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My Bridge to Life

“Youths leaving the system” – What a thought for adults to contemplate about the most precious resource we have as human beings, “OUR CHILDREN”.

  • Studies of these youths four years after leaving foster care show that fewer than half of ‘aged out’ foster youth have graduated from high school, compared to 85 percent of all 18-to-24-year-olds.
  • Fewer than one in eight has graduated from a four-year college.
  • Almost two-thirds have not maintained employment for a year and fewer than one in five is completely self-supporting.
  • More than a quarter of the males have spent time in jail and 4 of 10 have become parents.

“Age 18” – How do we let them face such daunting obstacles and not be well-equipped to manage the transition to adult life?                                                                                                      


Troubling Prospects for Foster Youth

Youth formerly in foster care face many obstacles that make the transition to adulthood difficult and sometimes almost impossible. They have experienced considerable family instability and educational disruption, and suffer mental health problems at a much higher rate than youth in the general population.  The federal government allocates more funds annually to rehabilitate youth offenders than for children and teens in foster care.  As a result, the outcome for teens transitioning out of foster care is dismal.  Foster youth exiting care demonstrate a substantially increased likelihood of homelessness, mental and physical health problems, incarceration, pregnancy, and drug use. They also experience poor educational achievement and completion, and an increased likelihood of unemployment and public assistance utilization. 

This program will assist these young people who have been neglected and forgotten by most in the public and private sectors.  Many current social service programs, as well as the justice system, which work with these young men and women, are continually presented with the fact that they are seeing many of them time and time again. Entrenched in old behavior patterns that perpetuate emotional and social instability, they lack inner resources and basic skills in education, for jobs, and life on their own. Day-to-day necessities are the priorities for these youth; their thinking is short-term, even irrational at times. They do not plan for the future or work toward their goals. They do not believe in themselves enough for that -- and nobody else ever did either. When conflict arises, they resolve it by running, getting out, moving on – toward, or back to the negative influences and behavior, which probably began when they first entered the foster care system.                                                           


A Bridge to Life is a transitional independent living program designed to provide young people between the ages of 18 to 21 with the opportunity to change their lives and become productive, successful adults. Once accepted, a resident may participate in the program for 12 to 18 months.  A significant factor in their success is the relationships which staff, mentors, volunteers and community partners develop with these young people. Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest believes this to be the most effective way to motivate our young people to pursue their individual goals and we agree, for within the context of these relationships they are accepted, affirmed and challenged to reach their potential. 

Key factors to success are the expectations and approach of the staff and mentors. Successful relationships with these young people are built on our belief that we must provide support to help each individual grow and develop. Successful staff and mentors understand that positive changes in the lives of young people do not happen quickly or automatically. In order for this to happen,  staff members, mentors, and youth must trust each other over a long enough time to build a relationship that helps the youth feel supported and safe.  From this foundation, each young person can develop self-confidence and self-esteem, and see new possibilities in life.

The staff and mentors will understand and follow the ‘Seven Always Steps’: 

  • Always focus on the situation, not the person.
  • Always take time to build the relationship.
  • Always maintain the trust.
  • Always maintain the self- confidence and self-esteem of each youth.
  • Always work toward building constructive relationships with each youth.
  • Always take the initiative to make things better.
  • Always ‘Lead By Example’.

Establishing a relationship with these youth may not be easy. Adults and youth are separated by age and, in many cases, by background and culture. Even those adults with good instincts may be hindered by the difficulties that come out of these differences.  It will take time for youth to feel comfortable just talking or relating, and longer still before they feel comfortable enough to share a confidence. Learning to trust—especially for young people who already have been let down by adults in their lives—is a gradual process. Youth aging out of foster care should not be expected to be trusting simply because program staff and/or mentors provide for some of their daily needs.  These relationships will require patience and skill.
Each staff member and mentor will be required to attend formal training.  Specific strategies to achieve the above will be addressed during training, as will methods to assist our young people to increase their level of ‘Resiliency’.  Resiliency is defined as:

  • the ability to ‘bounce back’ and succeed in the face of adversity
  • the natural process of self-righting and growth
  • the capacity to meet challenges and become more capable and competent as a result of these experiences

Six Key Factors That Foster Resiliency:



Pro-social bonding - connections with persons and activities
that are healthy and supportive of positive growth

Clear and consistent boundaries - defined and agreed upon
expectations for behavior as well as consequences, with 
both enforced equitably

Life skills - communications, problem-solving, decision-
making goal-setting, conflict resolution, assertiveness, etc.  

