In 1987 we learned that the Canadian government was seeking proposals for three-year pilot projects for people with significant barriers to employment and that they might be open to a design focusing on women with a history of abuse. The more we talked about it, the more excited we became. We arranged several gatherings of key community people to discuss the idea.
In these meetings, all agreed that we wanted to create an environment where women felt safe enough to take on the challenges of changing their lives, realizing their dreams and taking their rightful places in society. We envisioned a place of transformation, a place where they could rediscover their self-worth and value, a place where they could explore and plan for a future for themselves and those they loved.
We knew our vision could become reality, so we applied for the funding. In the process developing the project, we looked for another program to serve as a model, but we were unable to find any other such program anywhere in North America. Our design would be unique. Our proposal for the Bridges Employability Project was accepted by Employment Canada in 1988.
In our previous work with women and from our own experience, Joan and I had seen how poverty, abuse and isolation had prevented women from reaching their goals. We knew that women need many forms of support to reach goals of financial and psychological independence. They need to experience success. They need resources, education and time. They need skilled, nonjudgmental people to assist them. So we looked for women to help us to build a program that provided all those things, and we looked for a physical space that created just the right atmosphere.
In the fall of 1988 the first group of Bridges participants walked through the doors. Many women have followed them since then, and many lives have been transformed and dreams achieved because of what they experienced at Bridges.
Where did the idea for Bridges come from? A program officer with the Federal Employment Ministry saw the description for a new funding initiative and thought that it could apply to a project for women with a history of abuse. Joan and I were contacted because of our work with women and employment, and with women and poverty.
Throughout its history, Bridges has faced challenges to its own continued survival. It has been a constant challenge to find money and other resources to keep the program flourishing, to educate politicians and other funders about the value of such a place of transformation for the women who come to Bridges and, indeed, for the community at large. We have received financial support from all levels of government as well as corporate and private donors.