The Bridge was born of the passion of John Clancy. John and his friend Bill West, who also shared his fervor, were committed to changing the paths many young people were choosing for their lives during the late 1960’s. John and Bill put their commitment into action and began meeting with teenagers in the West Essex area in 1969.
Not long after, another friend, Jon Thompson, who shared their same vision, joined them and the essence of The Bridge was established. In 1970, the three friends made the decision to incorporate in order to seek financial assistance from various groups and organizations in the West Essex area and in the spring of 1971 a meeting, which included the local magistrate, editor of The Progress, assistant superintendent of the Caldwell-West Caldwell School System, local juvenile police officers and various representatives of local governments was held.
At that meeting, which was hosted by Mrs. Ricki Chandrinis, John [Clancy], Bill [West] and Jon [Thompson] outlined for the group the highlights and goals they had established over the past eighteen months as they worked with struggling young people in the West Essex area. Inspired by the efforts of the three friends, a decision was made that night by persons representing Caldwell, West Caldwell and Fairfield to fund their efforts, and a financial commitment was made to John, Bill and Jon, whose group would now become known as The Bridge. With this financial backing, The Bridge rented a former furniture store at 1119 Bloomfield Avenue in West Caldwell, which provided a fixed place in which to continue the counseling these friends had been providing local youths, literally on the sidewalks and street corners of the Caldwells, for over two years.
Their immediate goal was to help these troubled young boys and girls understand and make alternative choices to those of drug and alcohol abuse many were making at the time. The overwhelming need of large numbers of adolescents at that time fed the success of this goal and in 1972 The Bridge moved to the location known to most area residents as the “home” of The Bridge, a now demolished old home known as the Crane estate at the intersection of Westville and Passaic Avenues in West Caldwell.
Since that time, The Bridge has grown and successfully expanded to provide multifaceted services designed to strengthen and support struggling young people and their families, while always maintaining at its core, the initial, underlying goal of providing alternative choices for young people struggling with the results of poor decisions and untoward circumstances in their lives. The new millennium has seen The Bridge continue its long-standing association and contribution to the Caldwell-West Caldwell School System as well as continuing to broaden its services to the Irvington school system.
Since the early 1970’s, counselors have worked full time in the Caldwell-West Caldwell schools providing crisis intervention with short term counseling, information and referrals for students and parents, and programs designed to teach children social and communication skills, anger management and conflict resolution. In 1974, at the request of the local schools, The Bridge spun off an alternative school, Essex Valley School, which continues today, to provide educational services to those young people needing a special environment for their optimum learning experience to take place. Most recently, parenting workshops that teach discipline and problem solving techniques have been provided on a regular basis to parents in both the Caldwell-West Caldwell and Irvington school districts. There is an ongoing objective to increase the existing school based and family preservation services, as well as introduce new initiatives, in the Irvington schools.
The success of what began as a dream of one young man and his two friends, has given hope and direction to thousands since the late 1960’s and over forty years later, that dream, which laid the foundation for The Bridge, is still shared by its Board of Trustees and staff of professionals.
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