Caring and support - unconditional positive regard, trust,
and love

High, supported expectations - achievement orientation that
is based on abilities and potential provides motivation 

Meaningful participation - opportunities to become involved;
help others; engage in problem-solving, rule-making 
and goal-setting

> Young people are less likely to engage in risk-related
behaviors and relationships

> Leads to feelings of safety and freedom, and in turn,
to more positive participation

> Skills required to successfully navigate through life
making goal-setting, conflict resolution, assertiveness, etc.   

> Can lead to an increased sense of worth and value

> High, but realistic expectations support success

> Meaningful participation can promote belonging,
connection, and a sense of pride and ownership



What our staff and mentors will do to help foster resiliency:

  • Practice and promote the six key factors listed above
  • Use a high warmth, low criticism style of interaction
  • Encourage goal setting and a sense of mastery
  • Appreciate the unique talents and contributions of each individual
  • Promote sharing of responsibilities, service to others, “required helpfulness”


What our staff and mentors do to help build resilience:

  • Gently push the young persons ‘comfort zone’
  • Share stories of resilience, about yourself or family members
  • Help give each young person a sense of their unique/special gifts
  • Encourage young people to think of things that they are no longer afraid of
  • Give opportunities for group speaking or group focus/attention

                                                                                                      - Perry, 2003

  • Balance providing help with encouraging independence
  • Offer explanations and reconciliation along with rules and discipline
  • Accept errors and failures while providing guidance toward improvement
  • Give the young person comfort and encouragement in stressful situations
  • Encourage and model flexibility in selecting and using different resilience factors in response to your adverse situations                                         

-  Grotberg, 1995

Characteristics of the Resilient Young Adult
B. Bernard, 1993                      

Social competence - This trait in resilient young people is characterized by a sense of humor, communications skills, empathy and caring, flexibility, and other pro-social behaviors.  Resilient young people tend to establish more positive relationships with others.  Evidence from the other end of the spectrum shows that poor social skills are often seen as major components in depression, addiction disorders, social anxiety, and other childhood and adolescent problems.                                                                                                                                                                                      
Problem-solving skills - Thinking abstractly, reflectively, and flexibly are characteristics of this trait in resilient young people.  The ability to attempt alternate solutions for both cognitive and social problems is another aspect of problem-solving skills found in resilient young people.  As with social competence skills, studies show that adults showing psychological problems are also consistently identified as lacking in these skills.                                                                                                                             
Autonomy - This trait has been described in a variety of ways by researchers.  Some have referred to it as a "strong sense of independence" or "sense of power" while others term it as "self-discipline" or "self-control."  The core of this trait in resilient young people is a sense of self-identify and an ability to exert some control over the person's environment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
Sense of purpose and future - The traits falling under this category seem to be powerful predictors of positive outcome.  This factor consists of several linked attributes such as motivation to achieve, educational aspirations, belief in a bright future, a sense of anticipation or of a compelling future, and hopefulness.

Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the ability to recognize the value of a culture different from one’s own.  LSS-SW through its 38-year history understands and recognizes the importance of cultural competence for the staff we employ and the volunteers who assist with our programs.  It is our intent to train our staff and volunteers to be knowledgeable and sensitive regarding the traditions, beliefs, education, values, experiences, gender, sexual orientation and social status of our programs participants. LSS-SW will utilize the ‘Cultural Competence’ tool created by Baylor University’s Community Mentoring for Adolescent Development (see attachment A) for training its staff, volunteers and mentors.


