The Bridge Project spans education, literacy gaps for Denver children
By John Wenzel
The Denver Post
November 24, 2013
Jatour Johnson and Senon Ramirez do nearly everything together.
The 9-year-olds are both fourth-graders at west Denver's Valverde Elementary School, where they met three years ago, and both are the youngest in their families.
"He helps me and I help him," said Johnson, noting that he and Ramirez always pick each other as partners for school activities. "We just stick together."
That much was clear as the pair navigated the crisscrossing streams of after-school arrivals at the Cedar Street location of the Bridge Project on a recent weekday.
Johnson and Ramirez have been going there together four days a week to get one-on-one literacy tutoring as part of the Bridge Project's mission to provide educational opportunities for children ages 3-18.
"Getting that one-to-one attention lets them get much more specific," said executive director Molly Calhoun. "We could say, 'Sergio needs to work on reading comprehension or phonetics,' instead of just doing (general) work."
The Bridge Project is one of the many nonprofit organizations receiving funding through Denver Post Charities' Season to Share campaign. And despite being headquartered at the University of Denver, the organization still secures all its own funding from year to year.
"This site is at capacity," Calhoun said, surveying the renovated space in the Columbine Homes subsidized housing in west Denver. "We see about 60 kids a day of all ages, but some of our bigger sites see more upwards of 100."
The Bridge Project has four sites and 350 volunteer mentors and tutors, but a single mission: providing literacy education, mentoring opportunities, and occupational training and scholarships to students in Denver's public housing.
Since Johnson and Ramirez began going to Bridge. they've been reading at their grade level — which is not common for kids in their situation, according to Calhoun.
"That's one of the things Ms. Margaret (McKenzie, education director at the Columbine site) is most proud about," Calhoun said.
"We get to do fun activities here," said Ramirez, who has been coming to Bridge since age 3. "After we do computers, we get to play games with our lessons and do fun projects, especially around the holidays."
Ramirez's reading skills have improved so much that his teacher asked his mother where he was going for help — and if she could send all her students there.
"Senon and Jatour are lucky to have each other," Calhoun said. "Those guys have just been rock stars."
Charo brings her signature cuchi-cuchi to Denver's Bridge Project Gala
By Joanne Davidson
The Denver Post
September 29, 2013
The best description of Viva la Noche, the 2013 Bridge Project Gala? "Just a crazy cuchi-cuchi evening with the one and only Charo."
These words come from Brian Fun, who with life partner Charles Jordy, was honored at the dinner, auction and show benefiting the University of Denver Bridge Project. Cuchi-cuchi is Charo's trademark phrase.
Jordy, president of Jordy Construction and a member of the Bridge Project board of directors, and Fun, a massage therapist, have been enthusiastic supporters of the Bridge Project for over a decade.
"We became involved 12 years ago," Jordy noted. "I love this organization."
The Bridge Project is an initiative of DU's Graduate School of Social Work and involves mentoring and other services designed to keep children living in Denver public housing from dropping out of school. Those who graduate from high school receive college or trade school scholarships.
Charo, an accomplished flamenco guitarist known for her flamboyant stage presence, participated in the event held at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center from start to finish. She mixed and mingled during cocktail hour, and was on stage to not only to perform but to congratulate event chairs Tom and Shelley Montgomery on the benefit's success.
Especially the $132,000 raised in live bidding alone.
"I remember when our first auction raised $8,000 and we really thought we'd done something," Jordy marveled.
Bridge Project executive director Molly Calhoun and board of directors chair Alec Wynne helped the Montgomerys welcome such supporters as Elle and Phil Winn; Rich and Sandy Laws; Gary and Leslie Howard; and James Herbert Williams, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work.
Bridge Project promotes education
By Kameryn Tanita
February 26, 2013
Founded in 1991 by community representatives and faculty members in DU's Graduate School of Social Work, the Bridge Project aims at developing a program to reduce educational barriers, increase educational opportunities and improve learning outcomes for children and youth living in Denver. Their mission is to provide educational opportunities for children living in Denver's public housing neighborhoods so they can graduate from high school and attend college or learn a trade.
