Our Team

Katherine Meerse, PhD, Executive Director, comes to Avenues from Hennepin County Health and Human Services where, as Manager of Youth Education, she has led the county’s work to ensure education success for children and youth receiving county services. Her prior role as Initiative Manager for “Better Together Hennepin” led a county-wide youth development and teen pregnancy prevention program. Before joining Hennepin County, Katherine held leadership roles at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. She has a PhD in US Women’s History from the University of Minnesota and brings almost 20 years of experience in nonprofit and government sectors to Avenues. kmeerse@avenuesforyouth.org

Peter Fischer, Director of Finance & Operations, joined Avenues for Homeless Youth in June 2007. As the Director of Finance & Operations, he is responsible for all facility operations, human resources and financial management. Peter holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and has over 30 years of business, operations, and general management experience.  He was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2012 and re-elected in 2014 and 2016. pfischer@avenuesforyouth.org

Zayed Ahmed, PhD, LPCC, LICSW, Program Director, was promoted at Avenues for Homeless Youth as its Program Director in November 2015 after spending two years as the organization’s part-time mental health therapist and clinical consultant.  Dr. Ahmed received her Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology from the Sofia University in Palo Alto, CA.  She holds the licensures of Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).  Along with her strong individuality and enthusiasm for working with youth, she brings with her experiences working in various counseling capacities at The Emily Program, Face to Face, Kente Circle, Amicus, and Family and Children’s Services. zahmed@avenuesforyouth.org

Elaine Woods, Avenues for Young Families Program Manager, has supported individuals and families through her work at social service nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities for over 17 years. As long as there is need, she plans to retire from the field. Elaine joined Avenues in 2011 as a Youth Counselor. Because of her dedication to the youth and team at Avenues, she has been promoted several times — to Case Manager in 2012, After Care Coordinator in 2013, Program Manager in 2015, and Program Manager of Avenues for Young Families in 2016. Prior to joining Avenues, Elaine held positions with The Link, Freeport West, Harriet Tubman Family Alliance, Minnetonka Heights, Lutheran Social Services, Episcopal Community Services, and House of Hope / Westminster TLP Programs. She has served on the Board for Harrison Neighborhood Services.  ewoods@avenuesforyouth.org

Donnell Bratton, Brooklyn Avenues Program Manager, joined Avenues in December of 2013 as a Youth Counselor, but quickly advanced into management and leadership positions. He has served as the Program Manager for Brooklyn Avenues since preparation for the program’s early 2015 started in mid-2014. Donnell holds a Bachelor Degree in Pastoral Counseling and has over 15 years of experience working with youth. Donnell also serves as founder and Senior Pastor of a St. Paul-based church since 2008. DBratton@avenuesforyouth.org


Zachary Tift, Minneapolis Avenues Program Manager, joined Avenues in July of 2016. He has supported individuals and families through his work at social service nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities for nearly 20 years. He started college as a teen father and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services Administration after 13 years of grit and perseverance. He and his wife have nine children and believe in walking with people over the long run to help them get to where they want to go. Prior to joining Avenues, Zachary held positions with Way to Grow, FATHER Project, St. Paul Urban League, MELD for Hmong Parent & Young Dads Program, YouthLink/St. Barnabas, African American Family Services, YMCA 24/Seven, and the Catholic Charities Young Fathers Program. Zachary and his family are dedicated to helping build the only respite and hospice home for children in the Midwest. ZTift@avenuesforyouth.org

Raquel (Rocki) Simões, MSW, LISW, Program Manager, GLBT Host Home Program, is a white Brazilian who came to the United States in the late 80s, fell in love with women and rice krispies treats (not necessarily in that order) and decided to stay. Most of her community organizing work has focused on queer youth, homelessness, and social justice. Most of her personal work has focused on being a loving friend, partner, ex-partner, anti-racist community member, and parent. On a good day she does some of these things well. Rocki has been at Avenues since 2007 and has a long history with the GLBT Host Home Program, which she helped start in 1997. She was honored for her work with a True Leadership Award by the True Colors Fund in September 2015. rsimoes@avenuesforyouth.org

Ryan Berg, ConneQT Host Home Program Manager, joined Avenues in November of 2013 as a Youth Counselor. He was promoted to Program Manager of our Minneapolis and Suburban Host Home Program in 2014, then became Program Manager for our new ConneQT Host Home Program in spring of 2016. Before coming to Minnesota, Ryan was a residential counselor and case manager for LGBTQ youth in foster care in New York City. In addition to youth work, Ryan is a published author, focusing on the crossroads between youth, poverty, sexuality, homelessness and health. His book about LGBTQ youth homelessness and foster care, “No House to Call My Home: Love, Family and Other Transgressions,” was recently published by Nation Books and won a Minnesota Book Award in 2016. Ryan holds a Masters in Fine Arts from Hunter College. rberg@avenuesforyouth.org

