Bridge To Independence Graduates Enter The Workforce


HOUMA, La. (AP) — Sean Adams loves being organized. So when the Bridge to Independence graduate recently joined the Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court's Office, he said, his new job fit like a glove.

"My favorite thing to do is organizing," the 26-year-old Larose resident said. "This is my favorite job because it helped me educate myself even more about organization."

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The Bridge to Independence program at Nicholls State gives students with intellectual disabilities new opportunities to receive higher education while participating in the college experience. The program, started in August 2016, is open to students with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorder.

"The Bridge to Independence Program … provides opportunities for students in the certificate program to work in various offices/departments on campus in internships to prepare them in various skills for gainful employment opportunities once the program has been completed," said Mary Breaud, the program's advisor. "We are very excited and proud of our students who have applied for and secured employment after completing the Bridge Program."

Adams is one of four of the program's May graduates who recently found jobs in the public sector.

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Adams works in the Civil Department, where he files, organizes and collects records. Lafourche Clerk of Court Annette Fontana said she knew he would be the right fit shortly after meeting him.

"Sean is doing great," Fontana said. "He works very hard and is always happy when he comes in. He has the same responsibilities as other part-time employees. He's been a blessing and brings a lot of joy. I think the only complaint he has is that our coffee isn't strong enough."

The Lafourche District Attorney's Office also recently recruited a Bridge to Independence graduate. Mary Szush, of Thibodaux, assists with administrative work.

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"I really enjoy working here," Szush said. "My favorite part of the job is walking to the different buildings during errands and meeting all of the new people."

District Attorney Kristine Russell reached out to the Bridge to Independence program shortly after taking office to provide an employment opportunity.

"Bridge to Independence is an amazing program, and we thought we had an opportunity to make a difference in Mary's life," Russell said. "As a mom myself, all we want is for our kids to have a happy, fulfilled life, and we had an opportunity to do that. The program is giving our community these amazing graduates."

Szhush, who works part time in the District Attorney's Office Monday through Friday, is already making a name for herself with her work ethic, Russell said.

"We didn't know initially what Mary wanted to do, but she has already exceeded our expectations in every task we give her," Russell said. "She's happy to do it with a smile. She really helps out our secretaries and support staff. There's not much she can't do. She's been phenomenal."

When Thibodaux Police Lt. Clint Dempster announced on Facebook the department had hired Bridge to Independence graduate Caroline Owens a few weeks ago, the post went viral. As of Tuesday, it had racked up 2.7 million views, over 3,000 comments and 18,197 shares.

When Owens reported to work Friday, she found a card on her desk sent from Laguna Beach, Calif., congratulating her on her new job.

"It was the most viral Facebook post the PD's ever had," Dempster said.

Owens, originally from Morgan City, works in the department's records room, where she enters traffic violations into the computer.

"She sits in the front window in our records division, where she can interact with the general public," Dempster said. "When it comes to Caroline, the sky is the limit."

Owens' mother, Judy Owens, said she hopes her daughter can serve as an inspiration.

"One lady asked us on Facebook why did we have to mention she had Down syndrome, but we're not ashamed of it at all," Judy Owens said. "We're proud of it. We want people to know Caroline is succeeding."

The founder of the Schriever-based organization Blessed by Downs, Sheri Dupre' DeFelice, is an ardent supporter of the Nicholls program.

Blessed by Downs is the Southeast Louisiana Affiliate of the National Down Syndrome Society that works to provide support for families and those born with Down syndrome. Down syndrome should not be a barrier to accomplishing your dreams, DeFelice said.

"When you see someone walking up to you with Down syndrome, a lot of people automatically think they can't do things, but they really can," DeFelice said. "What Caroline wants to do she excels at."

The city of Thibodaux recently hired Bridge graduate Paige Faucheux, who works in the city's Recreation Department.

Adams, who wrote a book in 2014 and has aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker, said his new job is helping him fulfill his destiny.

"I always tell myself that God has a purpose for everyone," he said. "And I believe he put me here in this position. That's why I've been into organization in the first place. He knew it was something I loved to do, and he sent me here with Ms. Annette. Every day is like an adventure. I'm always learning something new."

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