Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
On Saturday, May 13, 1-5 p.m., Mother’s Day, weekend, at least 19 businesses and organizations are sponsoring a Fire Truck Pull at Smoky Mountain High School Track in Sylva to raise money for WestBridge Vocational, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering individuals facing barriers to employment. Although based in Sylva, WestBridge’s “catchment areas” are three counties in Western North Carolina – Jackson, Macon, and Swain – as well as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI) Qualla Boundary.
WestBridge, founded in 1976, provides people with disabilities or any number of physical or emotional barriers, with training opportunities that “inspire them to learn, earn, and thrive,” according to Chris Stuckey, community engagement specialist, whose key role is to provide communities with information about the offerings at WestBridge.
Teams competing in the first annual Fire Truck Pull will pull a fire truck with a rope to determine who is the fastest over a 25-foot distance.
It will be our main fundraiser each year,” said Stuckey “We want people to identify this event with WestBridge and to learn more about who we are.”
WestBridge’s staff is made up of experienced education and training professionals who work with an average of 100 adult clients annually to primarily improve job skills and employment marketability. WestBridge’s services are free, and Stuckey shared that one of the programs with which WestBridge is involved is called Project Search. Through Southwestern Community College and Division of Vocational Rehab, individuals are involved in vocational opportunities that enable them to learn about various jobs so that they gain real-life experiences.
Soft-skills training includes such focuses as employment resumé preparation, interview skills, job searches, and organizational behavior skills.
Besides individual donations and through fundraising efforts, WestBridge is funded by the sales of medical drapes. Currently, about 30 employees work at the Western North Carolina manufacturing company – with a few of those employees having benefitted from WestBridge’s vocational training.
“We support our mission through the production of disposable medical devices such as surgical drapes and wraps. Our products are purchased by leading medical suppliers who rely on quality workmanship,” noted Stuckey.
He added that WestBridge assists adults from 18 years old and older.
“People with disabilities or barriers might not know how to get a job, and an employer might not understand the benefits of having someone employed with disabilities or barriers. Anyone eligible for employment has already gone through our program and has the skills to be a quality employee.”
Once an individual is hired, WestBridge “keeps track of the individuals and follows up with the employer,” said Stuckey. “We might visit them once or twice a month. We are also in direct communication with the direct supervisor to see if any further information or assistance is needed.”
Additional information about all that WestBridge offers is available at www.westbridgevoc.org. To participate in the Truck Pull, call Mike Rogers, director of development, at (828)586-8981, extension 204.