LifeBridge Partnership

Brendan Davidson, parsnip editor

She stands in front of the Taekwondo class with a smile on her face, instructing the 16 kids in her afternoon session. They have never been able to participate in physical activities such as martial arts or sports. Karen Shuster, LifeBridge Partnership CEO, enjoys the chances she helps provide to disabled children and adults so they have can more easily exercise, learn and make friends.

“Kids with disabilities have minimal opportunities to socialize and participate in physical activities,” Shuster said. “It’s a new experience for them.”

LifeBridge’s mission is to help empower those with disabilities. Since the organization is actively involved in the community, they receive funding from multiple sources. Missouri Senate Bill 40 provides around half of LifeBridge’s funds, according to Shuster. The bill takes around 45 million generated tax dollars and distributes the funds to the organizations and individuals that best help St. Louis citizens with developmental disabilities. The rest of the funding primarily comes from donations and fundraisers, such as their annual golf tournament. Even though the LifeBridge employees work full time to ensure they have the funds to hold camps and events, David Dick, LifeBridge Hall of Fame and former board member, feels people with verbal and developmental disabilities should receive more personal aid.

“I think that society should try to help [disabled people] more,” Dick said. “Often, regular people wait for others to step up, help out and chip in because they are not a part of most people’s everyday lives.”

LifeBridge has programs to help different age groups. According to their website, their week-long LifeBridge camps for kids to play sports and have a normal summer camp experience. The Spark Club provides an after-school enrichment program for students who attend Gateway School Complex in the St. Louis Public Schools district. And for adults, the Out and About programs helps disabled adults socialize with group activities such as bowling. Finally, the LifeBridge Friends program gives the least support, as it primarily provides a recreational setting for former LifeBridge participants. According to Dick, the variety of programs and focus on people makes LifeBridge a rewarding charity for the participants, volunteers and staff alike.

“LifeBridge is an incredible organization because of its emphasis on helping individuals,” Dick said. “They use trained volunteers to help and interact with the children and adults.”

Shuster said she is happy to be able to help and work with people often. That is what first drew her to volunteer for LifeBridge in 2004.

“My favorite part of the job is being around people,” Schuster said. “Even though my job is to oversee the business aspect of the charity, it’s much more fun to be around kids and help them learn and grow.”