In this article:
Swedish is proud to be a long-time participant in Seattle Public School’s BRIDGES program to provide vocational training for young adults with disabilities.
Students in BRIDGES gain confidence along with valuable work skills as they perform their jobs and develop a career path.
Thoeun Chan participated in BRIDGES more then 20 years ago. Read how the experience changed his life.
[3 MIN READ]
When Thoeun Chan became a student participant in Seattle Public Schools’ BRIDGES program at Swedish more than two decades ago, he never dreamed the experience would change his life. Since then, Chan has logged nearly 30,000 volunteer hours and become a valued member of the Swedish workforce.
Building Real-life Independent Daily Living and Gainful Employment Skills (BRIDGES) is a vocational training program designed for young adults with disabilities. Seattle Public Schools works with multiple organizations, including Swedish, to offer real-life work experience to program participants. BRIDGES jobs include mail delivery, food prep, laundry processing and delivery, supply sorting, copying documents and packet assembly. Swedish has participated in the program for over thirty years.
All in a day’s work
At Swedish, BRIDGES students participate in the program under the umbrella of Volunteer Services, says Cynthia Arthur, Manager of Volunteer Services at Swedish Medical Center, First Hill.
“Most students start in the Linen Department and then move on to other areas,” says Arthur. “The students work with supervision and coaching. They may fill carts with clean linen to be delivered to each nursing unit. Others may help deliver mail throughout the campus. Some help prepare monthly vehicle hang tags.”
"As they carry out their duties, students learn valuable skills that go beyond laundry or mail delivery. “The students practice counting and organization. They learn about being on time, the importance of good attendance and how to manage their money,” she adds.
From volunteer to employee
For Thoeun Chan, lessons learned at BRIDGES eventually led to a job. After completing the program in 2000, Chan volunteered for 15 years in the Swedish mailroom and warehouse. In 2015, he was hired by Staples to unbox and deliver supplies on the Swedish campus—a job he continues today.
“My job covers the whole 13-block hospital campus of the hospital,” says Chan proudly. “I like Swedish—I get to know so many people. The people are so nice.”
Learning priceless lessons
Although job-related activities are the focus of BRIDGES, its impact extends far beyond employment. The program helps young adults with disabilities reach their full potential and live independently. Kevin Kindall has been helping administer BRIDGES at Swedish for nearly three decades. In his current role, Kindall works as a liaison between the Seattle public school system and Swedish. He also provides training and oversees activities such as bowling, sporting events and Special Olympics competitions that take students into the community. Kindall says BRIDGES provides invaluable experiences and opportunities.
Students learn about practical life skills, like why it’s important to get to work on time and how to do it. They are also given a bus pass and a lunch budget, to help with financial education. Additional instruction and supervision are available when needed to ensure each student’s safety and success.
“The program helps build confidence and trust. It teaches the importance of being dependable and working with others. The program is a win-win. The students gain valuable world experience and Swedish gets great work done by dedicated workers,” says Kindall.
“BRIDGES opens so many doors—from work to social opportunities—that the students wouldn’t necessarily get on their own,” adds Kindall. “More important than the work aspect, we train the students to be dependable, interact with their colleagues and even navigate logistics like getting to work. These are invaluable lessons.”
October is National Disability Employment month
Every October, organizations across America participate in National Disability Employment Month. Activities and educational offerings focus on raising awareness about disability employment issues and acknowledging the many contributions made by workers with disabilities. Created by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Policy, National Disability Employment Month highlights the importance of inclusivity in the workplace so that everyone who wants to can work.
This year’s theme is, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” It reflects the need to ensure people with disabilities have adequate access to employment opportunities as the nation recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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