"Maybe I'm not having much of an impact on the problem as a whole, but I am making a difference in the life of my student," said Bridge Project volunteer Michaela Diamond, an accounting major from Palmer Lake who started volunteering as a tutor last year for the Pioneer Leadership program but has continued to volunteer after her requirement was over. "If practicing reading with me just once a week gives [my student] the extra push in his literacy skills or helps him to love learning just a little bit more, it is all worth it," said Diamond.
The Bridge Project uses three primary program components that are intended for youth, children and parents: the afterschool, summer and scholarship programs. The after school program is open to people ages three to 18 and they offer one-to-one tutoring, homework help, technology education, literacy programs and family support.
Lynne Wilky, the Development Director, has been working at the Bridge Project for eight years and has seen the Bridge Project grow since it opened 21 years ago.
"We are a literacy-based program," said Wilky. "The children come to the locations after school. The volunteers work one-on-one with the kids because the kids are anywhere between one, two or three years behind. We have 12 interns from the Graduate School of Social Work. They come and help with our programming every year. We couldn't run without these volunteers."
The commitment for Bridge Project volunteers is an hour once a week. Before starting, volunteers get to suggest what age they want to be placed with and then are placed with a child and the location. Typically, tutors will start out helping with reading and homework or sometimes they may just drop in and help solely with homework.
"[The student I help] is so bright, incredibly well-behaved and intellectually curious," said Diamond. "We talk about each other's lives. He comes from a huge Muslim family, and it's been really cool to hear about their traditions and celebrations. He loves football, so we always talk about the Broncos game from the past week."
The Bridge Project is currently tutoring over 600 children in these six locations. Four out of the six site locations are in Denver's public housing neighborhoods. Here, children and volunteers can work together in an educational and safe environment. There is even a healthcare manager that helps with health and dental issues and helps provide Medicaid, according to Wilky.
"There are a lot of these environments where there are gangs and drugs. Most of these families live off of $8,800 a year," said Wilky. "There's a lot going on in these neighborhoods. The majority of children are from kindergarten to 8th grade. Once they hit middle school and high school it gets harder to get kids to stay in these after school programs but we always work hard to ensure these children continue to come."
Although volunteering isn't always easy, Diamond has the perseverance to continue working with these students to give them opportunities that many other students may take for granted.
"In my opinion, the biggest challenge for volunteers is also the biggest growing experience: realizing the great disparity in the opportunities available to children in low-income neighborhoods," said Diamond.
Diamond believes that everyone should volunteer at the Bridge Project and make an effort to combat some of the issues facing our country.
"In the U.S., there is such a huge disparity in the opportunities available to low-income students compared to their middle and high income peers," said Diamond. "It can be easy to get discouraged because it seems impossible to solve a huge, systemic problem."
In order to raise money for the scholarships for the children, the Bridge Project hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year. They have a golf tournament and one of their biggest fundraisers is their annual gala. This past year, the gala was held at the Hyatt Convention Center in Denver on Sept. 29, 2012. This year's gala helped raise 25 percent of the organization's annual budget.
"We have been around for 21 years and we have a great relationship with [the] University of Denver," said Wilky. "Bridge does a lot more than afterschool programs," said Wilky. "We have a great partnership with DU and we couldn't do it without the tutors we get from DU."
The Bridge Project is currently accepting volunteer applications. To find out more information check out their website.
Bridge Project carries kids toward success
By Tom McGhee
The Denver Post
December 16, 2012
As Sitey Musa scrawled answers to arithmetic problems on a sheet of paper, Erin Howard, an educator with the Bridge Project, helped another child tread his way through a different homework assignment.
Musa was one of about 20 elementary-school-age children doing their homework — and getting help with it — during an after-school program at one of the nonprofit's four facilities, all of which are located in public-housing communities.
"It's cool because they help you with your homework and they make sure you are safe," said Musa, 10, who was working at a table with two of her sisters, Khadija, 6, and Hawa, 8.
These children of Somali refugees attend Goldrick Elementary School and live in Denver Housing Authority's Westwood Homes in west Denver, one of four city housing complexes where Bridge Project runs programs.
