It was clear from the outset that if the model was to be scalable and replicable on a large scale, it would need to be adopted and incorporated by the major government agencies that expend billions of dollars annually in silo-based efforts to try to move people from dependence to self-reliance. Encouraging those agencies to consider the model would require a proof-of-concept, so the FBA was launched in 2009 with a mission to prove out the concept and carry it forward until one or more major government agencies would adopt the model as a best practice.

By January 2010, funding had been assembled from 8 different sources to launch demonstration projects in two economically marginalized urban neighborhoods. The intent was not to create yet another new organization, but rather to implement a new model of service delivery. An RFP was issued inviting organizations with established “trust relationships” in the selected neighborhoods to bid for operation of the projects. The bid was awarded to a consortium of Reading and Beyond, which had such relationships in Southeast Fresno, and FIFUL, which had established relationships in the Fresno Lowell neighborhood. The pilot, which served 83 families in the two neighborhoods, resulted in 81% of participants acquiring employment.

Based on these demonstrated results, the FBA approached the Fresno County Department of Social Services (Fresno DSS) to encourage them to apply for CalFresh Employment and Training (E&T) funding to serve CalFresh-eligible clients. The FBA also approached the Region IX (Western United States) director for the USDA Food and Nutrition (FNS), Dennis Stewart, who became and remains a devoted champion of the FBA. In February 2012, Reading and Beyond was awarded a 3-year contract to deliver the services of the Fresno Bridge at two locations, Southeast Fresno and the Lowell neighborhood. In 2013, the contract was amended to allow for delivery of services in and around the City of Coalinga.

Fresno DSS and FNS enthusiastically embraced the idea. However, constraints in the E&T program would not allow full implementation of the FBA model. For example, services could be provided to the person being trained for employment but not to any other members of the family. The program would allow for clients to be served for only 3 months after first employment, whereas the FBA model called for maintaining service for 12 months to better ensure sustainability of outcomes. Services could not be delivered to clients who were recipients of TANF benefits (Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families, or CalWorks in California), so if a client who was enrolled in the FBA E&T program dropped into CalWorks, they would either have to be dropped from the FBA or be funded from other sources. Also, while most FNS services were 100% funded by FNS, some required a 50/50 match. The FBA solicited funds from other sources to cover these and other costs, with the most generous contribution ($150,000) coming from the James Irvine Foundation. Other early supporters included the Fresno Regional Foundation, the California Endowment, the Fresno Workforce Investment Board, AT&T and Wells Fargo.

The initial FBA pilot operated out of facilities provided by Reading and Beyond and FIFUL. Based on the success of that pilot, the FBA approached the City of Fresno and arranged for Reading and Beyond to assume responsibility for operation of the Mosqueda center, the City’s flagship community center in Southeast Fresno. The Mosqueda Center now provides a broad range of community and recreational activities while also serving as a portal to self-reliance for families in the neighborhood and as the headquarters of the Fresno Bridge Academy. The county Department of Social Services has services personnel stationed at the Center.

In February 2015, the Fresno County Department of Social Services awarded a 3-year contract extension to Reading and Beyond for the delivery of Fresno Bridge Academy Services in Southeast Fresno, Lowell and Coalinga.

In April 2015, the USDA announced that the Fresno Bridge Academy had been selected as one of ten national pilot programs aimed at increasing income levels and self-reliance of families eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (see USDA E&T Pilot Program).

Fresno Bridge Academy