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We Help Youth in Crisis.

Success Story: Mary Taris

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By Mary Taris, former Bridge client.

There was a blizzard the night I ran away from home. The snow was mounting so high that even though I didn’t know where I was going, I wondered if I’d ever even get there. As the cold numbed my senses and the snow blurred my vision, I felt the situation somehow represented the story of my life.

I am from a mother who did not know how to show love, and a father who disappeared from my life before I was born. Although my mother managed a welfare check well enough to feed and clothe me and my brothers, she did not have the capacity to give us social and emotional care. There was no, “I love you,” there were no hugs or kisses, no words of assurance or affirmation, and there were no rules. It was unsettling for me and I always felt out of sorts.

Mary and her son, Jermaine, in 1982.

Being extremely shy as a child, I found my comfort in reading books. I could escape into a book and pretend to be somebody else – someplace else. Once I reached high school I discovered romance novels, which was in hindsight, not the best influence for me in my decision making. Going from knowing nothing about relationships, to reading unrealistic ideas about romance put me at a disadvantage when guys began to take an interest in me.

When I realized that I was pregnant I didn’t tell a soul, not even my best friend who joined me as I ran away that cold and snowy night. We were both miserable and at our wits end with our family problems. My friend said she had a mentor who might be able to help us. So, we took off to the bus stop for that fateful ride from North to South Minneapolis. The following morning the mentor brought us to The Bridge.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was very grateful for the way the staff took charge of the situation. They made sure that I had a medical check-up, which confirmed what I already knew. They also set up counseling for me and my mother. I felt a sense of security being in an environment with rules, expectations, and support.

Mary and Jermaine in 2014. Today, she owns a publishing company and he is an artist.

Being at The Bridge back in 1979, at the age of fifteen, opened my young mind to the reality that there were resources available to me in the community. I learned that my world did not have to be so small and limiting, and that I can reach outside of my situation and get help. I have carried those lessons with me through all the ups and downs in my life. My experience at The Bridge planted a seed, an idea in me that there was more for me out in the world than I ever knew.

So I, a runaway teen mom, finished high school on time, worked to support my son, and continued to strive for the life I could now imagine. Although my goal to go to college was delayed, I eventually found the resources to get into the Augsburg Weekend College Program, and I became the first person in my family to earn a college degree.

I became a teacher, a long-time dream of mine, but I did not stop there. I worked even harder to earn a Masters’ Degree in Education, and I did not stop there. Today I am a teacher – turned children’s book publisher, with a mission to publish children’s books by and about African Americans that will inspire others to reach for their dreams.

Mary’s is just one of the thousands of lives that have been changed by their time a The Bridge. Help us continue to support young people in crisis – donate today.

NELA Grows Future Nonprofit Leaders

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By Michelle Basham Executive Director

Ten years ago, I was concerned about the lack of professional development resources available for early-career nonprofit professionals in the Twin Cities. So, I teamed up with Executive Directors at other local nonprofits to create NELA – the Nonprofit Emerging Leaders Academy.

Each year, the ten participating agencies nominate two or three promising employees to participate in the six-month program. Participants learn essential leadership skills from current nonprofit leaders, and add current and future leaders to their professional network.

This year’s Academy includes participants from Community Emergency Assistance Programs, CommonBond Communities, FamilyWise, Neighborhood House, Opportunity Partners, Portico Healthnet, PRISM, Tasks Unlimited, and The Bridge for Youth.

The participants spend one day a month learning about different leadership different topics including human resources, financial management, fundraising, advocacy, and working with a board. The program finishes with a capstone project that gives participants the chance to showcase their new knowledge.

Two Bridge employees are part of the 2018 NELA class this year: Youth & Family Advocate Warlance Miner and Lead Youth Response Center Specialist Joe Valentine.

The 2018 NELA cohort.

“NELA is a positive step towards helping a broad range of people achieve their career goals,” said Valentine, who appreciates the diversity of the program.

Miner has appreciated the lessons on maintaining neutrality in challenging situations und understanding the hiring process for executive-level positions, while Valentine enjoyed learning how to work with a board and how different nonprofits approach their mission.

For both, the program has been a positive step towards their long-term career goals.

“I came from a broken family dynamic. As a child, the nonprofit Club for Boys taught me self-efficacy and gave me the tools I needed to succeed in life,” Miner explained. “Every day I work at The Bridge, I go home feeling fulfilled because I’ve put a smile on a youth’s face. I want to become an Executive Director at a nonprofit so that I can make a difference on a wider scale.”

