Vulnerable Youth Need a Bridge: We’re Helping to Build It

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In the past, we’ve highlighted Innovo Benefits Group’s support for Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an agency providing life-changing services for Boston’s homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth. When we look at their mission and the good work they do, we see a direct connection to our core mission at Innovo. In our work helping employers navigate their own health plans, we see firsthand how difficult it can be for employees to access mental health services. For homeless youth without traditional insurance, there is an even greater challenge to find mental health services. That is why we’re committed to helping Bridge fulfill their important work with critical funding to make a breakthrough mental health program possible.

Though we all may not see the problem ourselves, youth homelessness is a pervasive issue. A national survey conducted by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that one in 10 young adults ages 18-25, and at least one in 30 adolescents ages 13-17, experience some form of homelessness unaccompanied by a parent or guardian over the course of a year.* 

What this tells us is there is still much work to do and that it’s not only about getting youth off the streets. We need to help them forge a meaningful path forward: One that allows them to become productive, healthy citizens. That’s a critical aspect of Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ mission. They want to take care of these vulnerable youth and get them on a better trajectory for the long-term.

A Bridge to Better

Each year, Bridge serves 2,000 homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth in Boston. They meet young people where they’re at with compassion, support, and resources to turn their lives around. They have staff out on the street, connecting with homeless youth through a mobile app and a mobile clinic both of which we’ve sponsored in the past to connect teens to medical attention, survival kits, clothes, food, and referrals to open intake services at Bridge and other agencies. The Bridge team also gets youth enrolled in health insurance, which helps to remove barriers to good care.

Beyond immediate interventions for fundamentals like medical care, food, and shelter, Bridge builds a path for disaffected youth to earn a high school certificate, start college, learn job skills, and establish meaningful careers. Another critical component of this future-forward approach involves programs designed to help homeless youth cope with the trauma they’ve experienced.

Breaking the Cycle

One program we’re proud to have helped launch is Bridge’s Pathways to Self-Sufficiency Initiative, which includes Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy built on four pillars: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and personal connectedness. The program consists of four one-week cycles, one dedicated to each of the pillars.

With essential funding from Innovo, Bridge is adapting the traditional DBT approach to the unique needs of teens, piloting a program that they hope can serve as a model for other organizations assisting young people at risk. The program at Bridge supports teens through both individual and group activities. In these one-hour sessions, youth learn and practice methods to remove self-sufficiency barriers. The focus is on developing daily life skills, career development, and sound mental health. 

From an emotional-wellness standpoint, DBT helps youth recognize their reactions to stressors in daily life through chain analysis (understanding the situations that lead up to an adverse emotional reaction) and teaches them how to proactively deal with those stressors in the moment, before they cause issues. 

Peter Ducharme, Bridge’s Clinical Director, is trained in DBT and supervises teens in the program. Offering DBT is a vital part of Bridge’s vision to improve the quality of life for youth living on the street. This kind of life-changing therapy would be otherwise unavailable because teens experiencing homelessness often don’t have insurance and out-of-pocket expenses are cost-prohibitive.

Offering DBT in a program such as Bridge’s is truly unique – making our involvement so much more rewarding. With Innovo providing essential support to the DBT program this year, Ducharme can continue to train Bridge staff and bring on a clinical supervisor. Without this program, young people might have to wait three or more months to access a trained counselor due to limited availability in the health system. This delay is too long for young people struggling with life on the streets. With Bridge offering DBT, youth get the timely support they need to move forward.

While the program itself stretches over four weeks, the intention is to teach lifelong skills. To measure the long-term efficacy, the group plans to conduct a skills-recall assessment one year after teens complete the program. 

Available at a Critical Time

During the pandemic this past year, Bridge’s work took on a more significant role than ever before. CBS Boston reported the increasing challenges of supporting young homeless people during the pandemic.** Bridge has seen an increase in youth seeking support, and there have been challenges to managing the influx while keeping kids safe and socially distanced. 

“At this particular moment in time, Bridge and their work are needed probably as much as any other period in history since they came around,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Getting Involved

Innovo’s support will help expand critical programs to address growing needs. We’re honored to be part of an initiative that is working so hard to serve our vulnerable youth. On an ongoing basis, Bridge will need to fund the counseling team to cover the many hours of work needed to provide youth with DBT sessions. 

“Bridge is about connecting with the community in truly meaningful ways. We’re able to reach at-risk youth in their moments of need, tipping the scale to help them become more productive members of society.”

- Melissa Z. Cording, Director of Development, Bridge Over Troubled Waters

We believe Bridge is what care for vulnerable people looks like. Bridge takes a hands-on, targeted approach that accomplishes its mission. They use every tool at their disposal to help young lives rise from their situations. That’s why Innovo believes Bridge is a cause worth supporting. Surely thousands of young lives deserve our attention.

Learn how you can get involved and support Bridge’s critical mission.

*Voice of Youth Count. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. Missed Opportunities: National Estimates”  Accessed: February 2, 2021.

** WBZ CBS Boston. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters Helps Homeless Teens During Coronavirus Pandemic” Posted: May 8, 2020. Accessed: Accessed: February 2, 2021.

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