The agency has 35 group homes with 167 residents, more than 450 staff and is Bradley County’s eighth-largest employer.
The agency had its beginnings in 1973, when Madge Lockhart, a special education teacher and special needs advocate, opened her living room as an adult day care.
Eleven people were served as the first participants. The number grew quickly, prompting the First Christian Church on North Ocoee Street to offer its recreational hall, kitchen and offices to accommodated the need for more space and expanded facilities.
Easter Seal Society of Cleveland also responded by donating a van and driver to transport the clients. With the expansion, the new organization was named Bradley Adult Activity Center. In 1973, it was incorporated.
Rapid changes in the number of clients served and services occurred in the 1970s. In 1973, Paul Renner became director, followed by Danny Jones and in 1976 Ralph Day.
In 1977, the agency opened the doors of its first group home. The Activity Center was renamed Hermes, who was a messenger of the gods in Green and Roman mythology. The acronym — habilitation, education, residential, mediation, employment services — was created.
In 1978, Dan Gilley replaced Day at Hermes, but decided his talents would be better represented in law enforcement. Walter Hunt, who was a detective for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Department, was chosen by the board of directors as the new chief executive officer of Hermes.
A 25-year veteran of the organization and now chief of operations, Diana Jackson recalls, “Walter Hunt came to Hermes in 1980. I was employed in 1981. The agency really began to grow. We already had three group homes, a workshop, a day activity center and a home for boys, who were then called retarded juvenile offenders — RJOs.”
Throughout the 1980s, the agency added clients, services and staff. By 1985, the board of directors and staff renamed the agency Bradley/Cleveland Developmental Services. In 1999, it became Bradley/Cleveland Services.
Today, Life Bridges is one of the premier organizations in the country serving intellectually and physically challenged Americans.
Located on Old Chattanooga Pike, the main campus is housed in two buildings with a combined total of 30,000 square feet. A sheltered workshop where jobs are completed for several Cleveland manufacturing concerns is in one building.
The adjacent building houses offices, the medical clinic, a physical therapy section and all the other activities of the agency.
Many of the clients at Life Bridges have jobs in the community. Some of the employers are Lee University, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Cracker Barrel, Top Tech Automotive, Ace Hardware, Taco Bell and Fun Treats, a popsicle manufacturing company.
Every day each client who cannot participate in a work program is transported to the main campus for physical therapy, music therapy and opportunities for community involvement.
“We are extremely proud that we have one of only two in-house medical clinics in the state of Tennessee,” Jackson said. “There are only eight across the United States. We have conducted numerous seminars across the nation to help other agencies create their own in-house health care facility.
Not only is Life Bridges serving the intellectually and physically challenged of Bradley County, but it has become the special needs business model for other communities across the country to emulate.