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Aubree Weiley of Bridges From School to Work: Pairing Powerful Partners with Passionate Youth



Aubree Weiley

Director of Bridges from School to Work


Aubree Weiley is the Director of workforce development provider, Bridges From School to Work (Bridges). Since 1989, Bridges has been transforming the lives of youth with disabilities. Read to learn more about how local and national employers are connecting with Chicago’s youth.



Tell me about your role and company.


My name is Aubree Weiley. I am the director of the Chicago office of Bridges From School to Work (Bridges). Bridges was founded in 1989 by the Marriott Family with the mission of transforming the lives of youth with disabilities through the power of a job.


As Director of the Chicago office, I work with a fantastic team of Youth Employment Specialists who assist young adults in finding and sustaining meaningful employment. I also cultivate philanthropic relationships, pursue strategic funding opportunities, oversee several federally funded workforce development contracts and partner with local and national employers to create inclusive avenues to employment.


What was your experience prior to joining Bridges?


It's been a long journey and it's not over yet! My background is in non-profit administration with a focus on social development and the arts. I've spent many years working to promote free, accessible, and inclusive education programs that catalyze social change. For over 10 years I did just that at the People's Music School in Chicago, a tuition-free community music school with a mission of equity and empowerment.

The Bridges program is remarkable because of the way it provides an inclusive space for youth to explore their passions, interests and talents through thoughtful job matching and tailored support.

Following that experience, I spent time at several local, national and international arts organizations. My most recent role was with the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University where I worked to shape the landscape for artistic workforce development in exciting and creative ways. In that position, I worked to match faculty, student and institutional assets with unique community resources and opportunities. In partnership with various organizations, we designed and built new career pathways for students.


I have been in my current role at Bridges for nearly two years. This opportunity particularly piqued my interest because it combines elements from all of my worlds.


The Bridges program is remarkable because of the way it provides an inclusive space for youth to explore their passions, interests and talents through thoughtful job matching and tailored support.

While our program is built to bridge the gap between leaving school and entering the workforce for youth, it is also designed to benefit employers by connecting them with an incredible talent pool that they might not have accessed otherwise.

What is Bridges hoping to achieve in the next few years?


Our primary goal is to find new ways to reach and better support more young adults facing barriers to work and their potential employers. The impact of the pandemic continues to affect us all, and we are committed to finding the best avenues to further connect, heal and grow our community.



We practice trauma-informed care and have curated a list of local resources that provide additional support services for our youth. We also know that our employer partners experienced significant changes during the last few years and the greater employment landscape has shifted. Because we are an employer driven organization, we are here to support our employer partners just as much as our participants.


While our program is built to bridge the gap between leaving school and entering the workforce for youth, it is also designed to benefit employers by connecting them with an incredible talent pool that they might not have accessed otherwise.


What types of employers are you looking to partner with?


Everyone! After operating in Chicago for over 30 years, we are immensely proud of our long-lasting relationships with a multitude of employer partners. Some are major national and international brands, while others are local small businesses. Because most of our young folks are looking for entry level positions, we have a fruitful history with businesses in the food, hospitality and retail industries.

Across industries, we’ve heard from employers about recent issues with employee recruitment and retention. This challenge presents a great opportunity and competitive advantage for Bridges participants, as we specialize in offering support to encourage employment retention for at least one year on the job.

Our program is unique in that we work one-on-one with each participant to find a special and nuanced employment match. If a participant's aspirations stretch beyond an industry where we have established partnerships, our Youth Employment Specialists actively network to find additional opportunities and cultivate new relationships.



What is the most common challenge that employer partners come to you with?


Across industries, we’ve heard from employers about recent issues with employee recruitment and retention. This challenge presents a great opportunity and competitive advantage for Bridges participants, as we specialize in offering support to encourage employment retention for at least one year on the job.

There are many misconceptions about people living with disabilities. Because of the unique role our Youth Employment Specialists play, they are poised to help educate and inform employers, dispelling some of these misconceptions.

The employers we work with are often providing our participants with their first work experience, and in some cases, our young adults need a little extra help in building confidence and forming new work habits. During this crucial time, our Youth Employment Specialists provide support to both employees and employers with the goal of laying the foundation for long-term success.


What's a common misconception that employers have when they're starting this partnership?


There are many misconceptions about people living with disabilities. Because of the unique role our Youth Employment Specialists play, they are poised to help educate and inform employers, dispelling some of these misconceptions. Often when people hear the word disability, they immediately think of a physical and/or intellectual disability that might preclude an applicant from performing tasks required for employment. The reality is that this view is narrow. Many young adults living with disabilities, visible or invisible, are perfectly suited for all kinds of employment and thrive in their chosen professions.


What are some common traits that you see with your most successful partners?


Our most successful partners have been those with whom we have been able to create a personal connection. Bridges Youth Employment Specialists maintain and cultivate authentic relationships with hiring, shift and HR managers all over the city. It’s the trust earned by showing up for each other that makes these partnerships work.


Recognizing this, we’ve organized our team so that each employer partner has one ES (Youth Employment Specialist) as a central point of contact. During a participant’s first 180 days on the job, our ESs are actively engaged with both participant and employer. They are there to check in, provide assistance as needed, and identify and address any potential issues that may arise. Maintaining close relationships with our employer partners helps us to set everyone up for success.


Is there any kind of employer that you're interested in working with in the future?


We are open to all employers! In many cases, it’s our participants' interests and passions that drive new employer partnerships. For instance, in response to a recent participant’s interests, we initiated a local partnership with the SlooMoo Institute, a unique business that provides slime making and sensory play experiences for children and adults. This relationship has now expanded to include a national partnership that will provide opportunities for Bridges participants across the country.


If an employer reading this walks away with one thing, what do you hope it will be?


Bridges is an invaluable resource for both young adults with disabilities and employers in Chicago. We have a dedicated staff of folks who work passionately and diligently with participants and employers for mutual benefit. If you are looking to hire enthusiastic and committed young folks, give us a call!








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