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BRIDGE uses Campus Life program to give adults with disabilities a glimpse of college

March 21, 2018

“Absolute rays of sunshine,” said Jennifer Herman, a UW-River Falls student and the National Residence Hall Honorary Event Coordinator.

“Curious to learn,” said Olivia Yue, a UWRF student.

Both Herman and Yue had nothing but positive things to say about their experiences working with the clients of BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a nonprofit based out of Hudson that is designed to help youth and adults with disabilities in the St. Croix River Valley. There are no particular criteria for people to be a part of BRIDGE, as its clients possess a wide variety of abilities and characteristics.

BRIDGE was originally started by families in order to help people with disabilities develop life skills by means of a transition house. However, as BRIDGE continued to grow, its staff saw the need for more programs.

In 2010, BRIDGE partnered with Amy Lloyd, Service Coordinator at UWRF, to provide BRIDGE clients a chance to get a college experience once a month through various social activities. Eventually, BRIDGE launched their Campus Life program in the spring semester of 2015. With a successful inaugural semester, the Campus Life program continues to thrive at UWRF.

“I think we have engaged about a third of the academic departments,” said Ginny Ballantine, the Administrative and Marketing Director at BRIDGE, when describing the Campus Life program. Clients who participate in the program are treated to a wide range of 30-minute sessions on Mondays 10-2 p.m. These could include student taught sessions, a campus tour and playing football with the UWRF football team.

Elspeth Ballantine, a UWRF alum and the Communications and Volunteer Coordinator at BRIDGE, said that clients are constantly asking her, “Are we going to college, Ellie?” Campus Life sessions have become BRIDGE participants’ favorite activities.

Clients love being able to be amongst their peers and are very receptive toward the staff and students.

“Staff and students love the appreciation of the clients, the unconditional happiness that they show towards us,” said Ginny Ballantine.

Elspeth Ballantine said that clients are oftentimes confused when their friends leave for college after high school. They wonder why they are no longer able to see their friends every day at school anymore. Campus Life helps high school graduates with disabilities feel like they belong.

“Being here allows clients to be more like us than they are different,” said Elspeth Ballantine.

The Campus Life program is made possible by the volunteers that participate. “It’s the students who make it happen; it’s not just about what we get out of it, it’s about what the students get out of it too,” said Elspeth Ballantine.

“Volunteering with BRIDGE is very fulfilling,” said Yue. Yue, a Biology major, got to teach clients about biology when she volunteered with the Campus Life program.  During her 30-minute session, Yue proceeded to teach clients about Petri dishes and microscopes. She was amazed by the clients’ capacity to learn.

“Just because they have disabilities doesn’t mean they deserve any less,” she said.

In addition to the 30-minute sessions, BRIDGE organizes other events that students can participate in, such as the Valentine’s Day dance and the Come See Santa event. Jennifer Herman, who volunteered at Come See Santa in December, said she believes that these social events give clients a more inclusive environment.

BRIDGE and the Campus Life program strive to reach out to as many people in the community as possible, disability or none. Ultimately, BRIDGE’s goal is to give anyone who wants to go to college an opportunity to do so.

Volunteering with BRIDGE provides students with a new perspective and shatters any stereotypes that they may have held about people with disabilities. “BRIDGE offers students an opportunity to see the individual and not the disability,” said Herman.

Herman and Yue both urge people who are interested in volunteering with BRIDGE to dive in, get involved and get of their comfort zone. Elspeth Ballantine can be contacted for more information at elspeth@bridgecl.org.