Meet Peg Forrestel, Early BTE Champion Fostering Empowerment, Partnership, and Collaboration
Peg Forrestel, who is the Director, Community Impact at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) local operating company – has a long history with Bridge To Employment (BTE). Peg started the program at the Trenton, N.J., site which ran from 2008-2011. Her location, in Titusville, N.J., ran another BTE program from 2017-2020.
Peg first heard of BTE from Michael Bzdak, Global Director, Employee Engagement, Global Community Impact, J&J, and driving force behind Bridge To Employment. He invited her to the Alliance Building and Training Session (ABTS)—an annual professional development, learning and networking conference for site leaders, volunteers, and students—in Washington, D.C., in 2006. He said simply, “Come see.” And she did.
“I was just blown away,” Peg says after attending the event. “Blown away by the program. Blown away by the students …and the work that they did as well as by the passion and energy of every single person involved in the program. And I guess, most importantly, I was blown away by the outcomes that were being achieved.”
She goes on, “I think it would be a very rare instance where someone would go to that training session and not walk away saying, ‘we’ve got to do this on our campus’”.
Peg returned from the ABTS meeting and led the planning and development of the BTE program as well as seeking out and training the employee volunteers at Janssen. In addition to setting up the program, she also served as a mentor and career coach with the students at Trenton Central High School.
“If I do nothing else with my life, I know I made a difference with some of these students by connecting them to resources or bringing in strong mentors who made a difference. I am really proud of that.”
Janssen partnered with The College of New Jersey, the Bonner Center, Trenton Central High School, and had some input from the Trenton Mayor’s office in designing and implementing BTE in Trenton. The local need is clear. Many or most of the students are on free lunch programs; the graduation rate is only 85%; 95% of the students are Black or Hispanic. One of the schools in Trenton did not have a math teacher for a full year. “The students are full of promise and hungry to succeed”, Peg says.
After seeing ABTS, she says she wanted to implement everything, and she did. “We did a heck of a lot. We did mentorships, internships, campus visits, SAT prep, college tours, and speed networking with employees.”
For Peg, working with teenagers was new. Going through the college-prep experience with them was new too. She was a first-generation college graduate herself, and so she understood the students’ confusion or bewilderment at the process. “Seeing their resilience changed me,” she says.
Peg feels the legacy of BTE in Trenton is bringing awareness of what a career in healthcare can be: not only doctors and nurses, but scientists, finance, IT, marketing, and more. She says she also knows that BTE has strengthened the students’ life skills in areas such as goal setting, financial literacy, teamwork, and communication, that schools may not focus on. Peg says she looks forward to seeing the BTE graduates “working at J&J or at my local hospital or a mental health clinic where they are serving their community, using what they learned, and paying it forward. In many ways that’s what this is about.”
Looking ahead, Peg says she would like to see BTE at every operating company around the world. “BTE is a jewel within J&J’s social impact work. It’s a great opportunity for our opcos to be part of this global initiative, bringing it to life in the communities where we live and work.”
 The Bridge to Employment (BTE) program works with 14- to 18-year-old students in disadvantaged communities in the United States and across the globe to mentor them about STEM2D and healthcare careers and educational opportunities beyond secondary school. Partnering with Johnson & Johnson, local secondary schools, higher education institutions, and community-based organizations, the program provides students with real-world experiences that increase their academic knowledge and awareness of college and careers.