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The Bridge to Transformational Learning

by Valerie Palamountain

“The success of the program is unprecedented at The Bridge. By giving the residents control over their education, all of them embraced learning and set goals for themselves.”

Joseph graduated from high school in 2009 where he was enrolled in an ag business program. He held a job for eleven years before his addiction took hold of him.

Dustin completed high school and some college classes, but like Joseph, his addiction took control of his life. At the age of 33, he found that he needed help, he needed skills, and he needed to learn how to work with others.

Both Joseph and Dustin entered The Bridge Ministry program in 2020 during the COVID- 19 pandemic. Since 1996, The Bridge Ministry has provided a second chance for men who are committed to breaking free from life-controlling issues; many are addicted to opioids, alcohol, or other drugs. The majority of men who successfully complete the 18-month program go on to live successful and productive lives.

According to an editorial in the Fredericksburg, Virginia Free Lance-Star (2021):

In 2020, 93,000 people in the United States died of a drug overdose, up nearly 30 percent from the previous year. Almost 70,000 of those deaths were from opioids. In Virginia, however, it’s worse than that. The state is one of 10 in which the overdose fatalities increased by more than 40 percent. (unpaged)

Joseph and Dustin completed 12 months of substance abuse treatment, vocational technical training and education, and received mental health support services. Through a partnership with Piedmont Virginia Community College, which was initiated in 2018, professional certification courses were offered in heating and air conditioning repair, electrical work, small engine repair, diesel engine repair, and welding. All of the classes prepare the students for an industry-recognized credential. PVCC is the adult basic education (ABE) provider in the Charlottesville area. The classes taught at The Bridge incorporate study skills, math and financial literacy, reading skills, workplace readiness skills, and teamwork and communications skills.

In 2018, The Bridge contacted Piedmont Virginia Community College to offer classes in 4-stroke small engine repair to nine of their residents. At the end of the first class, 55% of the students did not pass. PVCC and Bridge Ministry staff members conducted interviews with the students and learned that the teaching methods developed for the traditional classroom were inappropriate for recovering addicts whose cognitive abilities have been affected by drug addiction. PVCC revised the teaching materials to be more visual and accessible to the students and repeated the class. One hundred percent of the students passed the 4-stroke class, followed by 100% passing the 2-stroke engine repair class, electrical systems, and driveline/hydraulics class. Furthermore, all of the students successfully earned four credentials from the Equipment  and Engine Training Council (EETC), a nation- ally recognized credential that will prepare them for the workplace.

The success of the program is unprecedented at The Bridge. By giving the residents control over their education, all of them embraced learning and set goals for themselves.

“It’s been awhile since I was in a classroom,” said Dustin. “There is such a diverse group of people at The Bridge. Different ages and backgrounds, and we all learned to come together.” Dustin is now employed in an electrician apprenticeship program earning $15.00/hour. “The program at The Bridge transformed my life.”

“I want to continue taking classes at PVCC,” agreed Joseph. “Welding and other classes look good to me. Maybe I’ll start my own business.” Joseph is a heavy equipment operator earning $17.00/hour with a possible raise in the near future. “My family is ecstatic with my success.”

At the end of 12 months, both Joseph and Dustin had earned five credentials that prepared them for jobs as HVAC installers, electricians, and construction work. Both men completed an internship at The Bridge, constructing a 10’x12’ shed on campus. Both men learned the importance of teamwork.

“The partnership with Piedmont Virginia Community College made all the difference,” said the Intake Director at The Bridge. “PVCC’s reputation in the business community is outstanding. Employers know that students who complete the program have received a quality education and are reliable workers. This is a win-win for our clients and the employers.”

For more information, please visit The  Bridge website or contact program staff at BridgeMinistryVA@gmail.com or 434-969-2991.


The Free Lance-Star. (2021, July 21). Editorial: Digging deeper into opioid overdose crisis. https://fredericksburg.com/opinion/ editorial-digging-deeper-into-opioid- overdose-crisis/article_5213d0ab-6f9f- 5848-8e6f-e873d786d120.html

Valerie Palamountain

Valerie Palamountain was the Dean of Workforce Services (Emerita) at Piedmont Virginia Community College, where she worked with employers and economic development agencies within the Charlottesville region for 16 years. She holds a B.A. in English from Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, an M.S. in higher education administration from the University at Albany, New York, and was a Fulbright Specialist in Bermuda and Kolkata, India. Since retiring, she has stayed active in the community serving on the Economic Development Authority of Fluvanna County in Central Virginia and assisting community colleges and nonprofits in identifying and launching new programs