A Bridge to Life believes in every young adult’s right to self-determination as the best approach to genuine growth and individual achievement. In this way, they can enjoy the satisfaction of success and accomplishments and learn to assimilate the lessons of struggle, and even failure. Though the program fosters community, each resident is deemed a unique individual and is treated as such. The program seeks to challenge each young person to become a competent, independent adult who claims responsibility for his or her life. The no-rules approach (treating the residents as adults who follow the common ‘understood’ rules healthy adults follow) communicates to our youth that they need to internalize values that are constructive, and will enable them to pursue a beneficial course of their own choosing.                                                       


A Bridge to Lifeis a living community.  This community will be made of partnerships between our residents, staff, mentors, volunteers, and community partners, each contributing to fulfill the goals of the program.

Our community will be a loving, caring, and supportive environment, existing to provide a “HOME” for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth. 

We view each person as a special and spiritual individual.  We are committed to provide relationships based on love, honesty, and trust.  It is through these loving relationships that we will assist our young people to develop into caring, responsible, and independent adults.

We will uphold the worth and dignity of each individual, so that they may achieve the basic human rights of fulfilling personal relationships, physical and mental health, meaningful employment, quality housing, and hopes for the future. We wish to establish the rights of young people to feel protected and to attain basic health of mind and body.

We desire to help young people who are fully capable of making responsible life   decisions, young people who hold deep, real, and meaningful spiritual values, young people who are capable of giving and receiving love, and young people who can and desire to become truly whole human beings.

We believe:

  • These young people are valuable human beings.
  • An environment can be created in which they can achieve their potential.
  • Personal relationships grounded in honesty, mutual understanding, and trust are the foundation of this environment.
  • Every interaction with our young people is a chance to build on those relationships to help them achieve the above goals.


  • -To take care of basic needs of a defined number of youth per year so that they can focus on psychological, intellectual, and spiritual   growth.
  • -To teach them to examinetheir motivations and behaviors, to examine facts rationally and positively, to make informed decisions, to   face conflicts (not evade them), and to accept the consequences for their actions.
  • -To enhance interpersonal skills and self-esteem so that they can handle conflict and maintain friendships.
  • -To help them develop constructive approaches to their family situations.
  • -To enhance their ability to maintain jobs.
  • -To increase educational and vocational levels.
  • -To enable a defined number of youth per year to live on their own.
  • -To ensure young people attain and maintain mental, spiritual, and physical health.


The Comprehensive Transition Plan
Comprehensive transition planning is an essential tool that emerged in its earliest forms in the 1970’s and later from the legislative reform of the foster care system. A well-thought out transition plan can make the difference between whether a youth becomes homeless and jobless or whether s/he becomes a successful and productive member of society. A transition plan must include goals related to housing, education, employment, physical and mental health and community connections. 

Guiding Principles
LSS-SW’s A Bridge to Life understands and firmly believes a transition plan must be a collaborative process through which the youth should feel involved and empowered to achieve his/her aspirations. Youth should be intimately involved in the planning process and should be empowered to make appropriate decisions regarding their transition plan. The planning process should draw on the strengths of the youth as well as his/her needs. A Bridge to Life Resident Advisors will work collaboratively with all appropriate parties, foster parents, relatives, treatment providers, attorneys, community providers and other supportive adults in the youth’s life, to develop a plan. The Resident Advisor must maintain a level of cultural awareness and sensitivity. Minorities are overrepresented in the foster care population, whereas they are underrepresented in the social work and professional setting. In addition, it is vital that our Resident Advisors are honest with teens about the challenges they will face. The earlier they understand the challenges, the more receptive they will be to the planning process.


Young men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 who are in out of home care and in the custody of AZ DES, a licensed child welfare agency, or a tribal child welfare agency, may be referred.

Additionally, LSS-SW will ensure A Bridge to Life will follow the policy guidelines according to STATE OF ARIZONA Department of Economic Security, Division of Children, Youth and Families, and the Child and Family Services Plan Annual Progress Report 2006.  Chapter 16, Section 6 (See Attachment B)

All applicants must seek gainful employment.  Program staff, mentors and volunteers will provide assistance in preparation of resumes and letters of recommendation, and in securing other employability skills.  Applicants will be scheduled for interviews by staff members and a potential mentor prior to acceptance into the program. The admissions process is designed to assess a candidate's motivation and will ultimately assist him/her to devise a realistic Personal Performance Plan (PPP) of achievement for his/her time in the program.  The PPP is a tool (see attachment C) designed to provide goals and feedback on the principal responsibilities and objectives to be accomplished as well as value-driven competencies that will be developed individually by each program participant and the program staff.  Aligning each individual’s responsibilities and objectives with his/her goals is crucial to achieving the growth necessary for successful independent living.  The admissions process culminates with a two-week orientation program, which welcomes and introduces the ‘new resident’ to A Bridge to Life. The orientation concludes with each resident receiving a permanent mentor.

