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!”

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

Endless Opportunities

Congratulations Tasha 1 (004)to Cobb County Bridges participant Tasha Lewis, who was recently hired as a contractor with Accenture in Atlanta. In her new role as a Location Services Associate, Tasha will coordinate the logistics for Accenture staff and client meetings, including reserving and scheduling space, configuring rooms, ordering materials, and arranging audio-visual equipment. Tasha is pictured here with Bridges employer representative, Sharron Pearson, where together they are completing new hire and onboarding paperwork. Tasha’s self-assurance, poise, and communication skills belie her age: she conducts herself more like a recent college graduate than a young lady recently out of high school.

Tasha began her Bridges journey in November 2016 while a student at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia. Cobb County Bridges representative Sharron Pearson helped Tasha land a job with Chick Fil-A as a front-line cashier.  She was so efficient that the restaurant cross-trained her in several jobs, eventually promoting her to the fast-paced drive-thru, a job that requires skill with multi-tasking, accuracy, and customer service. After mastering a demanding role Chick-Fil-A for over a year, Tasha appeared to be an ideal candidate for an opportunity that Accenture wanted to fill with a Bridges participant. But Accenture didn’t just hand Tasha the job; she had to compete with two other candidates, both with equally impressive experience in customer-facing roles. All three candidates interviewed at the Atlanta Accenture office. And all three waited for more than a week for Accenture’s decision. Accenture personnel said that all three candidates were terrific and that choosing one was difficult, but that Tasha’s unique qualities and experience aligned with the requirements of the position.

When asked what Bridges has meant to her, Tasha states, “Opportunities, lots and lots of opportunities, personal growth, and exposure.” She says, “Mrs. Pearson is a great mentor, a great listener, and gives great advice.” She says that she wishes that many other high school students would have the opportunity to work with Bridges.

Sharron Pearson and others with the Atlanta Bridges office are confident that Tasha will excel as a contractor with Accenture, an opportunity that could lead to an offer as an Accenture employee with ample professional growth potential. As she begins her new job, Tasha joins an elite group of five Bridges participants hired with Accenture offices in Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and most recently, Atlanta.

Written by Brandy McCrary, Employer Representative in the Atlanta Bridges Office.

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.

As 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. Miguel Cuevas Police Academy graduation 3

A 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.

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.

Written by Tad Asbury, Executive Director of the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities.  Originally posted on the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s blog “Giving Matters” on October 23, 2017.