Valentine has similar goals.

“I love the idea of helping to set a standard for the people who work for a nonprofit,” he said. As the leader of our Youth Response Center, he creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and focus. “I want to lead a team that’s happy to come to work and proud of the work they’re doing.”

I’m proud to be part of the team leading this innovating program, and helping tomorrow’s leaders develop the skills they’ll need to take on the difficult challenges the future holds.

Work Ambassador Guides the Way to Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care for Sustainable Nonprofits

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, it was a busy year.

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

At Rita’s House, she’s found it.

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about Kachina at her website, www.kachinahenry.com.

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

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

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donate here.

What Makes a Great Board Chair

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

The Board of Directors is an essential part of any nonprofit. An engaged, hardworking Board can take an organization from good to great. As Executive Director, I rely on the Board Chair to talk through issues, seek advice and to discuss the future of the Bridge.

Throughout my nonprofit career, I have worked with many Board Chairs and have learned first-hand how critical a strong Board Chair is to an organization’s success or failure. Here are just a few of the traits I have seen which help nonprofits flourish:

Engaged.  First and foremost, a nonprofit Board Chair needs to be engaged, leaning in and paying attention. Being a Board Chair is much more than a title, it is a critical role for your organization’s success.

Ambassador. Great Board Chairs love the organization they serve and want everyone to know it.  Whether it’s at work or at play, they are always looking for ways to make connections and raise awareness about the organization.

Knowledge Sharing. A great Board Chair should have relevant professional knowledge. That doesn’t mean you have to be a nonprofit professional, but experience in areas including human resources, finance, real estate and law, can make a big impact since those are all areas that every nonprofit executive wrestles with.

Fearless. Strong Board Chairs are not afraid to ask difficult questions and to dig into reality. They don’t operate in promises of what might happen but look to the facts and the data in order to protect the organizations they serve.

Mutual Trust. As Board Chair, it’s not your job to manage program staff and staffing decisions, dig into day-to-day operations, or worry about the regular maintenance of the building. Trust your Executive Director to manage the day to day affairs of the organizations. Conversely, it is critical for Executive Directors to trust their Board Chair.

As Executive Director of the Bridge, I am thankful we have a strong Board Chair in Scott Thomas-Forss.  Becoming a Board Chair is a big responsibility and if you have the attributes highlighted above, you are ready to take on the challenge for some lucky nonprofit!

Another Chance, Without the Record

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An angry teenager and his mom get in a fight. She’s never been afraid of her children before, but now her little boy has turned into a 6’2” young man, and somehow this minor argument has turned into a scary situation. So, mom calls the police.

When they arrive, it doesn’t matter if he injured anyone – it’s a Domestic Assault charge either way. That means a court date, and usually having to stay in juvenile detention until that date. It can throw a young person’s life off course.

That is where the Bridge comes in.  As part of the Hennepin County Youth Intervention Programs Initiative, the Bridge provides critically needed intervention services to these youth.

Instead of going to juvenile detention, some youth with a domestic assault charge and no prior convictions can stay at The Bridge while they await their court date, as long as they attend school every day and complete other program requirements. JDAI Youth and Family Counselor Richard Bell transports them to their court dates and connects them with other resources.

If they complete the six-month program without any other charges being filed the charge is removed from their record. Youth entering the program sign a contract with their legal guardian that addresses school attendance and other issues that may have caused them to be charged with domestic assault such as anger management.

Our RESILIENT support group teaches young people about domestic violence and other social issues.

“It gives the youth a second chance to become productive citizens without a criminal record,” Richard said. The program also works with the family to develop a Safety Plan which identifies resources for the family to use in hopes of avoiding police involvement should a new conflict arise. This program is a collaborative effort between the Headway Diversion Program and The Bridge for Youth.

The Bridge also offers RESILIENT, a support group focusing on issues of domestic violence. The group is open to current and former program participants, as well as other youth. The group goes beyond domestic violence and covers social topics including black history and women’s rights, and has even gone fishing.

“I’ve been a youth advocate all my life,” Richard said. “As soon as I started sitting in on these meetings and helping to encourage these families, I knew it was a place where I could make a huge difference.”

By the time they complete the program, 70 percent of participants report having the ability to decrease their risky behavior.

The JDAI program goes a long way towards helping young people grow up to be productive adults, and we’re glad to provide them a comfortable place to stay while participating.

To support JDAI and the rest of our work, donate here.

Pets Welcome! Why We Have Animals in the Office

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

Take Your Dog to Work Day will be celebrated on June 22 this year. At The Bridge, we celebrate it every day.