Assessment Tools
The first step in the programs planning process is assessing the strengths and needs of the
youth. There are several tools available to achieve this goal. One such tool being considered for use in A Bridge to Life is the Ansell-Casey Life Skills Assessment, which is a web-based tool that assesses daily living tasks, housing and community resources, money management, self-care, social development and work and study habits.
Additionally, the assessment can be adjusted for youth at different developmental levels.
Following assessment of the youth’s strengths and needs, preparation of the PPP will begin.


The participation of the volunteer mentor is one of the distinctive features of the program. The mentor's role is critical for the development of the residents who, in the past, have lacked effective adult influences in their lives. Through a caring, candid relationship, mentors can contribute significantly to the personal and social growth of the residents.  Mentors will be trained utilizing the National Mentoring Center’s Technical Assistance Packet # 5, Training New Mentors, a publication of the Northwest Educational Regional Laboratory (see attachment D).   

The mentoring program will have four basic components:

  • Program Design and Planning – Policy and guidelines
  • Program Management – Leadership and oversight
  • Program Operation – Meeting the ongoing needs of the program
  • Program Evaluation - Ensuring safety standards, goals and effectiveness exceeds expectations   


In order to symbolize the necessary maturity, which their role implies, mentors are expected to be at least 30 years of age. Mentors will also be selected because they are experienced in their careers and can communicate a sense of stability and professionalism to the residents who generally are naive and unrealistic about basic work routines and practices.

“In a study of Big Brother, Big Sisters,  mentors who took the following approaches were the ones…who were ultimately able to make a difference in the lives of youth.  Bridge to Life mentors will be trained to follow these same guidelines:
1.  Be a friend
2.  Have realistic goals and expectations
3.  Have fun together
4.  Give your mentee voice and choice in deciding on activities
5.  Be positive
6.  Let your mentee have much of the control over what the two of you talk about-and
how you talk about it
7.  Listen
8.  Respect the trust your mentee places in you
9.  Remember that your relationship is with the youth, not the youth’s parent
10. Remember that you are responsible for building the relationship
Program youth will also receive training in their role as mentees, in order to help set realistic expectations.


Once a young person is accepted into A Bridge to Life, she/he moves into the house and participates in the residential life of the program.  Within the first few weeks, the Personal Performance Plan (PPP) is reviewed with each resident and will be modified from time to time, as needs and goals may change.

The Residential Advisor(s) are responsible for the day-to-day experiences of our young people. In addition, select volunteers will provide the opportunity for our young men and women to participate in a range of activities – recreational, community and volunteerism, etc. Ideal candidates for Resident Advisor positions will have extensive background experience working with this designated population (experience within the foster care system and transitional living).  In addition, A Bridge to Life staff will be provided specialized in-service training and must be  able to demonstrate their knowledge of the population though prior experience and through a through knowledge of the information listed in Appendix E, ‘it’s my life – a framework for youth transitioning from foster care’ developed by Casey Family Programs.  the key elements found on  page 14 of the Appendix: ‘How Can Practitioners Best Meet The Needs Of Youth In Transition?’, will be part of each staff member’s orientation  training. (see attachment E).  

Each of the residents will be expected to pay rent on time each month. Like many housing developments, rent will be based on an individual's income.  This will enable residents to develop the habit of paying bills on a regular monthly schedule. 


