homeless youth. While this act has been a great resource for funding for many of our organizations, it never required inclusionary language that would require services to all youth regardless of gender orientation or sexual preference. Amazing, isn’t it? This bill does not currently have protections for certain youth to protect against discrimination.

The reauthorization for this bill calls for nondiscrimination clause to ensure that all youth are treated fairly, including LGBT youth. This ensures that the programs and services provided by the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act will benefit homeless LGBT youth; and that they benefit fairly and equally from these services. The reauthorization also provides best practice guides for culturally and competent care for all youth seeking shelter, including LGBT youth and victims of human trafficking, violence, and exploitation.

My friends, on the 40th anniversary of this law, this language must be changed and the law must include these protections. This would require that all programs that receive federal funding to prevent youth homeless must have best practice plans to provide services to LGBTQ youth.

Recently, a partnership with 40 to None and Covenant House, the largest homeless youth organization, with programs in 27 cities across the nation, was announced that will make sure that they are following best practices when it comes to serving LGBTQ youth. This will ensure that thousands of youth in their shelters will not be turned away because they are gay.

Two years ago the Bridge received generous funding from the United Way to support our programing for LGBTQ youth across the Twin Cities.  Because of that funding from the “Arise Project”, we created a brand new position at The Bridge called the LGBTQ Outreach Manager.  Kristan Clow who has worked at the Bridge for 5 years, was the natural candidate for this position. We were proud to support this new initiative of our programming.  However, not everyone was as enthused about this new project as we were.

One day, a long-time donor to The Bridge for Youth stepped into my office with a message. He sat across from me and told me that “The Bridge for Youth was becoming too gay.” He had been seeing too many messages in the past year that supported and acknowledged gay youth and their struggles.” The donor concluded our meeting by telling me that this would probably be the last year that he and his wife would be supporting The Bridge for Youth.

As Executive Director, you might think that I was sad to see this man’s funding leave. But in fact, I felt proud. I felt glad that the message that we were sending about youth was reaching an audience that obviously needed to hear the stories that we were telling.

Friends, I will trade dollars every day, for justice and equity. This friends, champions, and allies, is the right decision for youth!

Back to School and Homeless Youth

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getty_rf_photo_of_teen_boy_locker_girlsNew lockers.  New teachers.  Peer pressure. It’s enough to send any adolescent into a frenzy.

For homeless kids, the start of the school year is even tougher.  There’s lot of anxiety about not having new clothes or supplies to start the school year.  And, missing a school day here of there makes it tough to stay on top of school assignments.

Based in Minneapolis, The Bridge for Youth, a 24-hour emergency shelter for 10-17 year olds, is busy.  On a September morning, children in the emergency shelter include a 16-year old who missed the first day of school.  She was abandoned by her parent a few days before school started.  A 14-year old boy, who’s family is homeless, is at The Bridge until his family finds a permanent place to live.  Another teen in residence, awaits a move to another state to live with her Grandmother. Home is no longer safe for her here.

Getting these children off to school is a priority for staff at The Bridge.  “Kids see school as their future,” said shelter worker Debbie Schultz.  “Despite challenges at home, they really want to be in school.”  Shultz spent the morning calling schools trying to track down homework assignments for kids staying in the Emergency Shelter.

The Bridge for Youth meets the basic needs of children in crisis.  Staff greet every child with a warm smile, offering  a snack or something to drink.  Children share a bedroom with another youth and receive home cooked meals.  Transportation is provided to school.

The more challenging work is assessing needs, building repoire, and working with family to repair and mend strained relationships through counseling.  Nearly 80% of youth are reunified with family, and of those, 20% continue to access services after their first visit.

Case managers like Debbie Shultz work extra hard with youth who can’t return home.  Child Protective Services are contacted and longer term options must be explored.  For others, next of kin may might provide an option.

In its 43 year history, The Bridge for Youth has served over 40,000 children. Many return as adults, thanking the organization and its staff for helping ease a difficult adolescence.

Greater Twin Cities United Way contributions provide a significant portion of the agency’s $3 million budget.



Fathers, Family, and The Bridge for Youth

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Dan Pfarr is Executive Director at The Bridge for Youth

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about family. As some of you might know, my father passed away two weeks ago today and often when you lose a family member, you realize the importance of family and how all of those relationships have shaped you into the person that you are.

My father was an extraordinary man. He helped to raise 8 children on a traditional family farm, he was involved in local township politics, a member of the school board, and even ran for state representative as an independent candidate back in the 1980s. (this was before being independent was cool)

My dad raised a family back in the days when Farm families had no health insurance. Those were days when food was plenty, but cash was scarce; and when the church, the 4H club and the local softball team were part of an incredible support system that supported my family.

My dad also battled with Parkinson’s for 16 years and with the support of my sisters’ loving care, and the help of the extended community, he was able to remain on the family farm for as long as possible.

Our family benefited from the support of the community!

Families are complicated. Even in the best of times, when everything might seem to be going your way, parenting can be difficult/rough.

When you add in financial troubles, mental health issues, divorce, addiction, and physical health issues into the picture…then things can really begin to unravel in a hurry.

So much of what we do at the bridge is about providing support for parents and their kids.

We know, that it’s not programs that change people’s lives.  It’s the people and the relationships that change lives.  It’s the people and our relationships with one another that keeps all of us going each and every day.

Over the last 44 years, The Bridge for Youth has served close to 40,000 youth and families in crisis. This, my friends, is extraordinary!

Each time a youth comes through the front door at The Bridge, there’s an opportunity for something very great to happen.

There’s an opportunity for someone to have a good night’s sleep without any fear.

There’s the opportunity, that someone who is running from a life that has become absolutely unbearable because of abuse and hatred, will be treated with kindness and respect.

There’s the opportunity, that someone will—maybe for the very first time–feel that they can trust another person enough to share their story, their secret, and by doing so, begin to find a way to bridge the pain and find a safe place to heal.

What I’ve learned, especially these last two weeks, is that no family can thrive without having a support system that surrounds them both in good times and bad.

For many families, The Bridge for Youth is part of that support system and helps families find ways to work things out…and find a positive way to move forward.