Sept. 28, 2011
This story was originally posted on DU Today by Amber D'Angelo Na.
Many children who live in public housing drop out of school at a young age to help support their families. They slip through the system largely unnoticed without an opportunity to finish high school or attend college.
Amy Nguyen's experience was different.
Nguyen—who was born in Lam Dong, Vietnam, and moved to the United States in 2004—lives with her mother in Denver's Westwood public housing community.
When she was a sophomore at Abraham Lincoln High School, two friends told Nguyen about the Bridge Project—an outreach initiative of DU's Graduate School of Social Work that provides educational opportunities for children living in public housing.
Nguyen immediately got involved in the organization's technology team, where she taught technology to elementary and middle school students.
"I just love sitting there and figuring out how stuff works," Nguyen says.
The Bridge Project—which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in October—offers literacy, mentoring, tutoring, after-school and summer programs for students from kindergarten–12th grade. The nonprofit takes an individualized approach to address student needs, supports them through school and helps them attend college.
The Bridge Project connected Nguyen with a tutor who helped her study for her calculus and physics classes, and a mentor — a Bridge Project college graduate — who Nguyen describes as an "older brother." He helped Nguyen with her homework, gave her advice and helped her prepare for college.
Nguyen joined the National Honor Society and says the Bridge Project helped her achieve confidence and success.
"I'm so glad I was involved," she says. "They really taught me how to not get into trouble and that I could go to the school I wanted to. It didn't matter if I had money—I just needed to try hard."
Nguyen says that advice paid off—literally. She was accepted to DU and is part of DU's 2011 freshman class. She received scholarships from the Denver Scholarship Foundation and the Bridge Project.
"Throughout my senior year, I wanted to go to DU because I saw how people who graduated from there are always successful," she says.
Nguyen plans to major in psychology and become an elementary school counselor.
"I like working with the little kids," she says. "Kindergarten would be good. They are so smart and fun to work with and I love to see their reactions to certain things; it's just fun."
Nguyen will stay involved with the Bridge Project as a mentor, paying forward the support she received. She'll live at home during college to take care of her mom, who is ill.
"I have to always be there for her," she says. "It's just me and her."
"The Bridge Project is extremely proud of Amy and everything she has accomplished so far," says Molly Calhoun, executive director of the Bridge Project. "Throughout her high school years, Amy was a great leader in our program and an amazing role model for younger students. Amy carries the hopes and dreams of many of our younger Bridge Project students. It is because of this that we are thrilled to support Amy as a Bridge scholar at the University of Denver."
The Bridge Project was started in 1991 by then-Chancellor Dan Ritchie to help address poverty and student dropout rates in Denver's public housing communities and schools.
Calhoun says the Bridge Project has many successful alumni including doctors, pharmacists, engineers, teachers and social workers. The organization sent 60 students—including Nguyen—to colleges in Colorado this fall, the most in organization history.
"I'm really hopeful that in the next five years we'll have 100 kids in college," Calhoun says. "I can't see that we'll ever turn kids away; we'll figure out how to raise money to get them through."
This story and others can be found at DU Today.