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One of the Many Faces of The Bridge: Nikki VandenBerg, Volunteer Doctor

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Clinic PhysicianNikki VandenBerg, third year resident and physician with Broadway Family Physicians, is a familiar face at The Bridge for Youth. Nikki, along with six other physicians from Broadway and community volunteers, staffs the medical clinic located on the first floor of the red brick building on West 22nd Street.

The clinic is small, just two small rooms. Yet, lots of work takes place when the doors open every Tuesday.

This Tuesday afternoon a tall teenage boy exits the exam room after spending about 30 minutes with Dr. VandenBerg. The boy arrived at the Emergency Shelter three days ago. His health assessment revealed that he has not seen a doctor in a long time. A second boy, about 15, completes his health intake form, awaiting his turn with the doctor.

VandenBerg specializes in family medicine and has an interest in working with underserved youth. The clinic at The Bridge gives her a chance to work with young people in a setting unlike that of a busy clinic. Without a long line of patients and general “hustle and bustle”, VandenBerg can take the time to listen to what’s on kids’ minds.

“I see a lot young males here,” she said. “Typically you won’t get this population walking in to find out information about STDs or sexual health or mental health.” At The Bridge, teenage boys seem to seize the opportunity to talk with a doctor. VandenBerg’s approachable manner seems to make that easy.

In a typical visit, VandenBerg takes vital signs, checks blood pressure and weight, and refills prescriptions. Education is always an important component of each visit. “While some kids have good information, there are still a significant amount of myths out there,” says VandenBerg. She adds, “Teenagers think they are invincible. It might not seem like a big deal to a kid that they’re using marijuana. It’s important to review with kids what can happen to you over time with prolonged use.”

VandenBerg also dispenses career advice to the many young people who express an interest in the medical field. She has a list of resources where kids can connect with mentors and gain work experience.

You can support the health clinic at The Bridge for Youth by donating gently used household items to our yard sale. Donations will be accepted beginning May 7. Drop off at 4249 Linden Hills Boulevard, Minneapolis. Sale date is May 18.

Taming of the Shrew: A Modern Tale

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Shrew1600This weekend I attended the Propeller Acting Company’s  production of Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.  I was unfamiliar with the play.  As with most Shakespeare productions, I made a deliberate attempt to sit up upright in my seat, better equipped to adjust my ear and brain to Elizabethan English.  Propeller’s all-male cast required a bit of a brain shift, too.

In the play, the drunken and broke Petruchio finds opportunity to line his pockets with wealth.   If he “tames’ and marries the ill-tempered  Kate, eldest daughter of a wealthy lord, he will receive an abundant dowry in return.

The play unfolds and action and emotion intensify.  Petruchio and Kate’s father, Baptista, negotiate the dowry or price of Kate.  Once agreed, Kate’s father hands Kate  over in marriage.  Petruchio’s “taming” or campaign of terror begins. He refuses to clothe her, servants deliberately withhold food to the starving young women, treachery reigns.  Petruchio torments Kate with psychological terror. The audience is pulled in to Kate’s transformation from a belligerent, cocky young woman to a withering mess. Petruchio’s domination intensifies and Kate looses all sense of humanity.  (By now, I believe no one in the audience is aware Kate is played by a male actor.  Gender is irrelevant as once is drawn in my the human-ness of Kate.)

Taming of the Shrew debuted in the 16th century.  Its story is relevant today.  Two days prior to this performance,  staff at The Bridge attended a 3-hour training session about sexually exploited youth.  The graphic session affirmed that Kate’s story indeed plays out every day in Minneapolis where young girls are bought, sold, and tortured into submission.

The training session, led by a former prostitute, informed staff how young girls move into “the life”, the code word for prostitution.  Vulnerable girls, many lacking a safe place to sleep or food, may trade sex for basic needs.  The longer this continues, the greater the opportunity for further exploitation.

Predators, seeing an opportunity for financial gain, offer “free” gifts like fancy clothes, cell phones, or meals.  Later, pressure may build when a girl is invited to “just dance’ at a house party.  Dancing may lead to an “invitation” to perform at  Amateur’s Night  at a strip club.  “Family members” offer cash and adulation.  In a carefully plotted plan, a predator will eventually take “ownership” of the girl, branding her with a carefully chosen tatoo.   The cycle begins.

