Guest post by Melvin Guzman, Program Manager for East Central Project Bridge.
Eckerd Connects’ Project Bridge provides second chances to youth previously in trouble with the law. One way we accomplish this is by giving youth the opportunity to engage in community service. There is no better example of this than last month when Project Bridge partnered with other organizations to hold an event titled Never Forget, held in memory of September 11th.
Eckerd Connects’ Project Bridge, Home Builder’s Institute, The Mission Continues, Soldiers Freedom Outdoors and Guardian Angels partnered to create a weekend of service in support of organizations that serve veterans and active military. The event lasted from September 10th to September 11th in commiseration of the 15th anniversary of the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001.
The event was held at Camp Freedom which provides outdoor therapy to veterans. Nine youth from Eckerd Connects’ Project Bridge, as well as staff and volunteers participated in building a corral for the camp’s horses. Meanwhile, others built a dock over the lake in order to improve access for veterans and family members with mobility constraints. Youth that attended were also recognized in the 2nd Quarterly Super Star Event to highlight their service.
After the ceremony, there were a variety of outdoor activities for our kids to participate in including swimming, fishing, boating, card games, horse-back riding, an outdoor movie and s’mores by the campfire. Many of the Project Bridge youth in attendance had expressed interest in the military, and this event provided them an excellent opportunity for personal conversations with our military men and women. Later that evening, a water lantern ceremony was held to commemorate those lives lost and affected by the events of September 11th.
The following day, September 11, 2016, the youth completed their second service project, this time at Guardian Angels. Guardian Angels trains medical service dogs, 90% of whom go to veterans to assist with PTSD symptoms. The youth built a chicken coop, shade structures and doghouses to assist in the training of the service dogs. Our youth had the chance to use practical constructions skills that they have learned from Home Builder’s Institute. They also learned the value of teamwork as they worked alongside with other volunteers.
Many of the youth in Project Bridge live in communities marked by drugs and crime. This event was a chance for them to expand their horizons and see the opportunities in their lives. This weekend taught our youth that their future is in their own hands.