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2013 Pioneer Award

Honoring Our Inaugural FRED Pioneer Award Winner:

Pegi Young

Mother – Founder – International Special Needs Advocate – Rock Star

Pegi Young is joined by Dr. Vicki Casella, Executive Director of The Bridge School; Rose Hein, Executive Director and Founder of Golden Heart Ranch; and Mari-Anne Kehler, Director of the FRED Conference.

Pegi Young and Mari-Anne Kehler courtesy of Golden Heart Ranch

In 1985, Pegi Young was a mom on a mission. Finding no school that met the needs of her son, Pegi joined with others matching her passion to take a bold step. They proposed a school dedicated to providing an environment where children with complex communication needs could learn, grow and thrive while developing the specific skills and abilities each child is likely to need to be successful as adults and to realize a high quality of life.

Many dreams are thwarted due to a lack of funds, but this group did not let this deter them!

On October 13, 1986, a concert with Pegi’s husband Neil Young and his friends raised the necessary money to start The Bridge School. When The Bridge School was founded in 1986, no one could have imagined that this organization would evolve from a small educational program serving local Northern California children with severe physical and speech impairments to an internationally recognized leader in the field of augmentative and alternative communication.

The Bridge School founders pulled together a strong professional team and developed an intervention model that featured teachers, speech and language pathologists and instructional assistants working collaboratively to teach children with severe physical and speech impairments how to communicate effectively. The Transition Program was established to provide resources and training to build competence among the various professionals working with Bridge graduates and to provide support for their families as they advance through the educational system. This innovative program set the standard for support for children with special needs in the general education environment.

Funding from a generous donor made it possible for professionals from the Bridge to work with two local school districts, Oakland and Berkeley, to establish programs incorporating the principles and organizational structure of The Bridge School. In an effort to impact more children who relied on augmentative and alternative communication and to train adults who were interested in working with this population, the Outreach program held its first camp and training institute.

Pegi and the Bridge team think globally as they act locally.

A primary mission of The Bridge School was to impact the global community and expand our outreach efforts beyond the confines of our physical environment. The Internet provided an excellent tool to disseminate information worldwide to individuals who seek to improve the lives of others through the use of assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication. The Web site was published in 1996 and continues to evolve. In 1997, a Teacher in Residence program was initiated to focus on providing support to nations in which the use of augmentative and alternative communication technology was in its infancy. Usha Dalvi from New Delhi was the first recipient of the Teacher in Residence award in 1998-99. Since its inception, the Teacher in Residence program has served professionals from Poland, Singapore, Mexico City and Cape Town, South Africa.

It is important to document effective practices and in 2001, a research program was established. This program uses objective measures to determine long and short term impact of our interventions by working collaboratively with Education, Transition staff and families to document student progress and to gather relevant information about teaching strategies, communication interventions and The Bridge School environment. The data we collect informs our teaching and allows us to disseminate effective practices to the world at large. This data has been shared at numerous conferences and in publications over the past five years.

The greatest allies in education are the parents of the children being served. The Bridge School formalized our parent education efforts through the establishment of a coordinated training program in 2004. This program supports the parents’ role in advocating for their children. Bridging research, best practice and families was the theme of the first AAC By the Bay conference. This conference brought professionals from throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe together to share information on assessment, literacy, transition and families.

Organized by musician Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, the famous Bridge School Benefit Concert is an annual, all acoustic, non-profit charity event held every October. In 2006, the 20th Annual Benefit Concert was a star-studded event with Neil Young bringing together Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Brian Wilson, Foo Fighters, Trent Reznor, Death Cab for Cutie, Gillian Welch and Devendra Banhart. One week later, The Bridge School hosted its first “Heart of Gold” Gala with Sir Elton John providing an evening to remember.

The Future: Changing Lives

The Bridge School has evolved from the initial vision of three individuals including Pegi Young, to the reality of a program that has impacted the lives of children and families throughout the world. Through the generous support of the community at large and effective collaboration and cooperation with others, The Bridge School is achieving its mission.

A Rockin’ Mom

As if being a mom and school founder, advocate weren’t enough, Pegi also is rocking her creative forces. Singer-songwriter Pegi Young’s third release, Bracing For Impact, spotlights Pegi’s beautifully spare and resonant vocals, world-weary and eloquent lyricism, and a hushed yet immediate emotional landscape. Bracing For Impact features Pegi and her acclaimed recording and touring band, The Survivors: legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham, bassist Rick Rosas, guitarist Kevin Holly and drummer Phil Jones.

This album was produced by Pegi Young and The Survivors, with the exception of the final track, “Song For A Baby Girl,” produced by Elliot Mazer.

Eight of the album’s eleven songs are originals written by Pegi, with highlights including, “Flatline Mama” (featuring a horn section and background vocals by The Watson Twins) as well as “No Heart Beat Sound” and “Trouble In A Bottle.” Neil Young penned the rollicking “Doghouse” and contributes background vocals and harmonica on the track. Neil is also spotlighted on electric guitar during “Lie” and “Song For A Baby Girl.” He adds harmonica to the late bluesman Tarheel Slim’s tune, “Number 9 Train.” The group also covers “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” a song by Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten that first appeared on that group’s 1971 album.

So Pegi, thank you for changing hearts, minds and lives in a multitude of ways. You are a PIONEER, a role model and an inspiration.


The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative & alternative means of communication (AAC) and assistive technology (AT) applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies. The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.