With HR approval, our employees are welcome to bring their friendly pets to work with them, and the policy makes our workplace a happier, less stressful place.

Bringing pets to work has been shown to have all sorts of benefits for our employees.

A reminder to take a break

Our job is never done – there is always another youth in crisis, and there’s always more we can do to help. Everyone who works here is dedicated to their jobs, and it can be hard to remember to step back and take a deep breath. Dogs serve as a great reminder to step outside for a walk around the block, so

HR Director Angela Alvarez’s kitten Harriet visited the office at eight weeks old.

our staff can come back refreshed and ready to serve the youth.

A de-stressor

In 2012, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University found that employees who brought their pets to work had reduced stress throughout the day. Those employees have also been found to be more productive, more collaborative, and more satisfied with their work life. The benefits don’t only come to pet owners – interacting with a dog at all has been shown to lower blood pressure.

Lead Youth Response Specialist Joe Valentine brings his Lab Boxer, Peanut, to work with him often. “I find that the staff, especially the interns, like having a dog around,” he said. “When you have dogs in these spaces, they bring benefits to the people that are hard to predict. For some people, they’re exciting. For others, they’re soothing.”

Setting the tone for the office

Having animals around lifts everyone’s moods. It makes the office feel welcoming, flexible, and comfortable. We see young people every day going through the biggest challenges of their lives, and sometimes staff disagree on difficult decisions. It’s important for us to all remember that we’re on the same team, and pets help us do that.

My dog Rosie often spends time in the office.

Crime Victims Case Manager Alex Kewitt doesn’t bring a pet to work, but she agrees that having animals around makes it easier to stay centered. “Navigating through the multiple bureaucratic systems our youth and families are served by can be exhausting,” she said. “Working with youth in crisis and families affected by the traumatic impacts of institutional and individual racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, cisgenderism, and more can leave one feeling disheartened. Animals have a way of softening situations, lightening the mood, disarming people and reminding us that we too are a part of the natural world, and that at the end of the day, what is important is connection.”

As Executive Director, my days are packed with meetings, difficult decisions, and the responsibility for keeping The Bridge on track. Bringing my dog, Rosie, to work with me helps me stay calm and focused on the things that need to get done.

Beginning later this month, the Bridge will also have six, certified animal therapy teams coming to the Bridge weekly to provide comfort and healing for Bridge for Youth clients.

At The Bridge, we’re focused on the well-being of everyone: youth, families, volunteers, staff, and our wider community. Allowing pets in the office is just one small way we show our employees that we care.

Why Overhead Matters               

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By Michelle Basham, Executive Director

Every year, as we prepare our annual report, we split our spending into three different categories: Program Costs, Management, and Fundraising. That’s because many donors want to know the percentage of their donation that will be going directly to programs, which is natural – you want to know that your dollars will be doing good.

Some donors might insist that their money go straight to a specific program, or refuse to give to organizations if overhead costs take up more than an arbitrary percentage of their budget.

There’s a widespread myth that many nonprofits are poor stewards of donations – that money is being spent on extravagant offices or exorbitant executive salaries. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s much more common for nonprofit employees to be underpaid than overpaid.

“Overhead” is a vague term which encompasses all sorts of expenses. Insurance, utilities, and administrative staff all count as overhead.

Maintenance on our building is one of the many expenses that fall under the umbrella of “overhead.”

All of the money that goes into overhead plays an important role in the success of a nonprofit. The money we spend on our mortgage and maintenance means we’re able to shelter the young people who walk through our doors. Our IT infrastructure allows us to keep YSNMN running. Our talented administrative staff means that our program staff don’t need to worry about funding, data management, or stress that their paychecks won’t be ready on time. Our investment in our staff means that talented people can grow their careers right here at The Bridge.

Additionally, nonprofits operate more like businesses than many people realize. That means we analyze data, metrics, draft reports and report to donors, donors like you. The people who analyze the data and run the many reports we provide to funders are part of the “overhead” equation for every nonprofit and without them, we cannot operate.

When we under-invest in overhead, we leave our organizations weaker and more vulnerable.

Judging a nonprofit by their overhead percentage won’t help you find the best organizations to donate to – that requires researching their outcomes. If you’re looking for a place to do your own research, check out Charity Navigator or GuideStar.

In the meantime, don’t hold back on your donations because you’re afraid they’ll go to overhead costs. Those expenses are vital for keeping nonprofits strong so that they can do good for years to come.