In Taming of The Shew, Kate is completely broken.  With no chance of changing her life, she submits to the  most base requests.  Hope dies.  Here at The Bridge, young girls with similar situations land on our doorstep.  The difference is caring counselors are trained to spot warning signs of exploitation.  With careful counseling, intervention can take place.  while not every young person is saved, many do get connected with the right services to  ward off what can become a lifetime of horror and mistreatment.

Three Join Board of Directors

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The Bridge is pleased to welcome three new faces to the Board of Directors.

They are:

  • Ellen Krug, Executive Director for Call for Justice, a project designed to help low and moderate income people access legal resources in the Twin Cities metro area.
  • Miriam Seidenfeld, Executive Director, Temple Israel in Minneapolis
  • John Weidner, Vice President &Director of Corporate, Municipal and Escrow Services Issue Management & Consulting for Wells Fargo Bank

“We’re so pleased to have such a talented team joining us,” said Deb Bauman, Board Chair and Group President for Bremer Bank. “Miriam, John, and Ellen all bring unique connections in the local community and are equally passionate about the mission of The Bridge”.

Thank you to outgoing board members Susan Evans of Evans Larsons Communications, Kathy Schaaf of Schaaf Strategic Consulting, and Linda Foreman of the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota. Their dedication of time, financial support, and strategic insight is greatly appreciated.

Ellie Krug holds degrees from Coe College and Boston College Law School. She practiced law in Massachusetts and Iowa, and at one time, founded and oversaw a law firm specializing in trial work. She has more than 100 trials (half of which were jury trials) to her credit. In 2009, Ellie transitioned from male to female. She then became the only Iowa attorney, and one of the few nationally, to try separate lawsuits in separate genders. She is a frequent speaker on the life lessons learned as she traveled on her “gender journey.” Ellie presently works as the Executive Director of Call for Justice, LLC, a project designed to help low and moderate income people access legal resources in the Twin Cities metro area. Ellie lives in Minneapolis, where she also writes for two publications, including Lavender Magazine. Her memoir, Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change (Stepladder Press), was released in February, 2013.

Miriam Seidenfeld is the Executive Director at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, a Reform Jewish congregation of more than 2,000 families located in the Uptown area. Miriam has more than 25 years of experience working with children and families in not-for-profit settings in the areas of direct practice, programming, and organizational and change management. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Relations from the University of Minnesota and an MSW from Columbia University. Prior to her return to Minneapolis, Miriam worked for eleven years at The Fresh Air Fund in NYC, which annually sends thousands of children from under-served communities on free summer vacations to overnight camps and with host families in thirteen different states.

John Weidner is Vice President and Director of Corporate, Municipal and Escrow Services Issue Management & Consulting for Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. John began his career with Norwest Bank Minnesota, N.A. in 1991 as a portfolio manager and trader covering all Norwest fixed income money market funds. He received his undergraduate degree in Business Administration-Finance from the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota and his graduate degree from the College of Education, University of Minnesota. In his current role at Wells Fargo, John oversees consulting, litigation and bankruptcy-related efforts across the Trust portfolio of municipal, housing and corporate bonds. John also holds various leadership roles focused on strengthening Minnesota team member engagement around community support through volunteerism and giving. John currently serves as Secretary on the Wells Fargo Corporate Trust Charitable Giving Council, is active in the Wells Fargo Diversity Mentorship program and provides ongoing leadership for the annual Twin Cities United Way campaign. John resides with his wife, Mary, and two children, John Jr. and Ellie, in Edina, MN.

StoneArch Vaults The Bridge to New Heights

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Thank you online voters! We won!

Minneapolis-based creative agency, StoneArch, delivers multichannel, strategic marketing for healthcare clients. Last week, StoneArch gave The Bridge for Youth a shot in the arm with a round-the-clock, all-hands-on-deck re-branding effort.

Just one day after winning the “RedEye Rebrand” contest, Bridge for Youth employees assembled bright and early at Stone Arch’s uber-cool facility in the Mill City Museum building. Twenty-five talented StoneArch employees were ready for rebrand action.

“Right from the start, there was a connection between our organizations – seamlessness. StoneArch understood us from the get-go,” explains Dan Pfarr, The Bridge for Youth executive director. “From both a strategic and design standpoint, StoneArch has helped us convey more clearly who we are and what we do that is more reflective of our current and future service offerings.”

