Monday, December 15, 2008

The Gift of Bridges to a Brighter Future

I am often asked, "How much does it cost to run the Bridges program?" It is easy to provide a dollar figure and to even break it down by student. However, it is more difficult to express in words or dollars the profound gift that is, "Bridges to a Brighter Future." It is a gift not only for the participants, but also for all those involved with the program. Teachers, Counselors, and Donors often communicate that they get more out of being involved with Bridges then they feel they could ever give. I too have found myself wondering how I got to this position. The place where you have the opportunity, each day to pour life into a young person. It is challenging and sometimes heartbreaking. However, the pure joys and triumphs outweigh the challenges. In the end we are giving something much greater than any amount of money can define. We are giving vision, hope, strength, determination, love, and support. Take a moment to view the testimonies below. They are our gift to you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three Bridges Faculty are Teachers of the Year

We know that all of our Bridges to a Brighter Future teachers are amazing! There is now doubt about it. However, it is really wonderful when other people recognize their talents too! Three of our Bridges teachers have been recognized as 2008-2009 Teachers of the Year at their schools. They are Harvey Choplin, Cathy Grills, and Allison Turza:

Harvey Choplin, Sevier Middle School
“Pa Pa Chop” as the Bridges students refer to him, is our Academic Coordinator. He has worked with Bridges since 2002. In this position, he oversees the daily academic classes, supervises the teachers, and plays an integral role in decision-making and program management. Mr. Choplin graduated from Claflin College in with a B.S. in Mathematics and Science. He has a Master’s Degree from Furman University in Education with a concentration in Mathematics and a Master's plus 30 hours from Furman and Clemson University in Administration. He spent eighteen years teaching mathematics in high school and thirteen years in administration before retiring and returning to teaching. He currently teaches at Sevier Middle School.

Cathy Grills, Duncan Chapel Elementary
Mrs. Grills has been teaching in the Bridges program since 2002. She has been a teacher in Greenville County for 26 years. She began teaching Spanish and English at Parker High School in 1973 and from 1980 until 1983, she taught at Woodmont High School. At both schools she was the Student Council Advisor. Mrs. Grills has been teaching at Duncan Chapel Elementary for 19 years and was named 2008 Teacher of the Year. She has a B.A. in Spanish and an M.A. in Early Childhood Education, both from Furman University and is certified to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Mrs. Grills teaches English in Bridges and provides special assistance to our ESOL students.

Allison Turza, J.L. Mann Academy

Mrs. Turza has been teaching in Bridges since 2005. She teaches Science in Bridges to a Brighter Future and is always thinking of ways to engage and excite the Bridges students. Miss Turza is in her seventh year of teaching, of which 3 years have been at JL Mann High School. She teaches not only science, but leads Senior Project for Mann's magnet students and teaches in the newly formed Single Gender Initiative Program. She also advises several student groups including YMCA Youth in Government and Patriot Partners, a mentoring group, which she began last year. Miss Turza was just featured in City People.

Not only have three of our teachers been recognized this year, but some of our teachers have been recognized in past years. They are:

Pat Grills, Riverside High School
2007-2008 Teacher of the Year
2007-2008 Greenville County Teacher of the Year Runner-Up

Kinja King, Greenville Technical Charter High School
2007-2008 Teacher of the Year

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In His Own Words...Daniel Leagans

Daniel Leagans, a Senior at Furman University has been a Counselor with Bridges since his Freshman year. He was first introduced to the program through his brother Joel who also served as a Bridges counselor for four summers! In addition to his academic success, Daniel is a member of the Furman Football team. Last week there was a really nice article in the Sports section of The Greenville News about Daniel and his integral role on the Football team. The interviewer began to ask Daniel a series of questions regarding his experiences outside of Football. Below is an excerpt of the article written for The Greenville News by Willie T. Smith III.

A business administration major, Leagans has found a passion off the football field. Since coming to the school he has participated in a campus mentoring program geared toward at-risk high school students called "Bridges To A Brighter Future."

"It is an enrichment program for Greenville County high school kids," said Leagans, a Ware Shoals native. "It teaches them the importance of a college education and that college is feasible for them because a lot of them come from bad economic situations, lower income, and a lot of them have family problems.

"The students participate in a four-week program at Furman during the summer. They take classes during the day. Then, after the classes is when myself and other counselors have activities with them such as sports, acting and stuff like that."

On weekends, the counselors take the students on fun trips such as bowling. They also take part in community service projects. Leagans has been taking part in the program since his freshman year and has enjoyed it so much he is considering participating again this summer even though he already will have earned his degree.

