Life Bridges Inc. is a local Bradley County organization that helps people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Life Bridges’ clients work all across Bradley County in retail shops, auto shops, full-service and fast-food restaurants as well as churches, university and manufacturing businesses.
Terry Caywood served as host. Caywood is Life Bridges Corporate Consultant and director of Supported Employment and Vehicle Maintenance.
Caywood presented John Almond, plant manager of Fun Treats, Inc. with a plaque of appreciation for 22 years of partnership employing individuals with disabilities.
More than 20 representatives from local businesses were awarded certificates of appreciation and a cookbook with recipes from families, staff, friends and partners of those connected to Life Bridges.
Caywood said, “All of you are special to us. This certificate is just a small token of saying thank you. We work with physically and mentally challenged individuals and that comes in a lot of varieties and with a lot of support.”
Life Bridges chief executive director Dr. Luke Queen noted, “Thirty years ago, it was virtually unheard of that people with mental and intellectual disabilities would be working in our community. In fact, 30 years ago, more than not, folks with intellectual disabilities were in the state run institutions, separated and apart from society.
“They were there because they were born with an intellectual disability. The old disconnect and not talk about the person with the disability has changed. Bradley County is one of those unique counties that opened up and said, we’re going to not only get and support folks out of the institution, but we’re going to let them come to Bradley County. We’re going to let them live and be our neighbors.
“Then, there was a group that went even further than that. There was a group that said, and we will hire them. You all do not know just how important you are. But I will tell you that Life Bridges does because the unemployment rate of people with intellectual disabilities nationwide is 80 percent,” he said.
“It is very difficult for someone who has a disability to get someone to hire them to do something. So, I’m not just talking to the choir, I’m talking to the angel choir. When I say we appreciate you, it is no small thing. We do.
“You’re radical and you have done something to step forward and we so much appreciate it,” he said.
Dr. Queen noted Life Bridges will celebrate 40 years next July and release a book, “Life Bridges, A History of People’s Transition from State Institutions to Living Successfully in the Community.”
Caywood said, “The state had a goal when I came on board nine years ago to at some point in the future, employ 25 percent of people with intellectual disabilities. At that time, the percentage was about a 21 percent average for the whole state.
“When the recession hit four or five years ago, they saw that they were not going to meet that goal so they lowered it to 23 percent. We are very proud at Life Bridges. We got an award from the state for having over 27 percent of our people employed.
“We are way above the state goal. That comes because we live in Bradley County with people like you that care and it shows. It’s not for us; it is for those people with disabilities. All they want to do is to contribute, have a meaningful life, have an income and be treated like we are. Sometimes folks don’t treat them that way, but God blesses those that do,” Queen said.
Life Bridges is located at 764 Old Chattanooga Pike and can be reached at 472-5268.