(Note: Today’s story comes courtesy of John Gaskill with BRIDGES, a partner agency in United Way’s network of care. Names and images are changed to protect privacy)
Years ago while a junior in high school, Elayna became involved with the Bridge Builders program at BRIDGES, a United Way network partner agency. At the time she did not understand the importance of diversity or how a desire to better understand people could lead to her future career.
In her earlier years in high school, Elayna was a shy and introverted student who kept to herself. Yet there was something about what she had heard about the program that interested her and made her decide to sign up.
“There was a lot of buzz on my school campus about the program, and I was chosen to participate as an alternate,” Elayna said. “I actually was only able to join the group because one of the students moved away. My life would be so different if I had not gone through the program, I can’t even imagine it.”
The agency serves as a catalyst for empowering youth to reach their potential through education, diversity and workshop development. Elayna admits that when she first attended program meetings, she thought it was “just a fun thing to do.”
“All I knew is that we would be climbing ladders and falling backwards into people’s arms,” she said, “but by the end of junior camp, it became so much more!”
Elayna credits the agency staff with helping her increase trust in her fellow students and for helping her become more extroverted and engaged with other people.
“At the agency center I made friends from all around the city,” she said. “I still talk with some of these people on a regular basis, all these years later. Just meeting and trusting people from different zip codes was eye-opening for me at the time.”
An agency counselor saw the difference the program has made in Elayna’s life. “Her time at the center as a student gave her an interest in different cultures, one that she continued to explore through her college studies,” said an agency counselor.
Elayna eventually chose to major in International Studies in college and shares that “I kept that desire to understand people who were different from me.”
Elayna now works as a Training Specialist at the agency. She plans team building and leadership development activities for a variety of groups.
“Who knows where I would be without the help of this agency,” she added. “It’s where I finally realized what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I can help people experience something fantastic.”
Your support of United Way helps provide programs that work to students across our region, exposing them to new ideas and helping instill confidence and knowledge they’ll need for later life success.