Helping Individuals With Disabilities Navigate Life
Sometimes we all need help crossing life’s challenging bridges.
That’s where folks like those at Bridges Training Foundation in Midlothian can help. They help individuals with disabilities navigate life.
“So often if someone has a disability they are told what they can and can’t achieve, and most of the time nothing could be further from the truth,” Bridges CEO/Executive Director MeLissa Boler said.
Bridges, a local nonprofit organization, has programs that help in four divisions – Social, Vocational, Advocacy and Housing (this division is just starting). They help any individual, regardless of diagnosis, age, economic level or ethnicity.
Bridging Transition Into Community Following High School
Bridges came to be in 2012 because Boler was teaching transition classes for three major school districts in Ellis County and came to realize that most of her students were graduating just to sit at home for the rest of their lives, she said.
“As an educator this made no sense to me because I knew the students I taught were extremely capable of many things upon graduation. So I started a nonprofit to help them navigate life after high school,” she said. “We called it Bridges because our clients only need a little help to Bridge their transition into their community after high school.
“We will work with any age. However, the school district provides every service a student can need during their time in the public school system. Almost all of our clients are over the age of 18, with some clients well in their 70s.”
Among Bridges’ success stories, Boler tells the story of a young man they helped secure a job out of high school. He is currently celebrating 10 years of employment and recently got a promotion.
Bridges holds government contracts so they do not charge clients for most vocational and social services. Government contracts account for about 50% of their income.
They also recently opened a thrift store named Bridges Bazaar that Boler said is now profitable and helps with 10% of their income. The remaining 40% comes from fundraising, donations and grants.
5th Annual Bridges Bands & BBQ Bash
In fact, they have a big fundraiser on the horizon, the Fifth Annual Bridges Bands and BBQ Bash. It will be held Oct. 9 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Ellis County Expo Center in Waxahachie and will feature exactly what the name says, music, a barbecue cook-off, and even cupcake wars.
“In 2019 we hosted the International Barbecue Cookers Association Big Money event. The prize money was over $80,000, there were over 270 barbecue teams competing, and we had to get 754 judges from the audience to help us judge,” Boler recalled. “The event is packed with things to do, is family friendly and free.”
Boler said there should be between 50 and 75 teams competing this year. There
will also be live music with three local bands, a Kids Zone with prices, bounce houses, face painting, and the Creature Teacher will take center stage with her baby kangaroo and other creatures at 4 p.m.
There will also be a cantina with brisket nachos, silent auction, wine pull and raffle.
“The Bash is our annual fundraiser. We are currently working on an annual golf tournament,” she said.
And, like so many nonprofit organizations, Bridges can always use volunteers, Boler said.
“We love, love volunteers and have a few different opportunities. The Barbecue Bash will use 150 volunteers over a three-day period. The Bazaar (thrift store) has opportunities, and we occasionally host dances,” she said. “The advocacy committee meets once monthly and helps with events and fundraisers.”
And, most of all, Bridges asks that we all accept everyone simply for who they are.
“The population that fits in the category of disabled is as varied as the stars. We as a society have got to quit excluding them from opportunities because we don’t understand them,” she said. “Only half of our job at Bridges is helping our clients, the other half is helping society understand the diversity of the term disability.
“This is a fixable problem.”