The Education Program will diminish resident anxieties around formal academic training by gradually introducing them to appropriate educational experiences.  Consistent with the overall program, the education component provides youth with the resources necessary to make practical choices regarding their education.  Residents will have concrete plans for either completing or continuing their education.  As abilities and goals dictate, pursuit of a college education may be a viable option for many of our residents
Although our residents suffer from barriers to employment, such as basic education and career awareness, every resident must be employed or find gainful employment upon admission to the program. The Vocational Program will enable each resident to acquire appropriate stable employment, which is key to furthering his/her quality of life, including access to housing and health care. Additionally, a youth’s employment status influences his/her self-confidence and hopes for the future. Youth and staff will work to identify the resident’s natural skills and abilities leading to the development of long-term and short-term employment goals.


A Bridge to Life is designed to mirror the "real world" as much as possible. Our life skills component will establish a program which will assist the young men and women in developing those skills needed to live as independent adults. The young people will learn how to shop responsibility, plan and cook nutritious meals, sew, clean the house, wash laundry, look for housing and maintain a household.

Financial Management

Financial management will focus on how to manage a bank account and the importance of good credit.  The program will cover money management so residents develop a level of comfort in managing their resources and stabilizing their finances for the future.  Residents will receive training in basic banking functions, as well as in cash management, budgeting, appropriate expenditures, credit options, and long-term financial health.   

Primary Life Skills - The life skills component will provide training activities for residents in health information, life skills development, drug resistance skills, social functioning, and instruction in the positive use of leisure time.  Life skills training will cover living safe, preventive health, recognizing and managing stress, violence, anger management, and problem solving. 

A Bridge to Life will utilize the Thinking for a Change Curriculum Developed by Jack Bush, Ph.D, Barry Glick, Ph.D., and Juliana Taymans, Ph.D.   Our residents require enhanced support systems, adult guidance in making safe choices, positive adult role models, and the capability to accept responsibility for their behaviors.  Thinking for a Change is an integrated, cognitive behavior change program that includes cognitive restructuring, social skills development, and development of problem solving skills. 

The Lesson Sessions include:

   Lesson 1: Introduction and Overview
   Lesson 2: Active Listening Skill
   Lesson 3: Asking a Question
   Lesson 4: Giving Feedback
   Lesson 5: Our Thinking Controls How We Act
   Lesson 6: Paying Attention to Our Thinking
   Lesson 7: Recognizing the Thinking that Leads to Trouble
   Lesson 8: Finding New Thinking
   Lesson 9: Using Thinking Check-Ins
   Lesson 10: Knowing Your Feelings
   Lesson 11: Understanding the Feelings of Others
   Lesson 12: Responding to the Feelings of Others
   Lesson 13: Preparing for a Stressful Conversation
   Lesson 14: Responding to Anger
   Lesson 15: Dealing with an Accusation 
   Lesson 16: Introduction to Problem Solving
   Lesson 17: Step 1 - Stop and Think
   Lesson 18: Step 2 - Problem Description
   Lesson 19: Step 3 - Getting Information to Set a Goal
   Lesson 20: Step 4 - Choices and Consequences
   Lesson 21: Step 5 - Choose, Plan, Do; Step 6 - Evaluate
   Lesson 22:
Self-Evaluation: What Else Do I Need?

Substance Abuse Services - The focus of this program component is to assess and offer services to those residents who are experiencing difficulties due to drugs and alcohol, as well as preventative services. A Bridge to Life will offer individual counseling, group counseling, and assertiveness training.  Drug and alcohol education and peer counseling programs will be offered by referral through our community partners.

Enhanced Life Skills - This component will host a series of guest speakers that will feature professionals from the business, faith-based and non-profit community’s sectors who will introduce youth to real workplace situations in various jobs and careers. These speakers will be encouraged to speak openly and candidly with youth about employment and careers as well as life expectations.  Speakers will focus on leadership, civic responsibility, self-confidence and personal responsibility.


Maintaining good health is essential for our residents to make the transition out of foster
care successfully. Unfortunately, it presents one of the most difficult challenges for youth
transitioning out of care because of their increased probability of mental and physical health problems. Residents will receive a comprehensive mental and physical health screening upon acceptance to the program and should be able to manage any prescribed medication.  In addition, it is important that residents know what resources exist in the community and where they can go for help, such as free clinics. The programs staff will work with the each resident to ensure they have obtained medical insurance.


