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  • Sumaya Sultan-Ali

Empowerment in Action: BRIDGES USA Calls for Applications to Shape Young Leaders

What if students could have a direct role in impacting the Memphis government? Bridge Builders is an opportunity for students to engage in just that. On its website, Bridge Builders states that the program “shapes diverse students into leaders for community transformation.”

Bridges carries out this mission through three programs, Connect, Collaborate, and Change. Connect is a classroom activity organized by the teacher and Bridge Builders, Collaborate is a year-long immersion program, and Change is a community student-led community project. 

Bridge Builders is unique because it views students as instigators of positive change. By giving students responsibility over projects and services and connecting them to opportunities and like-minded peers, they give teenagers responsibility and avenues for leadership training, electives, volunteering, and conferences with peers. They value diversity and open-mindedness. They also connect students with internship opportunities by putting them in a group of goal-oriented peers.

Bridge Builders has been incredibly popular among students since its addition to the Memphis Office of Youth Services in 1988. Bridge Builders has changed in many ways since its opening, in both its attendance and in its administration.

During COVID, admission took a hit. According to PVS senior Yasmeen Mannan, a youth leadership council member at Bridge Builders, COVID-19 brought a nearly 40% decrease in attendees. She explained that while Bridge Builders met online during the pandemic, most programs ”have returned to being completely in person.”

Surprisingly, social distancing during COVID-19 didn’t change Bridge Builders' peer-motivated personal development values.In fact, the pandemic strengthened those connections by forcing its managers to be inventive. Mannan explained, “We were all forced to rely on our creativities and on each other to ensure that we could still carry out these trainings and activities and grow as leaders, despite everything else that was going on in the world.”

What impact do Bridge Builders have on the students they serve? According to Bridge Builder’s 2022 Annual Report, they meet their goals for success, cultural competency, and job and volunteering opportunities. Bridge Builders partners with Americorps, to which Bridge Builder participants have volunteered 18,631 hours to. This accomplishes Bride Builder’s goal of boosting low civil engagement. ⅘ students report an increase in leadership skills and many students attest to the diversity of the program.

Students should apply to Bridge Builders to volunteer in a fun collaborative way!

You can access the application here: 


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