Bridges 2021 Spring Update
April 6, 2021
Coming Out of the Dark
As we welcome the spring of 2021, Gloria Estefan’s 1991 hit song “Coming Out of the Dark” keeps playing in my head. The recent $1.9 Trillion stimulus plan and promise of widespread vaccinations make us optimistic that by fall of 2021, Bridges may begin to operate with some semblance of pre-pandemic normality. So, I’m going to exhale (a little) and keep my fingers crossed.
More than anything, it’s the resilience of Bridges youth around the country who have kept us going through all of the turmoil, trauma, and tragedy of the past year. Take for example Bridges participant Saul (left) of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Saul (right) began working at Safeway in March 2020 when folks started hoarding toilet paper. We are certainly proud of Saul for persisting in his job during a stressful year for supermarkets. But more than that, we are grateful to him and all essential workers around the country who stocked shelves, bagged groceries, and bravely held out their hands for our credit cards or cash. You inspire us, Saul!
Saul of San Francisco has been working at Safeway since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Still Going Strong
In our 12 cities, we continue to adapt to pandemic conditions through virtual delivery of services. When we can meet with teachers, employers, and youth face-to-face, we make sure that everyone has access to masks and other PPE and is adhering to social distancing practices. As school districts return to regular classroom instruction, we adapt and continue to carry out the work of Bridges.
We thank our teachers and employers for continuing to help us connect young adults to jobs as they prepare to leave high school.
Since the 2020-2021 academic year began, 760 youth have applied for Bridges services; 688 have enrolled; and 499 have gotten jobs.
“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”
Cheers to Olga Ramirez of Chicago on her promotion from Bridges Senior Employer Representative to Team Lead.
Congratulations to Kevin McCarthy on his promotion from Senior Employer Representative in New York City to Team Lead for Bridges in Boston.
Kudos to Greg Meves in New York City on his promotion from Senior Employer Representative to Team Lead.
We thank the foundations that have made generous grants to support our work:
- The Coca Cola Foundation
- The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
- The Lawrence Foundation
- The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation
- The New York Community Trust
- The Pinkerton Foundation
Cathy at PetSmart in Dallas
Cathy came to the Dallas Bridges program in 2009. She was a shy high school student unsure of herself around adults but eager to work with animals. For the past 10 years, she has worked at PetSmart, where she has excelled and grown into a confident young woman. She’s now Supervisor of the PetSmart Hotel, where these days she interacts with pets and humans with equal ease.
Jesus at AutoZone in Dallas
Congratulations to Jesus of our Dallas Bridges program for reaching two-years at AutoZone and getting promoted to Parts Sales Manager.
Jesus aspires to become an Auto Zone Store Manager. Patricia, his current boss, says he is one of her best employees. With his excellent work ethic and passion for cars, Jesus is well on his way to achieving his goals.
Tashaiana at PS Coffee in Boston
Tashaina of the Boston Bridges program has worked as a Barista for two years at PS Gourmet Coffee. Her manager says she’s a superstar and recently promoted her to Shift Supervisor!
Back To School And Back To Work
September 10, 2020
Students in Bridges’ 12 cities, 15 school districts, and nearly 300 high schools are beginning a new academic year. These are some of the nation’s largest school systems, where students with disabilities can represent as much as 20% of the overall student body.
Plans for instruction change every day. Some schools will begin with remote instruction; others will take a hybrid approach; and still others have already begun traditional classroom teaching with safety protocols in place. In all cities and school districts, we at Bridges have adapted. We will continue to serve not only those students who are still in school, but also those who have recently left school and need help finding and keeping jobs.
Demand Is Strong and Students Are Getting Jobs
Since July 197 students have applied for Bridges; 178 are enrolled; and 101 are placed in jobs. These numbers are comparable to those from last year at this time, long before the pandemic took its toll.
Some businesses have folded. Others struggle to survive. Yet there are those businesses that will rush to find workers for jobs in retail and fulfillment, especially as they approach peak holiday hiring season. Where there is demand for workers, we continue to match Bridges participants to good jobs with employers that follow safe and responsible COVID-19 practices.
In instances where students can interact with Bridges staff members face-to-face, we ensure that everyone has—and is using—masks and other PPE and adhering to social distancing. We continue to ask students to review, sign, and submit a COVID-19 acknowledgement form. Since March, almost 700 students have completed the acknowledgment.
Remote and Virtual Instruction
Since March and over the summer months, we have barely missed a beat serving our students:
- We are becoming experts in using video conferencing platforms to deliver engaging, interactive, and inclusive instruction.
- In two school districts, we delivered summer job readiness sessions through video conferencing to at least 1,000 students.
- We recruit students with virtual open houses, and we communicate with students using a platform for mass text messaging and SMS campaigns.
- Our employer partner, Accenture, hosted five virtual employability skills workshops for 21 students from 11 cities across the country.
- We have discovered that digital technologies can afford more efficient and rapid channels for reaching students and sharing information.
- Although our methods for working with students have forced us to rely on computer-mediated technologies, the quality and intensity of our mentoring is the same or better. Our students’ trust in us—and our bonds with them—remain strong.
A Bridges Smartphone App
Surveys among students and focus groups among Bridges staff have sparked a flurry of ideas for innovative ways to engage youth virtually and remotely. One of several in development is a Bridges smartphone app. We are fast-tracking the idea, and it should be ready for use in coming weeks. Our Bridges staff and their students, teachers, and parents will be able to use the app for the following:
- filling out paperwork.
- scheduling appointments.
- sending instant messages.
- completing on-demand job readiness training 24/7.
- scanning sensitive and confidential information and uploading it to Box, a platform with strict security and encryption.
- using Indeed.com, Google Maps, Waze, and other online tools to find, apply for, and get jobs within a reasonable distance from home.
The Bridges app will bring speed and convenience to routine tasks, all without having to meet in person. These will remain common practice even after the pandemic ends and restrictions on face-to-face contact are lifted.
Issues of the Day
We also take seriously the call for action on issues of racial equity, social justice, and inclusion for all. We have retained two outside experts to deliver five (5) in-depth training sessions for staff. Training has already begun, and it will surface topics and lead to conversations about implicit bias and systemic racism—and how to recognize and address them. The training will also equip our staff to prepare Bridges students for contending with these problems and advocating for themselves and others in the adult workforce.
As we enter a back-to-school season like none before, we at Bridges will continue to provide effective school-to-work transition services. This is an uncertain time for high school seniors and their teachers who cannot predict how the academic year will unfold. We are going to be by their side helping them find, get, and keep jobs that are not only crucial for their successful transition to adulthood, but that are also important for the economic stability of their families.
Special education professionals see our services as a safety net for students without concrete plans for life after high school—especially for students who will not go on to higher education.
For employers, we continue to streamline their hiring and onboarding processes. We match them with students who are screened to their hiring specifications and who are eager to get started in jobs with career advancement potential.
Our momentum remains strong, and we continue to adapt and persevere in our mission of transforming the lives of young adults with disabilities through the power of a job.