STORIES OF IMPACT

Meet Stephon

Stephon Dingle first joined Bridges in 1999 as a rising 4th grader at Coldstream Park Elementary School. Now, after an array of professional journalism experiences across the country, he is returning to Baltimore as a news anchor and reporter for WJZ 13.

“I’m coming back to the TV station my grandmother raised me on,” shares Stephon, who grew up in Baltimore City and whose first journalism internship was at WJZ. “It’s an out-of-body experience; I get to drive past my elementary school and down I-83 to now work at my dream job every day.”

Stephon participated in the Summer Institute as a child, worked a summer job through Bridges in high school, and was supported as he went on to play baseball at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and then to Columbia University for his master’s degree in Journalism. He believes that the most important thing that Bridges instilled in him through all of this was a deep-rooted conviction that he had the capacity to achieve his goals.

“Kids from all backgrounds come through Bridges, but the messaging stays the same: ‘You can do it,’” explains Stephon. “Now I’m taking what Bridges poured into me and giving that back to so many who have my same story. I want young people in Baltimore to look at me and say, ‘If Stephon can do it, then I can do it too.’”

Stephon’s career has taken him across the country from places like Birmingham to Louisville and has presented him with opportunities to cover impactful and important stories, including earning two Emmy Awards for his coverage of social unrest over the death of Breonna Taylor in 2020. For Stephon, returning to Baltimore is a dream come true and a testament to the village that his grandmother, Bridges, and others have provided to him.

“My old teachers are saying that learning this news was one of their proudest moments as educators in a long time. My high school principal congratulated me. Strangers have reached out to welcome me back. My colleagues are telling me how proud my grandmother would be…I feel such such joy, gratitude, and belonging. I can’t believe I get to share my testimony, passion and storytelling with my hometown. It’s truly my grandmother’s wildest dream come true.” Watch a promo on Stephon from WJZ here.

Meet Madison

Bridges alumna Madison M. (Coastal Carolina ’21) first joined Bridges after 3rd grade at Leith Walk Elementary School. She is now an Animal Welfare Specialist Assistant at Coral World Ocean Park in the Virgin Islands.

Madison knew from the first time she saw a dolphin at age three that she wanted to work with marine life one day. She shares that participating in the Bridges program helped her identify passions and develop skills that complement a career in the fields of marine science and education. “In the Summer Jobs Program, I worked at the Baer School and learned that I loved educating kids,” shares Madison. “I got more experience with education and public speaking working [as a Head Counselor] in the Summer Institute. I also built a resume, practiced interviews, and learned how to present myself professionally.”

Madison started as an intern, but soon realized that she wanted to be at Coral World longer-term. “I sometimes hesitate with decisions,” Madison admits, “But I didn’t want to wonder what could have been. I’m proud of myself for going for it.” She submitted her resume and went through a full interview process to land her current role.

At Coral World, Madison cares for and trains the animals, educates guests on marine life, and helps to maintain clean facilities. “It is a lot of work, but it is what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. Getting to work with the animals is amazing, and I get to learn from people who have been with the animals for a lot longer.”

One of the most important things she takes with her from Bridges to her career is the confidence to ask for help. “There is always someone who knows more than you,” she explains. “I’m a lot better at saying what I need. You can’t do this job by yourself – I am still learning terminology and why we do things the way we do them. Asking for help allows me to learn.”

Madison plans to work hands-on with marine life throughout her career and is considering paths in animal training, education, and veterinary practice.

Meet Arté

Arté’s journey with Bridges began in the summer after his 3rd grade year at Dallas F. Nicolas Elementary. He has graduated from Morgan State University with a B.A. in Music and is currently working towards his M.A. in Teaching from Morgan.

Arté fell in love with music when he started playing the flute in his middle school band. “There’s a beauty in having a blank canvas and creating whatever you want,” shares Arté. “You create the atmosphere, the story, or whatever you want the listener to feel from your music. I can make something that somebody else might need to hear or share an emotion or experience.”

When Arté was in high school, Bridges worked to match him with a summer experience that would foster his passion for music. With support from Bridges, Arté attended a five-week music conservatory at The Walden School in New Hampshire. Since then, he has spent many summers there as a student and later as a staff member and instructor. “Without Bridges introducing me to The Walden School, I wouldn’t have built that network,” shares Arté. “[Through Bridges] I have a circle of connections and peers.”

