Exterior of The Bridge for Youth; the building was intentionally designed to blend into the neighborhood as to foster safety and security for all youth seeking services. Photo courtesy of The Bridge for Youth
2020 is a special year for The Bridge for Youth. Founded by Sister Rita Steinhagen and Sister Marlene Barghini in 1970, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of an organization that has consistently worked to help homeless and at-risk youth in the Twin Cities. Karla Dross, Interim Executive Director of The Bridge for Youth, was kind enough to give me the rundown of the nonprofit’s origin story, its current programs, and a few ways that we can help the The Bridge for Youth with its work.
When Sisters Steinhagen and Barghini noticed rising numbers of unaccompanied youth on the streets of Minneapolis some fifty years ago, they decided to create programs and safe spaces specifically for at-risk and homeless youth. The two Sisters were “concerned about [the youth’s] vulnerability to exploitation, prostitution, violence, and illness,” Dross explains. Not long after, the pair founded and opened The Bridge for Youth. It was “one of the first refuges for runaway and homeless youth” in the Twin Cities. Their mission of helping young people lives on to this day: the non-profit averages an impressive 1,000 youth served each year.
Since its inception, The Bridge for Youth has maintained an open-armed philosophy. “When a youth arrives at The Bridge, they are welcomed as they are, for who they are,” Dross says, “If a youth wants to talk, we listen. Without interrupting. Without judging. If they are hungry, we get them something to eat. If they are tired, they have a place to sleep. If they are afraid, they have a place to feel safe. We seek to understand what is going on, and when a youth is ready, together, we figure out what’s next.”
The Bridge focuses its services on youth aged 10-21 and is “committed to increasing the safety, well-being and self-sufficiency of youth in crisis. Its programs work to stabilize youth and families, ending youth homelessness and building connections to promote self-sufficiency.” The Bridge offers support groups for the queer community and victims of crime, work readiness programs, housing options and more.
“In 1992, The Bridge launched So What If I Am,” Dross says. This program is “a support group for LGBTQ+ youth to provide a safe place for candid conversations about what they’re feeling/experiencing.” In addition to creating that safe space for conversations, the program aims to “develop supportive peer relationships” among its participants.
Every housing program run by The Bridge for Youth includes access to important resources, including “safe housing, basic needs, counseling, case management, independent living skills education, access to health care, [and] legal resources.” The newest addition to the housing program, opening this summer, is called Gloria’s Place and will be “the only emergency shelter specifically for homeless parenting youth and their children in Minnesota.”
Most of these housing programs are temporary, but Rita’s House is an exception. Created specifically for young adults, it is “an intentional living community, providing affordable rental housing and teaching independent living skills to youth ages 18-21.”
People seek out The Bridge for Youth for many reasons. Many “come to The Bridge to escape from years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect,” Dross explains. “Disruptive family conditions leave youth with nowhere to go, and youth seek the safety and support of The Bridge as they figure out next steps… Family rejection based on sexual orientation or gender identity is also another reason why youth will seek the support of The Bridge.”
The Youth Response Center is an invaluable resource for youth in situations like these. The Center “provides immediate support to de-escalate crises and connect youth and families with support.” Those resources, including real-time availability for shelters and other services, can also be accessed on a mobile app for on Androids or iPhones called YSNMN. Help is also available by phone (612-377-8800) or text (612-400-SAFE).
Like any non-profit, The Bridge for Youth relies on donations of time, money, and resources to keep its programs running smoothly. Hosting donation drives or purchasing items directly from their Target registry is a great place to start. “Needs are constantly changing and vary by season,” Dross explains. The registry keeps donors informed on current needs. Their website, listed below, has more detailed information about donations and volunteering. “Volunteers play a crucial role at The Bridge and we are thankful for their dedication and commitment,” Dross says.
In the last fifty years, The Bridge for Youth has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of young people in the Twin Cities. Our city is a better place because of this organization’s hard work. Let’s help support the next fifty.
For more information, visit www.bridgeforyouth.org.