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Bridging the Community celebrates its 100th meeting

03/17/2015 01:52PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

One by one, they stood up – more than 50 local leaders, volunteers and representatives from organizations – and although their messages were different, they spoke as one collective voice, dedicated to the cause of their community.

Matrie Johnson of Home for the Sparrow shared information about an upcoming Single Mothers' Conference on April 15. Ryan Nessle of Americorp/VISTA shared that he is working with a Chester County-based organization on a plan to end homelessness in the county in ten years. Frank Burke of the Veterans Medical Center in Coatesville said that the center is trying to help homeless veterans in the area. Kayla Higgins of Chester County Women Services shared news that the group provides free pregnancy testing, parenting and childbirth classes and eduction about parenting options.

At the 100th meeting of Bridging the Community, held March 11 at the Friends Meeting House on West Sickle Street in Kennett Square, attendees put the guiding principles of the organization into action: to serve from the heart; to work for the community; to focus on potential; to focus on the process, not programs; and to value each person's contribution.

Since its beginning in 1998, Bridging the Community has served as a collective voice of the community, by helping organizations and individuals fill in the gaps of their needs. At 90-minute meetings held every other month at locations throughout the Kennett Square area, energy connects itself with need: volunteers are linked with organizations, mentors are connected with students, and integrators are partnered with innovators.

"We decided to begin this when Genesis came into town, because our feeling was that it would change the small-town character," said co-founder Joan Holliday. "We said that rather than fight the corporate world, we came up with the idea of reinforcing the small town. We also wanted to focus on potential, not problems. You've got the guiding principles, and then you live by them. We're about getting people together, having them share their news, and making connections."

Since the first meeting, the general construct of Bridging the Community meetings have been divided into two sessions, beginning with a general introduction from individuals and representatives who share news of an upcoming event, express a need for assistance, or share a particular opinion on a topic of local interest. The second half of the meetings allow for a follow-up bridging session, that invites those interested in knowing more the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the individual or representative.

Unlike the gavel-to-gavel formality of many community-based organizations, there is no specific infrastructure to Bridging the Community, and the group has no board of directors, dues or fees. Its strength, Holliday said, is felt in its membership – more than 800 to date – many of whom are movers and shakers in the Kennett Square community, who can easily make recommendations of people, places and resources.

"We're trying to make it whatever it wants to become for the community, in terms of determining what needs to be bridged," Holliday said. "If its a business with people, a non-profit with the people, or whether its a culture, bridged with another."

Bridging the Community's website provides resources on how residents can make volunteer connections with student and community groups; as well as links to Chester County agencies and service centers like child care, senior living care and housing assistance providers.

With 100 meetings down, Holliday said she would like to see more "bridging" done that impacts future generations.

"I'd like to see all people working with youth programs, as a means of getting agencies and individuals invested in youth development," Holliday said, referring to mentorship programs that Bridging the Community members have been able to make with local schools. "It's starting to happen, but its' taken a long time. Individuals, our community, our youth – we all win when we begin to share our common threads."

To learn more about Bridging the Community and learn of upcoming events and opportunities, visit www.bridgingcommunity.com.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

 



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