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Mario Guttierrez, left, and Jerrica Allen pack butter on April 22, 2022, at Community Table Kitchen, which is part of Boulder’s Bridge House. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Mario Guttierrez, left, and Jerrica Allen pack butter on April 22, 2022, at Community Table Kitchen, which is part of Boulder’s Bridge House. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Over the span of 25 years, Bridge House has changed its name and its location. It brought on new executive directors and adjusted its programming.

But through all the change, Bridge House has kept its focus simple: The organization is here to help people.

The nonprofit serves people experiencing homelessness, largely through its mainstay called Ready to Work, a yearlong program with paid work, housing and case management support. Trainees graduate with a job and permanent housing.

While the program has proven successful, Ready to Work hasn’t always been part of the organization, which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Bridge House began in 1997 as a day shelter called START. START later changed its name to Carriage House and operated a day shelter and kitchen out of a brick house owned by the First Congregational Church.

Carriage House then merged with Community Table, a nonprofit providing meals to people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.

It operated as the Carriage House Community Table before changing its name to Bridge House in 2011, when it began its “jobs first” approach to homelessness. Bridge House has expanded to Aurora and plans to open another location in Englewood soon.

Bridge House Ready to Work House and Employment Center in Boulder on Nov. 16, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“We’ve evolved into where we are now. Really, 25 years, this is where we’ve come,” Director of Community Relations Scott Medina said. “Because of all the experience and the knowledge we’ve gleaned, this is sort of the best of what we’ve become.”

The program has produced favorable results, boasting a 74% success rate, he noted.

“This isn’t a quick fix,” Medina said. “We are looking for real transformation in people’s lives, which will be sustained for them after they graduate. That takes awhile to accomplish.”

Dustin Tenney knows that firsthand. Tenney is a graduate of the Ready to Work program and is working for the organization as a behavioral health case manager.

As someone with lived experience, Tenney is better prepared than most to relate to current trainees and to demonstrate that a different path is feasible.

“I’m a huge advocate for lived experience in the modality of working in addiction,” he said. “I think it’s vital.”

Tenney’s success was the perfect mix of timing and finding the right program for him.

“It resonated with me when it needed to resonate with me,” he said.

Despite its focus on work, Community Table Kitchen, where Medina began, is still very much a part of Bridge House.

People in the Ready to Work program either work in the kitchen under Chef John Trejo or on the outdoor crew, providing supplemental sanitation and landscaping to municipal and commercial customers.

Additionally, there are several social enterprises that run out of Bridge House: Daconias Truffle Brownies, a take-and-bake dinner program, a catering company and Community Table Café, a freestanding café at Boulder Community Hospital.

Years ago, Joy Redstone served as executive director of the Carriage House, so she’s been around to watch Bridge House evolve. Her time working with the organization remains one of her most valued professional experiences.

“I’m really proud of how Bridge House has developed,” she said.

While everyone has different personal circumstances that contribute to housing insecurity, including substance use and mental health disorders, Redstone views homelessness as an economic problem at its core.

“At the end of the day, if a person can get economically back on their feet, it’s a good outcome,” she said.

Redstone argues there is a real benefit in providing services that help meet people’s basic needs, so she was disappointed to see Bridge House close its day shelter.

“It’s my dream that that will come back to Boulder in some form in the future,” Redstone said. “But there’s just only so much that one agency can do.

“Bridge House has my deepest respect for all that they do for people,” she added.

Medina also referenced the lack of basic emergency services in Boulder and said Bridge House is playing a role in the city’s effort to open one.

“We always are looking for how we can be an advocate to support all people experiencing homelessness … even as we recognize that Ready to Work isn’t applicable to everyone experiencing homelessness,” he said. “No one program can be that.”

Through Bridge House, Tenney found a family.

When he recently went through surgery, his coworkers bought him Doordash gift cards and people in all departments checked in on him regularly.

“The way that they support you in this program, and they just don’t let up, is unheard of. It really is,” he said. “This program is my family.”