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Taking the Long View

Eight years ago a young man named Miguel was in his last year of Philadelphia’s Northeast High School when his teacher referred him to the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program. Like thousands of public school seniors across the country receiving special education services, Miguel’s postsecondary options seemed both daunting and uncertain. He needed the targeted interventions that a program like Bridges has mastered over nearly three decades of serving more than 22,000 youth. He needed an adult mentor who would steer him through the complex process of school-to-work transition. He needed help bridging the gap between high school and the world of work.

Bridges logoAs with all Bridges participants, Miguel availed himself of job readiness and employability skills instruction aimed at preparing him for what to expect in the competitive workforce, a milieu that sometimes tolerates fewer mistakes and grants fewer second chances. But Miguel was committed and earnest in his pursuit of employment, so with the assistance and encouragement from Bridges, he was successful in landing his first job with a Walgreens as a customer service associate. Miguel’s punctuality and dependability at Walgreens demonstrated his potential for the demands of fast-paced production environment with Philadelphia’s Union Packaging, a company that manufactures containers for fast food and casual dining restaurants.

At Union Packaging Miguel proved himself able in keeping pace with complex machinery as it churned out food containers to be packaged and shipped to restaurants across the country. He received both pay increases and increases in responsibility. But Miguel’s story doesn’t end there. Not only did he keep in touch with Bridges over the years by sharing his job and career updates he continued to press ahead with efforts to grow and better himself. Miguel recently completed training qualifying him to join Philadelphia’s SEPTA’s Police Department. Now 26, he’s pictured here…..

Miguel Cuevas Police Academy graduationA story like Miguel’s is timely. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) when programs like Bridges shine a light on the great work of many in business, philanthropy, and government alike in efforts to break down barriers for persons with disabilities to achieve their employment and career aspirations.

It’s the stories of young men and women like Miguel that help the Marriott Foundation’s Bridges program earn a reputation for practicing evidence-based strategies that lead to jobs that build self-esteem, maturity, and independence. Stories like Miguel’s — and there are thousands of them — demonstrate to stakeholders and funders the value of our work. Stories like these attest to the return on investment for grantors who want to see quantifiable and tangible results.

Inclusion drives innovation poster

Taking the long view, showing commitment and building trust — these are key characteristics essential for young workers to learn in the world of competitive work. They are equally essential to building successful partnerships with program supporters in the competitive world of grant-making and grant-seeking.  Similar to our work with youth, the funding and support partnerships begin with assessment and the readiness of parties to enter into a partnership. And these stage-setting steps cannot be shortchanged. Openness on timing, deepening knowledge through site visits, collaboratively scoping plans, to the benefit of all, are essential to the long-term success of the partnership. And taking the employment analogy one step further, the genuine commitment to long-term partnership allows both grantee and the funder to look at the partnership as an investment with an expected return.

In real terms, the long-term matching grant from Johnson Scholarship Foundation to Marriott Foundation Bridges allows the organization to position our school-to-work services as social impact seeking added capital to grow, expand and deliver a return for investors and clients alike. This approach is leading to the expansion of Bridges services in Ft. Worth, Boston, and New York City in addition to the nine other cities already serves.

NDEAM celebrates ability and value people with disabilities bring to the workforce, and let us further acknowledge that the lessons learned from successful employment experiences parallel the relationships and partnership we build together.

Inclusion Works

A Giving Matters blog post earlier this month by Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) and Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities Board Member, King Jordan, describes the staff young man in a wheelchairwho support students with disabilities on college campuses as the Secret Sauce that can make a difference in the lives of young people making the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. I couldn’t agree more about the essential role staff play in a young adult’s success. With more than two decades of serving over 21,000 young people, the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities (MFPD) and its Bridges from School to Work (Bridges) program has also perfected the secret sauce: committed, compassionate, quality staff – we call them employer representatives – who match young people with real jobs in businesses that offer advancement opportunities. Built upon Marriott’s long standing culture that puts people first, MFPD-Bridges puts ability first, championing what young adults can do in the competitive workplace. And what’s equally remarkable and tremendously rewarding for staff with the secret sauce, and all of us, is witnessing the outcome: the transformative power of job in a young person’s life.

When we say that the Bridges program transforms lives, we mean it, but we know that transformation doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a gradual process. After all, the youth in young man wearing a work apronthis program are still in their formative years—with some kids eager to rush into the world of work, while others are a bit reluctant to leave behind the familiarity of their communities and high schools. Most, however, share one thing in common; young adults come to us with a great deal of uncertainty and trepidation, lacking self-assurance, ambivalent or even
skeptical because other programs made promises that never materialized.

During the months of October and November, Bridges programs across the country hold celebratory events timed to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Hosted by our Board Chair, Richard Marriott, these celebrations recognize youth with disabilities and the employers who hire them. This year’s NDEAM theme, Inclusion Works, seems to carry more poignancy as we’ve gathered in Bridges cities to celebrate not just a first job, but a second, and in some cases, a third job through young woman wearing a work apronBridges. This is because Bridges works with these young adults for one year, sometimes longer, helping them climb the first few steps of a career ladder. We know these steps will set them on a path to independence and lifelong employment.

Take for example a young lady named Jamethia in Dallas, whose first Bridges job was as a steward at a Fairmont Hotel where she worked for a year until the commute to work became unmanageable. Her second Bridges job, also a steward, was much closer to home at the Dallas W Hotel. All along, Jamethia knew that she wanted stewarding to lead her on a culinary career path. So with that goal in sight, she continued to work, juggling her W Hotel job with culinary school, a plan that is paying off.  Jamethia has been employed continuously for more than two years and is now on her third job, working for the last nine months in the pastry kitchen at the 1000-room Dallas Omni Hotel. As she has progressed through each job, Jamethia needed less support and guidance. For her Omni job, she completed the application on her own while asking her Bridges mentor a few questions over the phone.

Jamethia’s is a life transformed through the power of a job, affecting not only this young woman standing in front of a sign reading AMCambitious young lady, but her manager, other associates at the Omni, and countless others who witness the positive change.

And as National Disability Employment Awareness Month draws to a close, it is worth reminding ourselves of the
nearly 400,000 young adults with disabilities exiting special education every year in the U.S. whose abilities can and must be realized through post-secondary education, training and the power of a job. Let’s redouble our efforts throughout the year to promote and support efforts to integrate young adults with disabilities in the competitive workplace.

Inclusion works. It works for the young adult. It works for the employer. It works for us all.