In June 1997, Naomi Nim and Mary Freeman decided to address problems facing girls from low-income families in their community. After conducting an initial evaluation, they implemented an effort called “Community Bridges,” a nonprofit organization that takes advantage of the multicultural diversity of both its target audience and community in an effort to empower these girls. Its programs respond to the susceptibility of the girls to poor health development, academic failure, and future economic instability.
In its first year, a once a week after school program called “Jump Start Girls! Adelante Ninas!” was created. The project supported a diverse group of 30 participants, who were determined based on interest in the program as well as risk to the issues the organization addresses. The program provided an alternative to staying home and allowed girls to benefit from an all-female environment. Girls discussed growing up female and dreams for the future, studied dance through local dance groups, gave safety presentations to younger students, and went on field trips, including one to a local newspaper. Furthermore, girls attended several mother-daughter workshops with their female family members, which provided team building and family quilt-making activities. Through the events, participants were able to share about their own cultures and ethnicity as well as learn about others.
In the second year of operation, Community Bridges has expanded their outreach participant-wise, program-wise, and community-wise. The after school program now encompasses three local elementary and middle schools, and mother-daughter events are held every month. Through increased funding, they have enhanced their previous programs to address the needs of both new and returning participants. This year, Community Bridges started a project in which the girls create their own community action projects. In addition, the after school program has forged an alliance with the University of Maryland College Scholars, which taught their science unit. The dance instruction has continued and health and career focus units for the girls are forthcoming. Furthermore, the organization’s support and volunteer base has grown.
By combining multiculturalism with community service, Community Bridges has been able to address its community problems in a unique way. The program serves as a microcosm of American society, encouraging participants to appreciate culture and diversity among themselves and their peers. Volunteers are both male and female, spanning a variety of ages from the college student to the professional. This diversity has benefited both the girls and organization itself. Also, through service for and with their community, Community Bridges has stressed self-sufficiency to its participants and thus created an environment that will sustain programs and ideas.