"It has been amazing, the most meaningful experience of my life," he said. "We try to develop the kids, but what we find out is they teach us more than we can ever teach them."

Daniel with two of the students he has mentored through Bridges to a Brighter Future.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bridges Student Wins National Award!

Bridges to a Brighter Future student and Greenville High School & Academy graduate, Damaris Taylor received the Yoshiyama Award for Exemplary Service to the Community on October 14, 2008 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the awards luncheon. It was a joyous occasion as Damaris' mother Tameka was able to attend as well. Through the luck of the draw, we were all seated at the head table with Japan's Ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, Dr. and Mrs. Tsutomu Kanai (pictured above on the right), the Honorary Chairman of The Hitachi Foundation and Chairman of the Board and Director of Hitachi, Ltd, Barbara Dyer, the President and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation, and Dr. Bruce Maclaury (pictured above on the left), Chairman of the Board of The Hitachi Foundation. It was so rewarding to observe Damaris interacting with these noteworthy individuals. He communicated with such ease, professionalism, and enthusiasm. He is truly a gifted young man!

Damaris was awarded the Yoshiyama Award for his work in creating and implementing the Raider Diversity Retreat. In addition to team building and challenging rope course exercises, the three-day retreat also included candid discussions designed to generate easy to implement solutions to break down barriers in the students' high school and community.

Over 250 students were nominated for the Yoshiyama Award. Damaris was one of only ten students selected as finalist. The award is funded by the Hitachi Foundation and is named for Hirokichi Yoshiyama, the former President & CEO of Hitachi, Ltd.

Of course the highlight for Damaris' mother and I was to see Damaris accept his award and give his acceptance speech. Below is the video of Damaris being introduced by Denise Terrazas, a 2007 Yoshiyama Award winner and his awe-inspiring speech.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bridges Family a Part of the United Way of Greenville Campaign

Bridges student, Jamie Williams and her family are part of the 2008 United Way of Greenville Campaign! Each year, a select number of individuals or families are selected to serve as spokespeople for the United Way. In addition to being a part of Bridges to a Brighter Future, Jamie and her family received assistance from the Greenville Area Inter-Faith Hospitality Network, also known as GAIHN and Jamie also participates in another United Way funded program through the Phyllis Wheatly Community Center. Jamie is a wonderful young woman! She is a student at J.L. Mann High School and we are very proud of her!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bridges Students Go to Adventure Camp!

Through a partnership with Clemson University's Youth Learning Institute (YLI) and the Cliff's Communities, 12 Bridges students received the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in a ten day Adventure Camp! In the late Winter, YLI approached Bridges to continue a partnership already established with The Cliff's Communities to utilize Pinnacle Falls Camp, a beautiful mountain camp near Rocky Bottom, SC. The partnership included scheduling an Adventure Camp solely for Bridges students and providing team building for the Bridges counselors.

One day after the four-week Bridges program ended, I drove the lucky group of 12 students up to Pinnacle Falls camp. The group was familiar with Pinnacle Falls, as this is the location of our highly regarded Fourth of July celebration. The students really did not know what they were getting into. Being a person who spends time in the outdoors, I don't know if I would have even committed to spending seven days in the woods! However, I knew that they would be able to overcome any challenge they would encounter! They are Bridges students!

After seven days, I went back to get the students and they ran to the van they were so excited to see me! They were even more excited to tell me about the life-changing experience they received through Adventure Camp! Once they left Pinnacle Falls after a day of training, they mountain biked, canoed, and hiked for seven days! When asked what part they liked the most, they said, "all of it." The YLI staff was exceptional! They took time and care to teach, lead, and nurture our Bridges students through the experience. I was most impressed when the students told me that they repelled down a waterfall! How cool is that?

This opportunity was made possible by YLI providing a 1/2 scholarship for each student and generous donors providing support through Bridges to a Brighter Future. They wonderful staff at Clemson's YLI have issued a press release recently published online through The Greenville News. We hope to continue this partnership next year.

In addition, we are working toward expanding post-Bridges opportunities for our wonderful students. We have a partnership with Furman's Science Department through a Howard Hughes grant to provide paid research opportunities next summer to Bridges students (more to come on this). We also hope to implement an entrepreneurial expansion next summer as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Little Late...But Still Acceptable

Well, a lot has happened since the last update! There was a dance, a car wash, talent show, field day, trip to Myrtle Beach, the Banquet and so much more...
Although the students are home now, we'll still update you on what happened during the last two weeks of Bridges.
Starting with the CAR WASH
On Saturday, July 5, the three classes had three separate car washes. The car washes lasted for only a few hours, but in such a short amount of time, the Mus, Lambdas, and Kappas raised well over $2000, with the Kappas winning the CAR WASH CHAMPIONSHIP by raising a new Bridges high of a little over $1000!

