The horn-rimmed glasses and close-cropped hair give him an almost studious appearance. I’ll call him Steve. He’s powerfully built and broad through the chest but right now tears are streaming down the cheeks of this big man.
We’re at a staff meeting at Bridge House and Steve is telling us about his journey to this place. Steve was a gang member from an early age and went to prison for the first time when he was only fifteen years old. When he was released from prison after five years he went right back to the same life he lived previously and, as a result, he soon found himself back in prison, this time for eighteen years. Eventually, he realized that he was going to have to change if he was ever to live a normal life. By turning his back on violence and distancing himself from negative influences in the prison community he earned his way to parole three years ago. Because he would be homeless upon release, the parole Board discharged him to Bridge House and the Ready to Work program in Boulder.
Steve’s story is dramatic, but it is only one of many amazing stories that happen when you give people hope and the means to change their lives!
Ready to Work at Bridge House is a live-in program that prepares residents for gainful employment and permanent housing. Residents are offered extensive counselling to help them overcome barriers to success, whether it be substance abuse, lack of employment skills or any other impediment that stands in the way of independent living. Bridge House operates two social enterprises: Community Table Kitchen and a landscaping business. Both programs offer paid employment and teach skills in these areas while at the same time providing market-priced products and services to the community.
Steve had never lived independently as an adult. At Ready to Work he participated in counseling and got a job working on the landscaping crew doing projects and cleanup in the City of Boulder and Boulder Open Space. He learned how to care for his own room, how to budget his money and get along with other people. Upon completion of his program he got a job with a construction company in Boulder County and, because of his hard work and newly acquired peaceful demeanor, he was soon making $19 per hour. He bought a car and has his own apartment.
But Steve still wasn’t satisfied with his life. He believed that giving back, and helping others avoid the mistakes he made were a higher calling. He returned to Bridge House and applied for a job on the staff. He was hired as a supervisor of one of the landscaping crews. Even though the salary is lower than he made in the construction industry Steve has no regrets — he has found his calling.