National Nonprofit Day

Happy National Nonprofit Day! We hope you can take a few moments today to think about the nonprofits you are involved with, and maybe discover a new one that touches your heart. To celebrate the day, we are excited to share a little bit about ourselves.

Our mission is to transform the lives of young adults with disabilities through the power of a job, and we do that through our values:

  • Ability First: Champion what young adults can do in the competitive workplace
  • Integrity: Uphold behavior that honors the communities we serve and the brands we support
  • Service: Commit to exceeding the expectations of young adults, employers, and partners
  • Accountability: Hold ourselves responsible for the commitments we make
  • Collaboration: Foster relationships that build trust, respect differences, and realize shared goals

These values have served us well as we approach our 30th anniversary. Did you know we’re 30? And here are some other fun facts:

We started in Montgomery County, Maryland, but now have offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

Bridges has helped more than 18,500 young adults start on their transformative path to meaningful work.

We are proud to report an 85% retention rate, meaning that 85% of our participants met with their Employer Representative, completed training, did research, practiced interview skills, applied for numerous jobs, went on numerous interviews, and held a job through a 90-day probationary period. Considering the huge obstacles young people navigate on any given day, with or without a disability, this is remarkable (if we don’t say so ourselves).

We partner with schools and special education programs, other nonprofits designed to support people with disabilities and/or equal opportunity employment, more than 5700 committed employers, local vocational rehabilitation and workforce agencies, and local government programs.

We are supported by an annual grant from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, federal, state and local grants, donations from corporations and employers who hire Bridges students, and individuals like you.

Hopefully this has inspired you to get involved with Bridges, but also to consider how you can make a difference for someone with a disability who is looking to better their life. If you have a business or are looking to fill an open position, consider contacting us to find a pre-screened, qualified, interested and engaged potential employee. And if Bridges isn’t in your city, consider hiring someone qualified and eager to learn that has a disability. Visit our social pages and our website to hear success stories, or feel free to reach out to us directly to ask anything.

Richard Marriott and 2019 Stephen G. Marriott Youth Achievement Award Winner, Jamethia


International Women’s Day Featuring Kiana


Kiana might be known as the police officer who jumps into a pickup basketball game or joins a drumline at a BBQ. She might also be known as the police officer who mentors high school students. Any way you know her, she found her calling in policework by being proactive, passionate, compassionate, humble, and open-minded.

“My parents were training me to be a police officer my entire life, they just didn’t know it. And I didn’t either,” Kiana said, when asked how she decided she wanted to become a police officer. She said she learned discipline and structure from her dad, who served in the military, and her mother always put her in charge to look after the house and her siblings when she wasn’t home, and Kiana took that job seriously. She liked enforcing the rules, taking charge, and helping others.

When Kiana was in high school, she saw Nikki Gillum-Clemons, a Bridges Employer Representative, talking to another class. Nikki was dressed nicely, which was “something you didn’t see often” at Kiana’s high school, and Nikki’s presence drew Kiana in. It dawned on her that she wanted to be like Nikki someday – someone who is professional, influential, and someone that somebody else could look up to. She introduced herself to Nikki, and asked how she could get involved with Bridges. Timing wasn’t right to get started right away, but they kept in touch, and soon enough Nikki was helping Kiana prepare for her first interview at Save-A-Lot. A few months into her first job, Kiana was doing great, and Nikki came to her with a new job opportunity in housekeeping at the Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown, where she worked for three years, cross-training in multiple departments. While she was there, a position opened up in loss prevention. She interviewed and applied, but unfortunately didn’t get the job. She felt discouraged, but only for a moment. She set to work researching security and police work.

She discovered that she could put herself through the Police Academy. It would take a lot of work, and sacrifice. Beyond passing physical, psychological and written tests, Kiana also needed more school hours and job experience to become eligible. This meant she had to leave her job at the Courtyard, take a pay cut, and pile on the hours.

Not getting the security job at the Courtyard might have sparked her interest in security, but what truly drove her to make such a sacrifice was her daughter, who was only a few months old at the time. “My daughter made me look more deeply into my heart, and made me stronger, more outgoing, and care more about the world and the future leaders of it. I couldn’t just think about myself anymore, but I needed her to have a good place, and fix the world around her, for her sake and for the youth of our community.”


