A young nonprofit, ourBRIDGE for KIDS, celebrates the inauguration of its new center on Sept. 17. The organization’s new home is the latest development in ourBRIDGE’s blossoming growth since Founder and Executive Director Sil Ganzó began working to provide services to refugee and immigrant children in the Charlotte area.
Its mission? Through tutoring and multi-disciplinary activities, ourBRIDGE helps students “achieve academic success and integration into the community through innovative instructional methods and an embracement of their cultural diversity,” wrote Ganzó in an email to qnotes.
The immigrant and refugee community of Charlotte grows every year, with the city hosting more newcomers than any other in North Carolina. Many of these immigrants are LGBTQ, particularly refugees escaping persecution in conservative nations. The Center for American Progress estimates that 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ immigrants currently live in the United States, with even more documented and refugees granted asylum from persecution.
Ganzó was herself an immigrant to Charlotte in 2003, originating in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Through her work with a for-profit tutoring program called The Bridge from 2010-2014, Ganzó was reminded of immigrant children’s vulnerability, both socially and academically.
“Did you know 187 different languages are spoken in our CMS [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] system and there are 17,000 Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students?” Ganzó asked. “While immigrants and refugees bring so much energy, culture, and business entrepreneurship to our city, their children can struggle with complex issues including poverty, family separation, cultural shock, and learning English as an additional language. Without extra academic and socio-emotional support, immigrant and refugee children are especially vulnerable to academic failure.”
This is the gap that ourBRIDGE strives to fill, through diverse afterschool programs that include one-on-one tutoring in English, as well as hands-on activities focused on STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Still more important, Ganzó says, is providing the chance for students “to be part of a learning community that supports them and values their families’ cultures.”
Now, the organization has leapt forward through a partnership with Aldersgate Senior Community Learning Center, a 231-acre campus in east Charlotte. Aldersgate has offered ourBRIDGE a 6,000 square foot facility at a rent of $1 per year.
The generous partnership is not the only blessing; ourBRIDGE leadership is equally excited to move into the neighborhood where so many of Charlotte’s 600 immigrants per year end up settling.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to be part of Aldersgate’s initiative to embrace the culturally rich communities in the east side,” Ganzó said. “Through this partnership, ourBRIDGE will be able to expand its unique out-of-school programming to include more children and more intergenerational activities, while continuing to help newly arrived families feel welcomed and become acculturated to the United States.”
The inaugural event takes place on Sept. 17 from 3p.m.-6p.m. at the new center, 3925 Willard Farrow Dr. in Charlotte. The ribbon cutting ceremony and remarks will take place at 4:30p.m. Of course, the formal elements won’t be the only fun.
International food trucks will offer meal options, along with a community potluck. For the kids — whose futures are more than enough cause for celebration — field games, bouncy houses, and a soccer tournament should provide a wealth of entertainment. Onstage performances are scheduled, and organizers are still looking for diverse performers to participate, particularly LGBTQ artists to represent the community.
After the festival, the time comes to roll up sleeves and get to work. The very next day, Sept. 18, ourBRIDGE begins serving 125 students in grades K-6. The students are comprised of individuals from 20 cultures in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
This diversity is a central goal of the organization, which promotes learning about different cultures as opposed to opposing or assimilating them. In a city with the most refugees resettled of the state, within a nation where xenophobic rhetoric runs rampant, bridging differences is essential.
“ourBRIDGE is the only non-religious affiliated after school program in Charlotte that provides a bridge for these children,” Ganzó said. “The organization focuses on building understanding and respect among people from different cultures — a mission that’s more important now than ever.”
The group’s educational missions aren’t far-off pipe dreams; in the few years since programming began, quantifiable results show its effectiveness. Recently, CMS administered Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) which showed that ourBRIDGE students’ growth was an average of 45 percent higher than the national growth expectation in math, and 54 percent higher in reading.
“Through the program, ourBRIDGE children achieve enormous growth in their English proficiency and are set on a path toward academic success,” Ganzó noted, adding, “ourBRIDGE envisions a community where newly arrived and 1st generation American children will not fall behind academically or socially because of a lack of resources, encouragement, English language skills, networks, or opportunities.”