A comprehensive transition plan must include a detailed set of goals and timetables with regard to housing.  Youth will be made aware of the various housing resources available.  Additionally, residents will be educated regarding their rights and obligations as tenants.


In addition to providing youth with practical independent living skills, our residents will
be assisted with their emotional and social transition to adulthood. Unlike most
youth in the general population, foster youth frequently lack an emotional support
network of family, church, and friends. It is imperative that our residents establish meaningful connections with supportive members of the community. These connections are crucial to their development into healthy and engaged adults. The A Bridge to life staff  will also provide opportunities for the youth to participate in community volunteerism, cultural, religious or other activities related to the youth’s interests.


In order to assess the effectiveness of A Bridge to Life program services and its long-term impact on the residents, appropriate outcome indicators and measures will be developed utilizing the information from ‘it’s my life – a framework for youth transitioning from foster care’ developed by Casey Family Programs, page 60-63. This section examines outcome measures across the domains of independent living
outlined in this framework (see attachment E). It is the intent of LSS-SW to work closely with Arizona State University to develop these outcome indicators and measures.  A member of the LSS-SW Board of Directors, Director and Professor of Partnerships for Community Development, will help the Agency connect with educational and research resources at ASU.


(LSS-SW) A Bridge to Life Advisory Council will be chaired by a private for-profit founding member of the project, Mr. Michael Bolden, YouthHealth USA, North American Director.  LSS-SW, based on carefully selected recommendations, will establish an outstanding local advisory committee to provide program oversight, and local and statewide connections and resources.  Marketing approaches, based on the Program’s activities and accomplishments, will be designed to identify high quality, permanent employment opportunities for our youth.  These employment opportunities will be developed within public, government and private sectors.  The President and CEO of LSS-SW and the Vice President for Development and Operations, who is also a member of the Phoenix Workforce Connection Board, will be members of the Advisory Council.  In addition, the A Bridge to Life Program Coordinator will participate in the Advisory Council meetings.  This will help to ensure strong, immediate, and successful program implementation and follow-up. Professional minutes of the Advisory Council will be taken at each meeting.  The LSS-SW Advisory Council will include founding individuals and appropriate representatives from the following:

  • Phoenix Workforce Connection Board
  • Arizona State University
  • Behavioral Health Care
  • Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
  • Phoenix Job Corp
  • Faith Based Organizations / Collaborators
  • Mr. Michael Bolden, Chairman & Founding Member
  • Sylvester Ajagbe, Ph.D., Founding Member
  • Sylvia Coonen, Mountain View Lutheran Church, Founding member
  • Barbara Boone, Alliance Bank of Arizona, Founding Member
  • Jan LaWall, MSW
  • Other Community Stake Holders
  • One or more of our resident youth

Over the past 38 years, Lutheran Social Services has developed a positive reputation and working relationship in the community.  Bridge to Life Advisory Council will meet at the beginning of the program and monthly until the time is right for quarterly meetings.  Meetings will take place as called for by the council chair and the LSS-SW staff liaison.  All financial and program reports will be subject to an independent audit.  A Bridge to Life staff will meet on a weekly basis.  Various forms of communications and other technology will be available to program staff and the Advisory Council.


The success of each resident is measured by the distance he/she has come in gaining the tools necessary for living a life of independence, quality, and dignity. Upon completion of the program, the resident works together with the staff and mentor in locating housing and plugging into available community resources.


Workshops will be held on specific issues as identified by the residents prior to their moving out. All the young men and women who have participated in
A Bridge to Life are eligible for Aftercare Services. This component will assist the young people in stabilizing their lives once they have moved into their new communities and following up with them on an on-going basis. An Alumni Association will be formed and our alumni will participate in interviewing prospective new residents as well as returning to house meetings as guest speakers. 

Our residents should always have a fallback resource as most youths in traditional families have their parents love and financial support long into their twenties.  A Bridge to Life staff, mentors, community churches and community partners will provide after-care support for our residents. 


Styles, M. & Morrow, K. (1995)  Building Relationships with Youth in Program Settings: A Study of Big Brothers,/Big Sisters,Philadelphia:  Public/Private Ventures


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