Kiana kept training and working. One of the biggest periods of growth for her was the two-and-a-half years that she worked in the Bucknell campus police department. Her mom wasn’t sure it would be a good idea, but her dad, who often saw potential in challenging situations, encouraged her to go. She kept an open mind about it, and committed to working there full-time as a Campus Police Officer and a Rape Aggression & Defense Instructor. She spent four days a week at a college campus that was three hours away in the middle of the state, and then head back to Philadelphia for three days to spend time with her family.

She made history at Bucknell for being the only black officer, the only person from the LGBTQ community, and one of the youngest people in their campus police department. She was able to change some students’ perspectives, and it also helped her round out her own experience.

Finally, she qualified to be a police officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. All she had to do was pass physical, psychological, written, and lie-detector tests, do well in the interview, and get hired. No big deal for Kiana, who had been preparing for years.

All her life experiences has made her into the strong woman she is today. She looked up to her mom who founded the New Essence Drill team, and has since loved playing the drums. When her partner and she drove past some kids drumming at a BBQ while on patrol, she told her partner to pull over so she could join in. That parlayed into coaching middle school drum line every Thursday, and made her think more about what patrolling a neighborhood actually means. To Kiana, it means actually being present, not just being a presence.

With that mindfulness, she’s started her own mentoring program for high schoolers called Coffee with Kiana. Kiana has benefitted over the years from working with her own mentors: Alicia who was her drum line coach and first mentor, Nikki from Bridges who helped with her first job, and Jai who helped her with fitness and nutrition throughout her police training. Coffee with Kiana has only been going for a couple months, but the group’s goal is mutual respect. Kiana wants to teach kids how to carry themselves and how to prepare for the future, and she also wants to listen to their stories so she can bring their perspective back to the Philadelphia Police Department so they can improve their work efforts.

Kiana teaches by example, and encourages others in law-enforcement to leave their egos at the door. She says, “egos and badges don’t mix. The people rule us. They’re in charge.” She still has a service and hospitality mindset that she learned at the Courtyard during her Bridges placement in 2010. “Police work is about service. The people are paying taxes and giving me a job. I need to think about how I can serve them.”

The below blog was written by Kelly Pavich, Team Lead for the Chicago Bridges office and Interim Director of NYC Bridges, for Microsoft. Microsoft won the Leader of the Quarter award was for Chicago Bridges. Bridges from School to Work does not offer this award nationally, or for any other site. 

Visit Microsoft’s blog to see the original post.

The Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities, established in 1989 by the family of J. Willard Marriott, founder of Marriott International, seeks to help people with disabilities transition into the workforce by pairing them with companies who need entry–level employees, bringing these two groups together in mutually beneficial employment relationships, which fosters the employment of young people with disabilities.

To achieve this objective, the Foundation developed and operates Bridges from School to Work, a program that places young adults exiting special education in jobs with local employers. With a long-term focus on job retention and vocational development, the program continues to work with these youth after placement to help them grow and advance on the job.

Through our Bridges Program, located in 11 cities across the country, we help more than 1,000 young adults every year with hiring opportunities in these cities. It’s all about transformation in the lives of people with disabilities through the power of a job. This involves employer-driven training, hirings, and mentorships, provided by local companies that are driving changes in their local communities.

We really believe in the employer-driven model. We believe that employers needs are as important as the candidates’ needs. If we don’t have employers, we do not have jobs. They are a critical part of our success. We look at employers needs as much as candidates’ needs.

We also make sure that we are working with diverse industries to provide our candidates with an array of entry-level positions that meet their interests and abilities.

This spring, we were excited to name Microsoft as Leader of the Quarter to celebrate the company’s commitment to diversity in hiring practices. There are so many different ways we can connect — and Microsoft makes that a priority because it is a company that works as hard as we do to get creative on how we can partner with one another.

Thanks to Microsoft, the level of exposure our students have had to the tech world has brought meaningful changes to at least 25 lives. Microsoft is dedicated to building relationships and understanding that it takes time to develop that pathway for young people. Through this partnership, we’ve had 25 students explore the tech sector, gaining exposure through Microsoft office tours, and making connections with local technology companies and interest groups, like ITKAN, the IT Knowledge and Abilities Network.

One student success story is Orlando, who was one of the first students to attend ITKAN through the Bridges program. His ultimate dream was to get a job in technology, but he was only a high school graduate. Through Microsoft, he was able to meet so many people, make solid connections, and learn about a career in the technology field. Orlando did a job shadow with Adam Hecktman and ended up getting a tour of the Microsoft Technology Center and Blue1647. Orlando also got connections through us and because of his new skill set from Microsoft and ITKAN, he just got hired at Accenture in their technology department. He ended up being the employee of the year last year! Congratulations, Orlando! Credit for this goes to Adam, too. He is so willing to do tours, job shadows, speaking engagements about what it means for tech — we’re thankful for his support.

