Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

June 19, 2014

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

As our children grow older, they grow closer to each other. They’re more willing to get along and coexist harmoniously in the limited space of our home. It’s a wonderful feeling; it’s all that we’ve hoped for as parents from the very first days.

Still, though, they backslide. They bicker and argue over things as inconsequential as a spot on the sofa or a difference in perspective.

Memphis, too, grows and ages and, hopefully, matures. Yet even as it moves forward, becoming more progressive on issues of growth and development, we backslide. In past weeks, interest groups and Memphis Zoo leaders have been bickering over land the way my kids argue over that spot on the couch.

Other groups have become embroiled in the most inane argument of all: Who is the most minority? It’s like my children discussing which of them is my favorite (I’ll never tell). This public discussion has devolved into public name-calling, water-throwing and an arrest.

It was against this civic backdrop that we sent two of our kids, Somerset and Joshua, rising seventh- and eighth-graders respectively, to Bridges last week for the summer Bridge Builders COLLABORATE program. In a building that acts as a bridge itself — on the edge of Downtown, Uptown, the Medical District and North Memphis — 114 young people from 32 ZIP codes came together to learn how to work as one.

The issues of the day weren’t the focus, not in so many words. No one read them headlines from the newspaper or a long list of acerbic statuses and comments from Facebook. Instead, the college-age facilitators led groups of kids through exercises meant to instill confidence, leadership qualities, unity and teamwork.

My kids didn’t want to go, be sure of that. They’re preteens and only recently finished with school, so they were looking forward to long summer days spent lounging on the couch, arguing over who sits where. “Why do we have to go?” they asked up until that very morning.

“Because you’ll like it,” I said, again and again. “You’ll meet new people, it’ll build character and it will give you something to do all day.”

This was one of the few instances of my being right; they loved it from the first day. They loved the people in charge, the kids in their groups, the games and workshops, and the lunches.

I picked them up that first day and, as they described the activities, the themes of the week shined through — they worked together to complete tasks, they had to choose leaders, they had to select a workshop of their own interests to focus on throughout the week.

There was a day of community service when the kids went into the surrounding neighborhood to pick up trash. The trash wasn’t theirs, but they cleaned anyway. These future leaders will one day be cleaning our messes. Because of Bridge Builders, they’ll be better equipped and more eager to do so. They’ve learned the skills at a time when current leaders have trouble putting petty differences aside to work toward a common solution.

As Cynthia Ham, president and CEO of Bridges, said to the crowd of kids and their parents at the induction ceremony on the last day, “No matter what you end up doing, I hope you will hold sacred what you learned this week at Bridge Builders and know that you can make a difference, especially in Memphis.”

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