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From the left are Pat Millfelt, job developer, and Kylee Jungbauer, employment coordinator, for BRIDGE Community Employment Services located at 901 Fourth St., Suite 210. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

BRIDGE For Youth With Disabilities takes a new step

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business River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The need in the community was great for Peggy Gagnon, one of the founders of BRIDGE For Youth With Disabilities in 2004. This year BRIDGE is taking another step by adding employment services for their consumers and working with local employers to develop community-based jobs.

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In late 2004, BRIDGE began as a community-based learning site which operated in conjunction with the school year. Four years later it expanded to offer year-round services, meaningful daily activities and family care in St. Croix County. As their consumers left high school, they expressed a strong desire to participate in the community and to get a job.

"We knew we needed to add employment," said Peggy Gagnon. "It was just... how are we going to do it?" Now they have an answer to that question with the BRIDGE Community Employment Services. To date there are 25 consumers. BRIDGE is a job placement vendor for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The service started in July of 2011 at BRIDGE's Brakke Drive location. In February 2012 the organization moved to its own office at 901 Fourth St., Suite 210.

BRIDGE works with individuals who qualify for job placement services with funding from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

"A lot of time, we will ask the business what needs are not being met," said Gagnon. Job developer Pat Millfelt has a knack for assessment by observation, discovering for the employer things that need to be done. Those tasks often lead to a customized job.

The interaction between BRIDGE Community Employment Services, consumers and employers may be compared to a tennis match. It is a flexible process of assessment on both sides to determine what is the best placement for the both the consumer and the business. It is a win, win situation for both in the end.

"The ultimate goal we want is for the consumer to be an employee with a minimum wage or above job," said Gagnon. "There is a push for integrated community-based employment."

Benefits for the businesses include no-cost recruiting of pre-screened qualified candidates, meeting unmet needs of businesses, free supported orientation process, employee retention through follow-up visits, tax credits and incentives, and a qualified candidate for their business.

Consumers receive an in-depth assessment of work interests, abilities and areas of need, job development with a community business, job placement and support on the job as needed.

"The businesses in our area have embraced this," said Gagnon. Area employers involved include restaurants, retail, floral, food prep, day care, pet care, social service agencies and educational services. "All of our employment is community-based and we serve Pierce and St. Croix counties."

BRIDGE is looking for employers in the following areas: manufacturing, elder care, receptionist, inventory, filing, shipping and receiving, light housekeeping, light janitorial, laundry and garden services.

If you are a consumer or a guardian you may find more information about the services provided by DVR by contacting the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, 3655 Schneider Ave. SE, Menomonie, WI 54751; (715) 232-5660 or www.dwd.wisconsin.gov/dvr.

If you are an employer or a prospective consumer, you may contact Kylee Jungbauer, employment coordinator, or Pat Millfelt, job developer with BRIDGE Community Employment Services at (715) 386-8670 or email to bridge4ywd@gmail.com or go to www.BridgeYWD.org. An open house is planned for May, to acquaint the community with the services available to both employers and consumers.

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