Most recently, Adam invited us to attend a local hackathon hosted by DePaul University. We took the opportunity to bring our challenge and come with an open mind on how to solve it. After three days of hard work between two different sectors, the collaborative mindset inspired a solution!  We used our 30+ years of data to create a user-friendly technology-based solution that allows staff to easily locate our employers throughout the city for our candidates.

In another delightful moment, we had a DePaul University student, Michael, come into the Bridges office to mentor our students. Michael was really interested in Microsoft, so we connected him with Adam for an informational interview. He ended up getting a job with Microsoft! Michael was so thrilled with his connection to Bridges that when he moved to Houston, he initiated a first-time-ever Skype mock interview for our students (10 in Chicago, 10 in Dallas), all thanks to Microsoft.

With all of this fantastic work, it’s still important to recognize that unemployment is really low right now across the country yet it remains staggeringly high for people with disabilities — that number isn’t going down. We need to understand why this is happening. And we’re here to solve that problem.

Moving forward, we’re working hard to continue this work — we’re seeing that a lot more companies are recruiting people from the disability community, recognizing their different “abilities” and fueling the talent pipeline. We need to continue this to move the needle by first fueling the conversation pipeline. We see that employers have conversations about disabilities with other employers, educators with educators, and nonprofits with other nonprofits. We all need to be having the same conversation with each other so that we can move see meaningful change. We need to get out of our comfort zone. We all need to figure out the solutions together, and we can’t be siloed. We need to have a more collaborative mindset. When we believe in other people, see their potential and help them reach their goals — that’s when we all benefit and the ripple effects are profound.

Take a Chance

Sam’s Club is the giant, membership-based, Walmart-owned, bulk superstore. Thoughts of a warehouse with floor-to-ceiling offerings come to mind more often than being a personable, community-focused store, but it’s that too.

Sam’s Club has been a partner of Bridges from School to Work for some time, and notably have had two Chicago participants win accolades for their flying success: Monica Murillo won Associate of the Month in August 2017, and Gabriel Carrasco won Associate of the Month in November before winning Associate of the Year.

Gabriel has always been a hard worker. When he entered Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School as a freshman, he enrolled in special education classes with full support from special education teachers. Over the years, Gabriel worked hard and gradually became less reliant on his special education teachers, and was taking AP classes by senior year. He graduated from high school with honors.

His case manager at Infinity, Kerrie Treacy, recommended Gabriel to Bridges. He was very polite and respectful, was a self-starter with a strong work ethic, and was always willing to help others. Kerrie could see that Gabriel’s maturity and positive attitude towards his academics would lend to success in the workplace, and he would truly benefit from Bridges’ job placement services.

When Gabriel first entered the program, he was extremely shy and reserved. Although he attended every meeting and was focused and attentive, he was extremely hesitant to accept any of the job leads being presented by Bridges. After turning down multiple opportunities, Kerrie and I spoke with Gabriel to understand why he was turning down so many employment openings. Gabriel confided in us that he was nervous and did not know if he would be successful on the job.

The truth is, no one knows if they will or will not be successful if they don’t try. We encouraged him to apply, and go to an interview. If he got the job, he still had the option to turn it down if he felt too nervous.

That turned out to be just the encouragement he needed. Gabriel took the very next opportunity to apply for, prepare for, and accept a cashier position at Sam’s Club.

Gabriel is held in high regard by many of his managers, and sees every opportunity as a chance for victory. He regularly leads all cashiers in the store’s monthly cashier competitions for obtaining most renewed memberships and upgrades!

So much of success lies in trust, and taking chances. We are fortunate to have the relationship with Infinity that recommended Gabriel to us, and the mutual trust that has been built up over the past 3+ years.

I’d like to end with the note from Gabriel, that expresses his excitement in his own words:

“I just wanted to take a second and say thank you because today they put up my picture for Associate of the year at Sams 🙂

When we first started looking at jobs I remember how I wasn’t even sure about working and now I’m 19 years old with the title of ‘Associate of the year’ on my resume and that’s insane to me.

You found the best place for me to work at! I’m a great salesman, I bring in insane numbers for the front end, for Scan & Go, and I truly enjoy working there. I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you so much!”


Written by Jason Smola, Employer Representative in the Chicago Bridges office