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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 five 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!

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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.”



geoffery lee

Geoffrey Lee

Geoffery Lee is CEO and founder of PulaTech, Inc., a diverse end-to-end IT solutions provider, focused on providing solutions that can optimize the many points of interaction that clients have with their customers, employees, partners, and prospects.  Geoffery’s involvement with The Bridge will help further the technology initiatives and goals of the crisis text line 400SAFE and two resources targeted to youth.





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.





Stephanie Uphoff

Stephanie Uphoff

Stephanie Uphoff is the Executive Assistant to the President and EVP at Johnson Brothers Liquor Company.  She is a tireless volunteer in the community and had a personal experience with The Bridge.

“When I was a youth The Bridge helped me and my parents find a solution that would keep me safe and keep them sane, until we could learn to work together, “Uphoff says, ” Since then, I have worked hard and have become a respected daughter, mother, friend and employee; as well we as an active member in the community.  My personal mission statement is to strive to make a difference in the lives of others, wherever possible.”



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.

Meet Bridge for Youth’s LGBTQ Outreach Specialist, Fran Drazan,

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You meet Fran once and you know right away she has a heart of gold and is passionate about her job!
She has such an infectious personality and we are thrilled to have her here helping all our youth, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.  We had a chance to sit down (something she doesn’t do often) and talk to Fran about her background, her mission here at the Bridge and how important the Twin Cities LGBTQ community is to her.
1.  You grew up in a smaller Minnesota town…tell us more about that experience? 
 There were very few resources for LGBTQ kids and families in my hometown.  It wasn’t allowed for our middle school or high school to have a GSA, so there wasn’t much for LGBTQ youth.
Click here to find out how Fran connected the LGBTQ community in her community.
If you would like Fran to come speak to your school, organization or group please feel free to contact her at

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.


Shirley Carter: In Her Own Words

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Shirley Carter

Shirley Carter

Under 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!

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.