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Bridge is reaching out to communities and employers

Alyssa Walsh works at Sylvan Learning Center. While there she does an assortment of jobs including working with students. She is also a Bridge Community Employment Service client. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl1 / 2
Shane Fibson, a Bridge Community Employment Service client, works at RMF Auto Service. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl2 / 2

April 11, Bridge for Youth and Adults with Disabilities is teaming up with Bridge Community Employment Services to start a community discussion on how business leaders and individuals can strengthen our local economy through providing opportunities for people with disabilities.

The event, held at 8 a.m. at Sylvan Learning Center in Hudson, will feature owner Tracey Leffner. It is open to the public and Leffner will outline her successful experience hiring an employee with disabilities.

Bridge earned a $5,000 grant from two sources APSE, The Association of People Supporting Employment First and Wisconsin BPDD, Board of People with Developmental Disabilities.

"The grant was to educate and promote the hiring of people with disabilities," said Peg Gagnon, of Bridge for Youth and Adults with Disabilities.

"We decided to focus on employers," said Levi Danielson, also with Bridge, "to make sure they know the benefits of employing a person with disabilities and why it is a good thing for the communities. The missing link was to develop a connection with area employers who might have a need."

The event on Thursday highlights how it is a win, win situation for both the employer and the employee.

"We have been planning the role out of this comprehensive program for over a year," said Danielson. "We know the benefits and the facts. First, most employers are amazed at what the employees can do and secondly, the person (employee) can grow and take on new tasks and initiatives. It is about tearing down the wall and realizing that disabilities come in many shapes and forms."

In order to initially reach employers, a community action team was organized and has been meeting since January.

The goal now is to establish Active Employer Councils (AECs) in area communities. At the present time there is interest in Hudson, Ellsworth and New Richmond.

"This is because we have job seekers in those communities," said Pat Millfelt, job developer for Bridge Community Employment Services. "They range from first time employees to people that have years of experience."

"We are actively seeking movers and shakers to seed these councils," said Gagnon. "We are trying to develop advocates in the different communities." The AECs would provide support for employers and employees. The AEC members would mentor other employers and meet regularly to review prospective employee resumes. They may also help by doing mock interviews with both employees and employers and by touring facilities to identify staffing needs.

"This is about real people and real jobs," said Gagnon. "We want people to step up to serve on an AEC in their community. This is community building."

"It is about building an inclusive society," added Danielson.

"We really want to fill a real need in the business community," said Millfelt. "Employers wanted."

If you would like more information on how to serve on an AEC or the event on April 11, call (715) 381-8230 or email