At Morgan State, Arté continued to cultivate his musical abilities. He was in the marching and symphonic bands for four years, the first-ever freshman member of Morgan’s Kappa Kappa Psi chapter (a national honor band fraternity), and a music education intern at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, his alma mater.

While pursuing music, Arté has been a Resident Assistant, an Iota Phi Theta D9 fraternity member, an e-Sports league pioneering member and champion, and a Master’s-level teaching student. Maintaining this extensive list of pursuits has been equally rewarding and challenging. There was even a time that Arté was struggling with low grades and didn’t see himself continuing in school.

“I wouldn’t have gotten through without my support system,” shares Arté, “But I also know that I am the engine that’s driving it. Every semester I’d say, ‘What can I learn from this? How can this tie into what I want to do [in the future]?’ I built mental fortitude, pulled from my resources, and pushed myself.”

Bridges was fortunate to be part of that support system. “There were workshops, resume building, and retreats – Bridges was always there, right on time,” Arté explains.

Long-term, Arté pictures himself in music production. Though he hasn’t settled on an immediate career path, he knows that he wants to make an impact – whether through the music he makes or the guidance he provides to others. “That’s what we all should strive for,” Arté says, “to leave something for the next generation.”

Arté shares this advice for the students coming through the Bridges program now: “Take it all in. All the programs I have gone through in Bridges have been intentional…you will get something out of it.”

Meet Kaylin

Kaylin joined Bridges after 3rd grade at Leith Walk Elementary. She is attending Georgia State University, where she is participating in the invitation-only Panther Gateway Program, taking a full-time courseload at community college tuition rates and accessing a network of resources at the GSU Atlanta campus.

Kaylin’s college application process began when she wrote her first college essay in the Bridges High School Summer Program last year. During the school year, Kaylin met weekly with Jenni Ruiz, Bridges’ Director of College & Career Guidance, to revise her essay to speak more directly to her aspirations and talents. Kaylin then wrote and revised supplemental essays, completed the Common Black College Application, filled out the FAFSA for financial aid, and searched for external scholarships with guidance from Jenni. Throughout this, she maintained honor roll, held two jobs, completed an internship at Youth Advocacy Program, and brought in extra income through a self-run hair braiding business. Ultimately, she was accepted into 23 colleges.

When she was invited into the Panther Gateway Program at Georgia State, Kaylin, her family, and Bridges coordinated a visit to campus. She took a tour, browsed the activity fair, networked with current students, and met with a director of the School of Film, Media & Theater. The visit helped Kaylin to learn about the film industry and how GSU could help her achieve her career goals. “There’s really no way to know without ‘trying it on’ and talking to people who have done it,” explains Kaylin. “Exploring the options and asking questions made it a lot easier to decide that [GSU] was a good fit.”

In the Panther Gateway Program, Kaylin has access to mentoring, career counseling, financial literacy programming, and special engagement opportunities, among other resources. She is also living in a Living-Learning Community with likeminded students, which she believes will help her acclimate to life away from Baltimore. “I have never lived anywhere else,” she says. “I am nervous, but excited!”

Kaylin plans to major in Film and Media and minor in Business, and though her career goal is film acting, she is open to any occupation that allows her to inspire others and to grow her entrepreneurial spirit.

“My motivation is to leave my mark,” she explains. “I want to do something that I am passionate about, that not only pays the bills, but that makes a difference.” Kaylin believes that her hard work will pay off when her degree is in hand. “Higher education makes you well-rounded,” she says, “and that is something no one can take away from you.”

Meet Darius

Darius M. had just finished 4th grade at Tunbridge Public Charter School when he began his Bridges journey. He has just started at Baltimore City College High School.

At the beginning of the school year, Darius noticed that he didn’t understand some of the independent work he was completing in math class and wasn’t happy with some of the grades he was getting on assignments. Determined to stay on track from the start, Darius committed to attending Bridges Loft tutoring twice a week.

Throughout the year at the Loft, Darius connected with volunteer tutor Brandon for math help. “I always brought my math notebook, and Brandon led me through it,” Darius shares. “We did it step-by-step. There were days I didn’t feel like coming, but I needed to be honest with myself that I needed the help. The more I went, the more I got accustomed to it.”

Darius also made it a point to attend school every day, completed extra credit assignments in math, and participated in as many weekend events as possible with his Bridges middle school cohort. Thanks to his commitment to school and Bridges, Darius kept himself on track – earning honor roll and achieving perfect attendance by the end of the school year.

