A community program at Colorado State University helps young people in Fort Collins and surrounding areas to become self-sufficient and successful in work, education and community life.
The Bridges program at Colorado State’s Center for Community Participation in the university’s occupational therapy department targets at-risk individuals from ages 17-26. The program offers participants help in applying for jobs, developing interview skills, finding community resources, applying for school or financial aid and building personal support networks. The Bridges staff is made up of human service professionals from a variety of backgrounds. As part of the program, area businesses join with members of the Bridges staff to develop employment opportunities for participants.
"Our mission is to empower young people who are facing difficult transitions," said Jude Rowe, a Bridges counselor and research associate in the department of occupational therapy. "People in this age group often get lost as they go out into the bigger world. Bridges participants may be leaving home, finishing high school, starting to work, trying to earn a high-school equivalency diploma or wanting to begin higher education. Some young people may not have support at home or elsewhere and need help to succeed in their transition to independence.
"The Bridges staff teaches these young people the skills they need to be successful, self-sufficient adults."
Participants voluntarily enter the Bridges program after being referred by local social service agencies and schools including Centennial High School, Community Corrections, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Department of Social Services. Referrals are based on circumstances such as poverty, low self-esteem, a history of at-risk behaviors, educational deficits or lack of solid support systems.
A counselor from Centennial High School referred Christy Helton, a young single mom. With the help of a Bridges counselor, Helton received several local scholarships and is beginning school at Front Range Community College this fall. Helton said, "I knew I wanted to further my education, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. Bridges staff helped me connect my dreams to reality."
When individuals enter the program, they meet with a Bridges staff member to discuss employment, education, housing, transportation and other issues. Together, the participant and staff member establish goals and develop an action plan. Further sessions focus on participants’ individual needs and on developing connections with community support resources.
Joe Tarralbo came to the Bridges program with a desire to find an interesting job, but without job-hunting experience. A Bridges counselor helped him find a summer job with the Youth in Natural Resources program at the Bellevue Fish Hatchery. Later, Tarralbo decided he wanted to continue his education at Front Range Community College. With help from Bridges staff, he was successful in obtaining scholarships to help him finance his first year of school.
"When I came to Bridges, I was interested in getting my life in order," Tarralbo said. "Bridges staff helped me get organized and find out what my options were. Now I just need to stick with it."
Some area businesses hire Bridges participants through a work program called supported employment. Through the program, Bridges staff members prescreen participants and provide recommendations to potential employers. If a participant is hired, Bridges staff members follow up with employers to ensure a good match and to facilitate good communication between employer and employee. Employers also may opt to try out a participant before hiring.
"Fort Collins is a supportive community that has many people who want to help others," said Rowe. "It’s remarkable to see how many businesses empathize with people who come into life with fewer advantages."
Area businesses who have employed Bridges participants include Fort Collins Precast, King Soopers, Larimer County Youth Conservation Corps, Pizza Hut, Susy’s Market, Target, Vern’s Place and the Youth in Natural Resources program.
"Many of the clients we have worked with have been successful in achieving goals they’ve set up," said Rowe. "It’s a significant number, considering the challenges our clients face."
The Bridges Program is a pilot project supported by a grant from the Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services.
For more information on participating in the Bridges program or employing Bridges participants, call Maggie Murray at (970) 491-5930.