Ashley Morgan, LSW, Minneapolis and Suburban Host Home Program Manager, is one of the newest additions to Avenues, starting her role in April 2017. As someone who has always been passionate about working with young people and families, she has spent the last decade as a licensed social worker providing case management and supportive services in both public health, educational and social service settings. Prior to joining Avenues, Ashley had a brief stint as the sole social worker in the emergency room of a busy hospital and quickly realized she needed to return to her highest calling. She is beyond ecstatic to be back in the community doing what she loves and hanging out with youth and families (and some really adorable pets!). Along with her passion for working with youth she brings a background in program development and is dedicated to mindfulness meditation and holistic health and wellness. amorgan@avenuesforyouth.org

Julia O’Brien, Development Director, joined Avenues in March 2015. She coordinates relations with the civic organizations, corporate community, foundations and individuals. Julia has been involved in the non-profit sector as both a board member and employee for many years.  She began her career in investments and was a VP for Wells Fargo before she transitioned to the non-profit sector. Julia holds a BA in History form University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MBA from St. Thomas University. jobrien@avenuesforyouth.org


Craig Freeman, Community Engagement Manager, joined Avenues in June 2016. Craig coordinates relations with faith and community organizations and oversees Avenues’ volunteer program. Before joining Avenues, Craig was a practicing commercial litigation attorney and served on several non-profit boards.  Craig has a B.A. in history and a J.D. from the University of Iowa and is a proud Hawkeye. cfreeman@avenuesforyouth.org


Rachel Blair, Marketing and Communications Manager, joined Avenues in July of 2016.  She coordinates Avenues’ external communications, including the nonprofit’s social media, website and newsletter, and works with all programs to achieve Avenues’ advancement goals. Before joining Avenues, Rachel interned as a Communications Specialist for Ramsey County’s Public Health Department, promoting business recycling in Ramsey and Washington Counties. She also worked at Washburn Center for Children, where her interest in nonprofit work and youth mental health began. Rachel graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in journalism and mass communication – Go Gophers! rblair@avenuesforyouth.org

Hailey Alexander, Finance & Administration Manager, joined Avenues in April 2016. Before joining Avenues, Hailey worked as a childcare provider and volunteered with Hennepin County Medical Center and Minneapolis Public Schools. She is passionate about engaging and supporting children and youth in our communities. Hailey has a B.A. in Geography from the University of Minnesota with a focus on public health. Hailey enjoys camping, hiking, and rock climbing. halexander@avenuesforyouth.org


Youth Advocate and Engagement Specialists (Case Managers) 

Avenues schedules its case managers across the entire week and into evenings to give youth broad access to their support. These professionals assist the youth as they pursue their individual goals for housing, education, employment and health care. They also provide life skills training, assist youth in getting vital documents, and provide ongoing support after youth leave Avenues.

  • Bryce Jones, After-Care
  • Chandler Jayasekera, Brooklyn Avenues
  • Kelly Brazil, ConneQT Host Home Program
  • Rosie Benser, GLBT Host Home Program
  • Chez Aurelia Perrir Jones, Avenues for Young Families
  • Sarah Larsen, Education and Career Support Specialist
  • Sheila Shelton, Minneapolis Avenues
  • Caitlin Rolf, Minneapolis Avenues


Avenues contracts with the Annex Teen Clinic to provide nursing consultation at both locations.  Our nurse is on-site several times each week to provide medical assessments, referrals to dental and medical providers, medication management and health education.

Youth Counselors

Avenues’ youth counselors provide 24-hour care and supervision of the youth. They also prepare meals, assist youth with achieving individual plan goals, provide general care and support, and coordinate enrichment activities.




Connect with Avenues

Administrative and Development offices, call 612-844-2001 or 612-522-1690 x 5.

For more information about Avenues, email: info@avenuesforyouth.org

Minneapolis Avenues
612-522-1690 x 1

1708 Oak Park Ave N.
Minneapolis, MN 55411

Brooklyn Avenues 
612-522-1690 x 2

7210 76th Ave N.
Brooklyn Park, MN 55428

GLBT Host Home Program
or Email Rocki

Minneapolis and Suburban Host Home Programs
or Email Ryan

or Email Ryan