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Jan.17 and lasting a full 26 hours into the next morning, StoneArch worked its magic, revamping The Bridge for Youth’s marketing including:

  • Unique value proposition and key messages
  • A new website with updated content, design, custom photography and enhanced user design and functionality
  • A redesigned website reflecting freshly updated content, an enhanced user experience, SEO and coding
  • Collateral materials including posters and brochures with QR codes
  • PowerPoint template
  • Updated social media channels
  • Google ad copy
  • Five new videos for The Bridge for Youth YouTube channel
  • Brand standards and editorial guide

“Our team was just overwhelmed by the experience and in the end, came away with so much more than we gave,” says Jessica Boden, StoneArch president. “Both staffs were emotionally impacted and we gained a greater empathy and appreciation for their tireless work and the countless ways they are making a difference in young people’s lives.”

The Developing Teenage Brain & Mental Health

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With the recent Stonybrook shooting, we’ve had many questions about teens and mental health. Based on The Bridge’s 42 year history working with teens and reviewing recent research about the developing teenage brain, we wanted to share a perspective.

Approximately 20% of teenagers have a diagnosable mental health disorder, with many of these disorders first presenting themselves in adolescence.

Adolescence can be a challenging time because the emotional systems in the brain are highly sensitive. Moodiness and impulsivity reign. When you’re a teen and you might also bear the added burdens of depression, anxiety, or a behavioral or other mood disorder, getting through each day can be overwhelming.

Layer on rocky family dynamics, chemical addiction or violence in the home, and impulsive behavior, characteristic for many teens, may likely overrule rational behavior.

During adolescence the brain is building neural pathways and behavior patterns that will last into adulthood. Thus, connecting teens with counseling or mental health support is critical to their health. Futures depend upon it.

The positive news is that adolescence is precisely the time when the brain is highly receptive to new strategies, particularly in the area of motivation and goal setting. The Bridge for Youth counselors can back this up. They see this in practice every day in our Emergency Shelter.

Trained in strength-based counseling, staff at The Bridge help young people identify their inherent strengths. Trained to look for the positive, staff may point out the incredible resiliency a young person has in coping with intense life difficulties. Through a 3-4 day stay at The Bridge, young people set goals and explore new options. And, in spite of the many difficulties that youth may be dealing with, they do absorb positive messaging.

When youth leave our facility, our goal is to send them off with renewed self esteem, forward-looking plans, and a new way of coping with life’s challenges. Those in need of ongoing mental health counseling are directed to appropriate resources.

If you know a child or a parent that is stressed, angry, or struggling with family conflict, call The Bridge for Youth to set up a free individual or family counseling session: 612-377-8800.

Getting out the Vote

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What an extraordinary week for The Bridge. One week ago, we found ourselves contestants in an online contest sponsored by Stone Arch, a top-notch Minneapolis advertising agency. The prize: a “makeover” of our brand including a new website. The challenge: receive more online votes than the other two contestants.

Monday began with emailing efforts to friends, family, and donors. With confidence, we had a comfortable voting lead. We felt a slight pressure to keep our lead and cast a wider net including contacts in personal address books and facebook friends.

Crash! Wednesday morning the tide turned. The Bridge was behind in voting, with the spread growing by the hour! An all staff meeting was convened. Brainstorming ensued and shelter staff committed to emailing not just friends but distant relatives, acquaintances, even enemies (who has those?).

As the week wore on, Bridge staff were worried. Teens Alone had a solid lead. Email outreach took on a desperate tone. Posts on Facebook mounted. Shamelessly we begged volunteers, baseball teams, ex-spouses, long lost lovers, coffee shop owners, and barbers to vote.

The tech-savvy quickly figured out they could refresh browsers, clear cookies, and cast unlimited votes. In a breach of good parenting, one unnamed individual insisted his children vote 300 times before leaving for school. A staff member saddled with attending a 2-hour meeting concerning an RFP took solace by voting surreptitiously on her mobile phone for the entire meeting.

Friends in high places pulled strings. Cube mates at Target, Nash Finch, Cargill, and Bremer Bank came through. LGBTQ friends put out the word through Project 515, Arise, and Twin Cities PRIDE festival.

When voting ended, Tuesday at noon, 9,000 votes were cast for The Bridge for Youth. Votes came from India, China, France, England, Australia, and all 50 states – except Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana (need to work on that). This astounding show of support vaulted The Bridge to first place.

We are grateful to all those supporters – and we are indebted to Stone Arch and their team who created a wonderful new identity for The Bridge, including this powerful new website. The re-brand is a story in itself… more to follow on that.

Youth Radio Series

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MPR’s Youth Radio Series pairs high school and college-age reporters from diverse backgrounds with an experienced MPR producer to create compelling stories for MPR News.

Listen to the interview