Besides improving in math, Darius feels that Bridges has helped him to grow personally. “I’ve grown in my confidence – when I don’t understand something, Bridges encourages me to persevere and not give up,” Darius explains. “I have also grown in my friendships – Bridges is always putting people together, like in our house cup teams. [The Bridges students and volunteers] communicate and strategize for the house cup competition. And then we get closer.”

Darius is excited for his high school experience and knows he has a support system behind him no matter what the future holds. “Now, I feel pretty confident,” he shares. “I am still a little nervous for math in high school, but I know that I can go to Bridges and they can help me whenever I need it.”

Meet Jaycia

Jaycia joined Bridges last year, after her 4th grade year in Cecil Elementary. She is now finished with elementary school and heading into her second year with Bridges. She spent much of her first year in Bridges developing her math skills and building new friendships.

Although math is not Jaycia’s preferred subject, she works hard to ensure that she keeps her grades where she wants them. During the 2022 Bridges Summer Institute, Jaycia got a five-week preview of what she would be learning in 5th grade math, and discovered that it wasn’t so bad. “I like that in Bridges, we learn things in a fun way,” she explains. “Ms. Choi was a really good teacher – she makes math easy to understand.”

Starting in the fall, Jaycia continued to build confidence in math during the Bridges After-School Program. She partnered with her volunteer, Aara (Bryn Mawr ‘24), to complete her math homework and review concepts she learned in school each week. “Aara helped me divide fractions and decimals, find the least common multiple, and add large numbers,” she shares. Thanks to Jaycia’s efforts, she has maintained a high “B” in math all school year.

Jaycia has also made friends that she didn’t anticipate during her first year with Bridges. “Aara is always so nice and laughs at all the funniest moments,” shares Jaycia. “I love all the volunteers.” She has also connected with peers in the program, sharing that summer field trips in particular have led to some of her best friendships with classmates.

Jaycia and her family partnered with Bridges to find the best-fit middle school for her this year: Crossroads Middle. Although she is not completely sure what to expect, she is excited that many of her Bridges peers will be attending Crossroads with her. She also knows that she can use her resources and stay persistent to achieve her goals. Jaycia shares this reminder with her fellow graduating 5th graders: “We know middle school [can be] scary, but if we stay focused, we will be successful.”

Independent School Volunteers

Meet Jillian

Former Bridges volunteer Jillian R. ‘15 (St. Paul’s School for Girls) has taken the lessons she learned from Bridges to make a difference in communities around the world.

While at the University of Virginia, Jillian traveled to South Africa for a research project studying factors affecting chronic disease for women in a community outside of Cape Town. In talking with community members, she found that lack of extracurricular activities for kids was a big contributor to health problems in the community.

Jillian realized that this community in Cape Town and the populations she served in Baltimore through Bridges shared that in common. Jillian’s project received over $40,000 in grant funding to start a youth program where kids in the community participated in activities like movie nights and soccer games.  “I think it’s all based in the community development that I saw happening at Bridges,” she reflects. “I know that if you provide programs and services and space for kids to connect with each other and with other people, those outcomes that we’re so scared about tend not to happen,” she says. 

In alignment with Jillian’s goal to create a lasting impact in the community, students at the University of Virginia are continuing the work Jillian helped to start in Cape Town.

Jillian encourages current high school students getting involved in Bridges for the first time to fully commit to the experience. “You’re not going to get the best experience if you’re holding yourself back. And you’d be surprised what can happen in a week.”

Meet Collin

Collin first started volunteering with Bridges as a sophomore at The St. Paul’s Schools, beginning a commitment to the program that has lasted well into his professional career. In high school, Collin volunteered with Bridges students in school-year and summer programs. During college, Collin came back each summer to work as a head counselor. After school, he spent two years as a full-time Bridges employee and an additional seven years volunteering as a mentor for high school students – working with some of the same students he supported in his early years at the program.

“Bridges initially inspired me to study linguistics in college to better understand how kids develop their language skills,” says Collin, “and helped to develop a foundational skill set for my professional success.” Throughout his career trajectory, Collin has stayed engaged with Bridges, recently connecting students with his employer, MCB Real Estate, for a career shadow day.

“I have loved my time with Bridges,” he shares. “I hope that I was able to contribute even a fraction to the students’ experience as they did to mine.”