After the CAR WASH was THE DANCE
The Dance was Hollywood themed and everyone from Demi Moore to Napoleon Dynamite showed up for the event (and we have pictures to prove it!). The annual Bridges Dance was a great hit among the students and counselors...we even found a few teachers enjoying themselves.

Next we will skip to FIELD DAY
Bridges has a lot of annual activities that the students love...take FIELD DAY for instance. Everyone loves pie on the face and running around in circles after a go on the dizzie bats. I mean who doesn't love passing a soaking sponge over your head or the good ol' three legged race? Field day was extremely fun and very entertaining!

What's Bridges without the TALENT SHOW?
BRIDGES HAS TALENT. Every single student, each counselor, every teacher, and even Mrs. Swartz has talent! The talent show was amazing! We had The Interns performed their very own, originally choreographed version of a recent hit. Casey Crisp did a very dramatic interpretive dance routine of the song Landslide. Jarrod Hall and Karina Rodriguez had a somewhat romantic (haha) duet. The Ladies of Distinction and Men of Honor both recited awesome poetry. And not to mention all the EXTREMELY EXCELLENT performances in between...

And the annual TRIP is always much anticipated
The students woke up VERY early for the trip to Myrtle Beach. The day began with a college tour of Coastal Carolina. Later the students went to the beach where they had a blast until the storm came. Oh how it rained... An hour on the bus waiting for it to pass, but hey who says you can't have fun on a bus full of wet and sandy people? Well Bridges always manages to have fun in most UN FUN situations. Each student contributes their share to make Bridges the amazing program it is...And it all paid off with dinner at Golden Coral and their all-you-can-eat-buffet.

The BANQUET is always full of super speeches and lots of tears
Bridges' last night at Furman is dedicated to the graduating class. Everyone looked so nice and the keynote speaker, Gio Gomez, had some very well received advice for the Bridges students. Almost every student got an award during the academic award ceremony. Then the tears came...The Kappas did an amazing thing. Each stood at the podium and presented Mrs. Swartz with a rose, along with a glance at what Bridges and Mrs. Swartz has done to better his or her life. Then they gave Mrs. Swartz a blanket embroidered with "If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love" by Mother Teresa. Mrs. Swartz then ended with her speech dedicated to the Kappas--WHAT AN AMAZING SPEECH! The Banquet ended with all the students gathered around the front watching the Slideshow and a video for the Kappas, put together by Thomas Dixon.

The next day was DEPARTURE
Although it was sad to see the students go, they have benefited tremendously from this summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You Want Pictures?

Well we got 'em!!!

These Weeks Go By So Fast!

GLENIS REDMOND made a Bridges appearance this summer, teaching the students how to express themselves on paper through their poetry. Glenis is a nationally renowned performance poet who is a Bridges favorite, appreciated by not only the students, but by the teachers, counselors, Mrs. Swartz, and visitors to the program. Having her for the two days she visited was definitely a high for the summer.

The Poetry that was written by the students during Glenis' visit was performed and each student was given the opportunity to share his/her work of art. The Bridges students are, to say the least, VERY TALENTED!!!

Wednesday, the students went on their weekly fieldtrips. The Kappas and Lambdas had their college visits while the Mus toured St. Francis Hospital.

The two older classes went to Spartanburg Methodist and USC Upstate yesterday and, once again, had their clipboards and "College Scorecards" ready to rate the schools to suit their likings. The day comprised of a tour of USC Upstate, lunch at Upstate, tour of Spartanburg Methodist, ice cream at Dairy Queen--yep we spoil 'em--and dinner at Furman. Another long day with great rewards.

While the Kappas and Lambdas were touring colleges, the Mus were touring St Francis. Their day consisted of St. Francis employees speaking about the different aspects of a hospital system. Lunch was at 33 Liberty, which is highly recommended. After lunch the Mus returned to St. Francis for a tour and more speakers. The St. Francis staff gave excellent presentations, which were greatly appreciated.

Friday the students will be going home for the weekend and returning on Sunday for the annual Cultural Dinner. The dinner is designed so that the students are able to taste a little of each other's culture and learn about the dishes in doing so.

Time goes by so fast at Bridges, it's always amazing how quickly the weeks go by. You know what they say, "time goes by faster when you are having fun!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

What a Weekend!!!


