Bridging a More Inclusive Workforce

An interview with Bridges from School to Work

RILA sat down with Bridges from School to Work to discuss how they transform lives and support retailers in creating a diverse talent pool. Below is our interview from Shebtufi Kushma, Employer Representative II and employees at Mariano's (a subsidiary of Kroger) on how Bridges partners with retailers.

Shebtufi Kushma Employer Representative and Youth Mentor

RILA: What is Bridges? 
Shebtufi: Bridges is a non-profit organization that helps young people with disabilities obtain job placement and maintain job retention. We work to simultaneously engage employers and empowering youth.

RILA: Which retailers does Bridges currently work with? 
Shebtufi: Bridges works with many retailers including Albertsons, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Big Lots, Burlington, Costco, DICK’s Sporting Goods, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Express, Footlocker, Gap, H&M, JCPenney, Kohl's, Levi Strauss, Lowe's, Macy’s, Nordstrom, PartyCity, PetCo, PUMA, Qurate, REI, Rite Aid, Ross, Sally Beauty, Sephora, Talbots, Target, The Home Depot, Kroger, TJX,  Ulta, Walgreen Co., Walmart and Williams-Sonoma. I establish and lead an employer partnership with Mariano’s (a subsidiary of Kroger). Currently we work with 12 local stores.

RILA: Once a Bridges participant is placed with a retailer, how does Bridges work with the retailer to support both retailers and participants?
Shebtufi: When a Bridges participant is placed, the Bridges representative is there to assist with any onboarding needs the young adult and employer has. Bridges supports with new hire paperwork, travel training, and random site visits. The Bridges representative is also there (behind the scenes) throughout the process to assist with any concerns and accommodations the employer and young adult may have. We are committed to maintaining engagement with each participant for up to a year. We work closely with the store managers individually at each store, as well as meet with each of our participants regularly, helping with job readiness training and providing additional job-related support.

RILA: Over the 30 years Bridges has been around, what lesson do you think is most valuable for retailers who want to support Bridges participants?
Shebtufi: By being in our program, Bridges participants have proven to be highly motivated. For companies that support Bridges, they quickly learn how valuable it is to invest in people who are differently abled. People with disabilities are capable of being successful in the workforce and are dedicated, driven and productive employees.

RILA: Why is retail employment such a good fit for Bridges participants?
Shebtufi: Since many retail employers provide entry-level jobs, it offers the structure in which a young adult can relate to easier, evolve, and elevate from. These entry-level experiences help to develop transferable skills that will allow Bridges participants to grow to their full potential.  

RILA: How do you expand and build relationships with retailers and participants?      
Shebtufi: Founded by the Marriott family, we strive to work with integrity and support both retailers and the participants. At Bridges, we create a hiring pipeline for retailers as well a mentorship pipeline from participant to participant.  

RILA: How can retailers get involved?
Shebtufi: Retailers can contact a Bridges representative at any of our 12 site locations by visiting our website at or by calling the Bridges national office at (301) 380-7771 to discuss the program.

Participant Spotlight: Orlando Herrera

I found out about Bridges when Kelly Pavich (Managing Director of Operations, Bridges) came to my high school to talk about  how Bridges can help students with disabilities have a job before/after graduating from high school. After I graduated high school back in 2015, I took Bridge’s summer courses and was assigned Shebtufi Kushma as my employer representative/mentor. Shebtufi taught me and many other participants about how to apply for a job, dress appropriately for an interview conduct a job search, and may other things about employment and job readiness. The training was very helpful and made the idea of working more exciting. It allowed me the chance to interact with other youth seeking employment, helping me develop networking skills. Through Bridges, I found employment at Mariano’s as a Meat/Seafood Clerk. From Mariano’s, I went on to become a Quality Assurance Intern for Chicago Public Schools. Bridges was with me every step of that process and introduced me to an amazing company named Accenture. After that, applied for a job there and held the title of IT Technical Support Analyst for three years. Recently, I was promoted to The Voice/Network Administrator and will be working on Accenture’s Global Voice AMR team to support our internal voice and network infrastructure. This is an incredible growth opportunity that will greatly expand my knowledge in the field. 
From retail and my previous professional experience, I learned customer service skills. I have received great feedback from co-workers and supervisors saying that I am doing great at my position because of this. Additionally, I became a better team player, enabling me to feel comfortable with sharing my knowledge and ask for help to resolve any technical issues that users may encounter. 
My biggest takeaway from Bridges is to never give up. All staff members want their participants to become successful. They showed us great examples and made us stronger by believing in us and encouraging us that we can get a job. Bridges will post stories on their forums and social media to show how participants have became successful. Participants have something that they always wanted for long time all because they believe in us to be successful. All staff members are amazing, their friendliness, and their positive outcomes have helped everyone.

Pictured from left to right Shebtufi Kushma, Orlando Herera, and Reginald “Reggie” Watson. Orlando was the Bridges from School to Work 2017 Youth Achievement Award Recipient.
Reginald “Reggie” Watson is the Retail Manager for Mariano’s.

Retail Manager: Reginald "Reggie" Watson

Retail managers can come to expect polite, talented amazing candidates, with hidden talents, from Bridges. With patience, understanding and willingness to teach, train and develop Bridges and Mariano’s have been able to create a successful relationship with one another. 

From the start of the interviewing process to the 30-day check-in to the 1-year anniversary, Bridges is right there with their candidates supporting them to ensure success for all.

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