Life Bridges Inc. began as a dream in the mind and heart of Madge Lockhart. Her dream consisted of services for people with intellectual disabilities, services that extend beyond their school days and into their adulthood. Many people dream big dreams; few see them to fruition. Lockhart was determined to see the dream become a reality.
Lockhart recruited help starting with the First Christian Church on North Lee Highway. The church offered their kitchen, recreation hall and offices.
Ralph Summers joined Lockhart as a founding board member and others, such as Dr. Raymond Brown, soon offered their expertise.
The Easter Seal Society of Cleveland donated a van and hired a driver to transport the persons served to the church.
By 1975, the agency offered their first residential services. The group home was established in response to the need for residential services for individuals from other areas of the state.
Services provided by Life Bridges continued to grow through the years. The agency’s leaders in the early years included Paul Renner, Ralph Day and Dan Gilley. Each of these served relatively short terms.
In 1980, Walter Hunt accepted the position of chief executive officer of the agency. This began a 26-year tenure that saw many exciting changes as services expanded, jobs were created and lives changed.
Individuals served by Life Bridges each came with a unique history and family situation. Some had amazing family support while others had no family support at all.
In the early years, many had never been outside their homes. Trips into the community and to the center for day programming were truly adventures as stairs were conquered, manners learned and new sights, smells, and textures were experienced.
From 1973 to 1992, employment services and day programming were located in various rented or borrowed sites in Cleveland.
There was great joy as the agency built a main campus on Old Chattanooga Pike. The campus boasts a 20,000-square-foot building that hosts the day program, therapies, medical services, and administrative offices. The campus also hosts a 10,000-square feet structure that houses the Hunt Opportunity Center (HOC). The HOC houses supportive employment offices and supportive employment opportunities for the persons served.
Hunt retired in 2006 as the longest tenured CEO of the agency. Dr. Luke Queen, who continued to lead through an era of growth, took up his mantle. Queen’s tenure was marked by difficult economic times that included difficult to manage cuts in the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities budget. He continued as CEO through 2013.
This year, the position of CEO passed to Diana Jackson. She began her tenure at Life Bridges in 1981. She held a number of positions in her rise to CEO. Her leadership guides the agency to celebrate its past while ensuring a bright future.
Lockhart’s dedication to her dream is clear as what began as an adult day care in her living room in 1973 grew across 40 years, becoming Bradley County’s eighth largest employer with over 500 employees.
They serve just over 200 individuals with intellectual disabilities; providing individualized services such as residential, employment, day services, medical, case management, transportation and therapies. The operation spreads across 36 locations throughout Bradley County.
Life Bridges officials expressed appreciation for the support offered through the years from individuals, civic organizations and businesses.