Well! Saturday was the start of a GREAT weekend. The Lambdas and Kappas had their first community service projects of the summer. Some students stayed on campus for a scavenger hunt with a group of kids from the local YouthBASE program, which is a 501©3 nonprofit organization in Greenville, SC, with the mission of increasing support for children at-risk for or experiencing behavioral difficulty through after-school and summer programming. Others had a "bakin' good time" making cookies for the Furman staff involved with Bridges. A group of students went off campus to the North Greenville Food Crisis Ministries, where they helped remodel and were greatly appreciated. Another group went to A Child's Haven where they did yard work, spreading mulch.

The Mus had their own Saturday of fun, working on team-building and leadership skills. You've probably guessed already if you are a frequent Bridges Blogger--ROPES! Every year the new students go through the Ropes Course, where they overcome fears and work together in doing so. It was an awesome experience that can only be seen to get the "real feel."

After all three classes had their fair share of Ropes and services, everyone headed downtown where they had a picnic in the park. Later, counselors, Mus, Lambdas, Kappas, and Mrs. Swartz headed across the street to the FYI center (Furman YMCA Interactive) to dance, sing, play Guitar Hero and listen to a Christian rock band. After ROCKING OUT, Bridges headed over to the Warehouse Theater for a private show.

A long day no doubt, but no complaints.



Pretty much explains itself, huh? Sunday, was the pool party at the President's House. Everyone enjoyed the day.

What an AMAZING weekend!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

College Visits and a Scavenger Hunt

Yesterday the students had a day away from the classes to focus on the other aspects that the program offers. Everyone boarded the buses at the Chapel and went their separate ways.

The Mus began their day downtown, where they visited the Upcountry History Museum and Mr. Grills, Bridges art teacher, gave a WONDERFUL presentation on the history of Greenville. Next, the Mus went to the Greenville County Museum of Art. After that they headed out to Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery. With all the touring and artwork, everyone worked up a huge appetite, so everyone took a break to have lunch at Bertolo's (amazing pizza). After lunch the Mus had a scavenger hunt--Mice on Main--which used team work and problem solving skills to win the prize. After the scavenger hunt, the Mus went down to the Greenville Drive Stadium where they toured inside and out, went down into the dugout, and saw the Green Monster. A long day, no doubt.

On the other hand...

The Kappas and Lambdas went on their first college visits. First, they headed to Winthrop University. With their College Profile Worksheet in hand, they rated the college to fit their likings. After lunch on campus in the Thompson Cafeteria, the Kappas and Lambdas boarded the bus to go to Lander University to tour the campus and evaluate the college. With a good day of touring in, the Kappas and Lambdas headed back to campus.

Log in next Thursday for more updates on fieldtrips...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bridges Begins with a Bang

Well, what's better than spending your summer working and watching television? BRIDGES!

On Saturday the 14th, Furman was swarming with the new and returning Bridges to a Brighter Future members. At 8:00, our first arrivals, the Kappas and Lambdas, began checking-in and unloading the necessities for their four-week experience. Food, clothes, drinks, steroes, more food, and more clothes; the returning campers made sure they forgot nothing at home this summer.

Everyone was so excited about being with their Bridges family for another summer of FUN! After the Kappas and Lambdas dumped everything in their rooms, they loaded on the bus and headed off for Lutherock.

Next, the "check-in staff" awaited the arrival of the new members--the Mus. With a whole new wave of enthusiasm, everyone was shown up to their rooms and found out who they would be rooming with. The Mus boosted the energy level another notch and kept up with the excitement of the older members.

Although the new and returning students were seperated, both had somewhat similar days. Icebreakers and team-building workshops helped bring the classes together.

Looks like the prediction was right--this is going to be a GREAT summer!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bridges '08 "Under Construction"

Well after months of anticipation, it is down to the final week before the start of Bridges to a Brighter Future 2008. Mrs. Swartz's office is crowded with the new and old materials for the start of the program. The teachers and counselors are preparing for their summer "adventure." And training has begun.

The counselor's began their training Monday at Pinnacle Falls. Once there, they hiked 7 miles to get to their campground, where they collected water and purified it, cooked their meal, and set up their tents. Not to mention all the Off! that was used to keep the bugs--well--OFF!

On Tuesday, the counselors repeated much of the same process for breakfast (minus the hike). Another 7 miles were conquered, but this time by canoe. Wow! what a workout.

So, with all of this activity, you could say that this is most likely (definitely) going to be an amazing summer. We can't wait for the Kappas, Lambdas, and Mus to arrive Saturday. Last one to check in is a rotten egg! :)