Meet Beatrix

Bryn Mawr alumna Beatrix B. ’22 has volunteered for five separate Bridges programs, most recently as a camp counselor in the 2022 Bridges Summer Institute. She is studying Education at Tulane University, partially thanks to her experience in Bridges.

“I’d never worked with 4th and 5th graders before,” she explains. “It has been amazing to watch their love for learning and has made me appreciate my own education so much more. Bridges helped me to find my passion for education.”

Summer 2022 was especially memorable for Beatrix as she volunteered in the first-ever Bridges at Bryn Mawr Summer Institute. Previously involved in the program at Gilman, Beatrix has found that there is something special about driving onto her own campus each day to work with the program and students with whom she’s built such strong connections.

“It’s exciting,” she shares. “It’s awesome to know that this small group of students will grow up with Bridges and feel at home on the Bryn Mawr campus.”

Beatrix grew up in Baltimore and attended a Baltimore City Public School before enrolling at Bryn Mawr. “Bridges is a way to feel connected to my city,” she says.

Meet Bobby

St. Paul’s student Bobby Y. ’25 volunteered with Bridges for the first time in the summer and decided to participate again in the fall as a tutor-mentor in the After-School Program. “Initially I joined to get my service hours,” Bobby shares, “But I came back to keep building bonds with the kids. I like being a role model.”

Bobby’s primary responsibility as a volunteer this season was to build strong relationships and motivate the 4th and 5th graders with whom he worked. Through backpack organization activities, to developmental math and reading time, to outdoor sports, Bobby and his fellow volunteers worked hard to keep the students excited about learning.

“My favorite thing this Fall has been seeing how much the kids wanted to do well. We hyped them up, motivated them when they were upset, and kept them engaged when they wanted to be doing something else. I’ve learned that if you support the kids, they want to support you and be your friend, too.”

Bobby sees his time in Bridges as a small investment that has a big impact. “Coming in once or twice a week for Bridges may not seem significant, but it might make a huge difference to the students you’re working with. Bridges starts with 4th and 5th graders, but it’s a big program that supports students all the way to college…that’s a long commitment and a big role.” 

Meet Sammy

Gilman student Sammy J. ’23 wasn’t sure what to expect when he first decided to volunteer with Bridges, but after one season, he knew he wasn’t done volunteering.

“I didn’t realize how much enjoyment and fulfillment it would give me,” shares Sammy. “Getting to know the kids and spending time with them makes my day a little brighter.”

Sammy has volunteered as a tutor-mentor during the school year and as an assistant counselor during the summer program. He has also been inducted to the Bridges 3+ Honor Society for his exceptional service in three Bridges programs. His approach to volunteering with Bridges centers around making meaningful connections with the students. “You get to learn about their days, their likes and dislikes,” he shares. “It’s really just about asking about their day and caring for them.”

Sammy is attending Seton Hill University to complete an accelerated Physician Assistant track. He feels that Bridges connects directly with his career aspirations. “Working in medicine is not just drugs, chemistry, or surgery,” Sammy explains. “At its core, helping people is what’s most important – you have to connect and understand the patient more than at a superficial level. Bridges is the same thing.”

Meet Layan

Bryn Mawr student Layan H. ’23 was a part of the inaugural cohort of volunteers for Bridges at Bryn Mawr, and she now holds a special place in her heart for Bridges. “Everyone was getting to know each other at the same time,” she says. “I originally did it for community service hours – now it is just an extension of what I do. I go to school, and I have Bridges.”

Layan quickly began building relationships with the Bridges 4th graders. “I think about when I was their age, and how I wanted to be treated,” she explains. “I didn’t like when adults treated me like a little kid. I always hear out what [the students] have to say and take them seriously – it builds good trust between you and them.”

She developed a passion for volunteering with Bridges and for the new community of which she was part. “Before I did Bridges, I didn’t have many extracurriculars that I really enjoyed,” shares Layan. “Now, I speak about Bridges at school events. It’s pushed me to be more open – I like having that type of voice.”

Layan spent her second summer at Bridges at Bryn Mawr serving as a Head Counselor and is currently attending the University of Delaware to study Psychology. She isn’t sure what career path she will ultimately follow, but she is grateful for the exposure to the education and nonprofit fields she’s received in her time with Bridges. “Bridges has impacted what I’m thinking [about my future plans] – I would be open to a career like Bridges or teaching.”

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