YES to YOUTH shows off new BridgeWay Home at open house

By: Sean K. Thompson
| Published 10/05/2023


THE WOODLANDS, TX – YES to YOUTH had its origins around 1980 when it was formed originally as Montgomery County Youth Services. Today, YES to YOUTH’s mission is to strengthen the emotional and mental health development of youth and families by providing crisis intervention, counseling, and suicide prevention services. The organization provides a safe and nurturing home where abused, battered, sex-trafficked, homeless, and at-risk youth begin healing from the past and become empowered for the future.

Emergency youth shelter provides safety, protection, and comfort for at-risk youth

The organization recently invited the media, community leaders, staff, board members, former residents, and the public ro the open house of its expanded and upgraded BridgeWay Home Emergency Youth Shelter in Conroe. The event was the end result of a six-year capital campaign fundraising effort and all the accompanying bureaucracy that comes along with it.

The ceremonies were opened with a welcome by Mitzi Pearson, Donor Development Director for YES to YOUTH. “This is the culmination of many years of putting together a dream,” she said.

Next to speak was Michele Kooken, the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer. Kooken joined the organization as a volunteer in 2016, then became an advocate, then a donor, and now in the lead position. “At the end of the day, we help a child, we put a smile on their face, we make them feel loved.”

Montgomery County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack gave the invocation, then talked of a former young woman in his court who had become a runaway. Mack had brought her to BridgeWay, and eventually adopted her. He also fondly recalled a time when he was able to literally put shoes on a young man’s feet; the first new pair the youth had ever owned.

Chief Compliance Officer of YES to YOUTH, Penny Wilson, gave a history of the organization and of BridgeWay. In 1952, a group of concerned citizens in the Kiwanis Club of Conroe felt that a safe place was needed for at-risk youth and donated land for a facility. Around 1980, nearly thirty years later, Montgomery County Youth Services was formed, and in 1993 the longtime facility was transferred to its umbrella.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, a grant was established for a new building, and the ‘Say YES’ capital campaign eventually raised $4.2 million. Today, BridgeWay has separate buildings for its male and female residents, and a wholly contained facility to provide shelter and assistance.

“We didn’t keep complete records until 2012, but since then we’ve served 879 youths, and I estimate we’ve helped about 2,400 since the beginning,” said Wilson.

Jennifer Teague was a former resident who became a runaway after her child died at birth. After she graduated, she returned several times as a volunteer and eventually became a resident advisor. Her story brought a massive round of applause from the attendees.

The ceremonies were wrapped up by board chairman Bill Malone – who thanked the donors – and Patti Rivela, who had been chosen in 2019 to be the chair of the capital campaign. She gave special thanks and recognition to staff members, some of whom have given more than 30 years to the organization.

After the ceremony, guided tours were given of the campus and lunch was provided courtesy of Revelation BBQ.

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