The student voice of St. George's Independent School.

Bridging the gap

Bridge Builders strives to unite, inspire

Photo: Katie Boyle

Students play a game of “The Knot.” This game was staged to demonstrate activities at bridge Builders.

Miriam Brown, Editor-in-Chief

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“I cried the week before I went to BRIDGES because I did not want to do it,” junior Erica Alexander said of her feelings in 2012, the year she decided to join the Memphis organization. Alexander was nervous about getting out of her comfort zone and participating in the challenging activities that BRIDGES uses to train its participants.

Rebecca Webb Wilson founded BRIDGES, commonly known as Bridge Builders, in Memphis of 1998, bringing together 40 students from Briarcrest Christian School, a private Christian school in Eads, and Northside High School, a public school in Midtown.

A Bridge Builders program at St. George’s formed in the upper school during the 2004-2005 school year, the early days of St. George’s Collierville. Today, the program has extended to the middle school with Middle School Guidance Counselor Amy Michalak as the faculty coordinator for the middle school and English Department Chair Heidi Rubín de la Borbolla as the faculty coordinator for the upper school.

“St. George’s didn’t have anyone to send to Bridge Builders before because we didn’t even have an upper school,” Ms. Michalak said. “It’s grown quite a lot since then.”

Now, Bridge Builders works with over 7,000 students each year from over 144 different schools in Shelby County, Northern Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas. BRIDGES provides students of all religions, races and genders with experiential learning opportunities, and it teaches them to collaborate with their peers in different trainings, workshops and group discussions.

“It is definitely taking a healthy risk,” Ms. Michalak said. “It puts them outside of their comfort zone to talk about issues that sometimes we just tiptoe around.”

During one team-building activity, Alexander had to fall from the fourth step of a ladder into the arms of her peers, forcing her to establish trusting relationships with her group members.

Alexander quickly fell in love with the nonprofit organization and its mission to unite and inspire a diverse group of young adults to be active leaders within their communities.

“Bridge Builders is a fun way to be a part of your community with people from different backgrounds, economic and social differences,” Alexander said.

After participating in the Bridge Builder CHANGE program last year, she is an inspired member of the organization, encouraging everyone to give it a chance to impact their lives like it impacted hers.

“BRIDGES is actually life-changing,” Alexander said. “I changed because of BRIDGES.”

Sophomore Bennett Matson, a Bridge Builder since seventh grade, largely credits the diversity of the Bridge Builder community to the program’s success.

“It helps you figure out how to handle people because you’re meeting tons of new people, faces and characters,” Matson said. “Bridge Builders is all about learning to accept people for their differences and encourage them for their strengths.”

Matson has also been a member of the Bridge Builder Youth Leadership Board since seventh grade, working with the BRIDGES staff to create events for the other participants. As a result, Matson said some of his best friends are from the organization, and he would have never met them otherwise.

“We are the next generation of leaders,” Matson said. “We are going to be changing the world, and Bridge Builders is preparing us for that.”

BRIDGES utilizes a three-program system to accomplish this, which includes Bridge Builders CONNECT, COLLABORATE and CHANGE. The programs, taking place over the course of a school year, teach the participants to recognize an existing problem in Memphis and help them learn how to take initiative and solve that problem.

Ms. Michalak finds the St. George’s mission similar to the BRIDGES mission, as both aim to get students involved in the Memphis community and create a community of leaders. She thinks participating in Bridge Builders is a healthy risk as it pushes students outside their comfort zones and results in them creating positive change in their community.

“We live in the city of Memphis, so we’re not just St. George’s. We’re a part of a greater community,” Ms. Michalak said. “Getting involved in that whole community of Memphis is so very important to becoming a leader, to learning how to actually impart change in Memphis.”

BRIDGES is currently accepting applications for prospective new members. Students who are interested in becoming a Bridge Builder should submit an application on the Bridge Builders website, bridgesusa.org, by Feb. 26.

“I can say without a doubt that I’ve never regretted doing Bridge Builders. I feel like everyone at this school and beyond can get a lot of meaning out of it,” Matson said. “Really, why not do it? It’s amazing.”

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The student voice of St. George's Independent School.
Bridging the gap