Home About the BTL Program The Program Who we serve: Youth

Who We Serve-Youth

By founding the Bridges To Life program in 1998, John Sage was intent not only on bringing the same healing he had experienced to other victims of crime, but also on reducing the recidivism rates among offender participants and increasing community safety through the subsequent reduction in crime. One question John Sage was consistently asked over the years is “do you work with youth?”

In February of 2009, the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department requested implementation of BTL in one of their facilities. Kirk Blackard, BTL board member and author of Restoring Peace and the Bridges To Life Study Guide, began work on a study guide geared toward juveniles aged 13-17. In the fall of 2009, the first BTL Juvenile Program piloted with 20 youth and four volunteers at the Harris County Youth Leadership Academy (HCLA) in Katy, Texas. This pilot proved invaluable to the continued revision of the BTL curriculum to fit the need of the juvenile offender.

Since that first project, BTL has completed 15 projects in three youth facilities in Harris and Ft. Bend counties, and over 300 youth completed the 12-week program. Through feedback from volunteers, juvenile probation staff, and professionals in the field of youth psychology, we continued to revise and edit the Study Guide and the delivery of the program, which works well in a residential youth setting.

The most recent revision of the BTL Youth Curriculum includes a professionally illustrated graphic novel and a study guide covering each topic of the curriculum. This novel, called “Makin’ It,” tells the story of Tony, a youth going through problems and issues similar to what the youth in the BTL program face in everyday life. The author is Kirk Blackard with illustrations by Ben Humeniuk. We tested this concept in the fall of 2012 and we are convinced that this material better relates the principles we teach to the youth participants. This revised curriculum is used at the Harris County Leadership Academy as well as in collaboration with mentors from the reVision program, a ministry for gang-affected youth and their families in Southwest Houston. Information about this collaboration and resources can be found at the partnership's website.

The Bridges To Life Youth Program takes caring adults into the youth facility to work directly with adjudicated youth in an effort to prevent them from committing further crime. The program has two main goals:  (1) To reduce recidivism (re-offending) rates of program graduates; and (2) To facilitate the healing process for victims and offenders.


Youth are far more impacted by the very things that can make turning from a lifestyle of crime and delinquency difficult.  It is much more difficult for youth to “change people, places and things” in order to increase the probability of a delinquency-free life.  Youth are dependent on the adults in their lives, and unfortunately many of these adults negatively impact youth through abuse, crime, and neglect.  The BTL youth curriculum is designed to engage participants in thinking and talking about their pasts so that they can effectively plan for their futures.  As with many of our adult participants, many of these youth have never had a caring adult or person in their lives.  The concepts of responsibility and accountability are often foreign to them.

Evaluation.  Both quantitative (data and statistics) and qualitative (reports from program participants) are used to evaluate the achievement of Bridges To Life’s goals. 

  • Quantitative.  With the assistance of the Harris County Juvenile Department, we are able to identify the recidivism rates of BTL youth graduates in comparison to those of youth who did not take the BTL program. At the time of this study in 2012, 179 youth had graduated from the BTL Youth Program at one of the Harris County facilities. The earliest indicators are that BTL youth program graduates have recidivated at a significantly lower level than a match group during the first year of release from the facility.

BTL graduates were compared against a “match group” of youth based on facility (Harris County Leadership Academy or Harris County Youth Village), race, sex, and offense. Based on this comparison, it is clear that the Bridges To Life program has had a significant impact on youth who graduated.


BTL Graduates

Match Group

Misdemeanor B or above*



Violation of Probation



Total Recidivism



*within one year of release date

  • Qualitative.  Comments from youth participants:

  • I learned how to look at things different
  • I received a better understanding of myself. It helped me choose the right choices in life.
  • This program will help me stay out of trouble because it made me realize that I need to be with my family and be someone in life.
  • I received forgiveness. Thank you Bridges To Life.
  • I liked it because I didn’t have to share with everyone….just the people in my small groups. 
  • I learned things that I need to help me change my life.
  • I’m a smarter person and I will make better choices in my life.
  • I received guidance to the right path and motivation to do something with my life.
  • I received self respect.
  • I learned to make better choices.
  • I liked learning new words.
  • I received faith and a better perspective on life.
  • I think this program should be offered to others because if they can reach out to me, they can reach out to other people also.
  • This program will make a better person out of me.

    We are pleased with the progress of the BTL Youth program, and the detention center management believes that BTL has a profound impact on the youth participants. We are optimistic about our curriculum improvements and look forward to an expanded BTL Youth program.