The Bridge Project was formed 21 years ago when prominent Denver developer Philip Winn approached then-University of Denver Chancellor Dan Ritchie about the high dropout rate among children growing up in public housing projects.
Faculty of the DU Graduate School of Social Work and members of the hard-pressed neighborhoods worked together to develop the program.
Last year, the Bridge Project's after-school programs provided homework help to 500 children, one-on-one tutoring to 306 kids weekly, and classes in computer use to 460.
Children in the program average 10 years of age.
Funding comes from private contributions, and from local, state and federal grants. The Bridge Project is an agency that has received funding from Denver Post Charities Season to Share.
Howard, 30, and other staff members correspond with classroom teachers to determine which subjects the kids need help with.
"They're overcrowded, and the teachers work very hard," Howard said of the schools near the complexes where Bridge operates, including Columbine, Quigg-Newton and South Lincoln.
The organization also offers a summer program that includes a literacy program, outdoor education and a technology academy.
An older sister of the Musa girls, Asli, 18, works for the Bridge Project teaching computer literacy to younger children.
"The kids really listen to the lessons I have to teach. I really enjoy it, and they enjoy it as well," said Asli, who earns $7.64 an hour, Colorado's minimum wage.
Asli and other teens who work at Bridge are role models for those they help teach, said executive director Molly Calhoun.
Bridge also has a scholarship program that provides full tuition and other support to students attending local colleges, universities and trade schools.
In return for the scholarships, students volunteer 40 hours a year to mentor, tutor and read to children.
Sixty-two young adults are currently attending school on the scholarships, and 48 have graduated from schools.
Two of Asli's older brothers have been awarded the scholarships, Calhoun said.
Asli, a South High School student, attended the after-school program before landing the part-time job there this year.
"I started coming in the fifth grade," she said. "They always helped with homework and made sure the answers were all correct and my grades went up."
Bridge Project Gala blends nostalgia, nod to the future
By Joanne Davidson
The Denver Post
October 14, 2012
Supporting the University of Denver Bridge Project is a family affair for Keith and Gwen Arnold.
Over the past 12 years, Keith, owner of IPW, a Denver-based remanufacturer of toner ink cartridges, has been a member of the Bridge Project advisory board while Gwen has served as a volunteer tutor. They've also organized fundraisers, acquired items for the auctions that are part of the Bridge Project's annual fundraising gala, and donated services and money to the cause.
Their daughter, Kate, is an education specialist at the Bridge Project's South Lincoln site while son Greg gives his time as a volunteer tutor.
For this dedication to the organization that works to keep children from some of Denver's poorest neighborhoods in school and on a path to success, the Arnolds were given the 2012 Phil and Elle Winn Community Service Award.
It was presented at the 21st Bridge Project Gala, an event that raised $500,000 and was chaired by Brian and Angie Midtbo, Peter Harnisch and Laura Yanoviak. Entertainment was by the Neil Diamond tribute band, Super Diamond.
"I grew up in neighborhoods like the ones our Bridge kids live in," said Alec Wynne, a commercial Realtor and chair of the Bridge Project board, "and I know all too well how these kids are starving for (positive) role models." The Bridge Project is a community outreach initiative of DU's Graduate School of Social Work and works with 500 families in four public housing sites. Sixty-three young people are attending college or trade school on Bridge Project scholarships.
Guests at the gala included DU Chancellor Robert Coombe and his wife, Julanna Gilbert; CBS correspondent Barry Peterson and Mary Nell Wolff; Phil and Elle Winn; Gary and Teresa Yourtz; Gerald and Lorna Gray; Charles Jordy and Brian Fun; Charlie and Regina Biederman; Chuck and Dana Farmer; Neil and Barbara Oberfeld; Martin and Marie Herzog; Gary and Leslie Howard; Rhonda Knop and Tim McManus; Ken and Marilynn Carroll; Brian and Beth Rorick; Mike and Anne Beerman; Keith and Mimi Pockross; Bob and Gail Manning; Tom and Shelly Montgomery; Mike Altenberg and Libby Bortz; Eula and Janet Adams; and Christina de Barros.