If there’s one word that lies at the heart of the Bridges to a Brighter Future program, it’s family.
“The real foundation of Bridges is creating family,” Director Carrie Silver said. “It’s a great honor that these students allow us to go on the journey with them.”
Founded in 1996 through the vision of the late Mamie Jolley Bruce, Furman’s Bridges to a Brighter Future program is in the final stages of selecting the students who will join the program’s 25th class and start their seven-year journey of transformation and empowerment.
The nonprofit college access program operates out of Furman University and focuses on providing support and resources to underserved and underrepresented students in Greenville County.
Students in Greenville County are nominated by their schools in the spring of their ninth grade year. Once accepted into the program they take part in a monthlong residential session on Furman University’s campus that focuses on academic enrichment, leadership development and other skills during the summers of their 10th, 11th and 12th grade years. The students selected are academically gifted but face educational barriers like endemic poverty or difficult family circumstances.
“I feel very confident that our students are not only ready for college but ready for life.” – Bridges to a Brighter Future Program Director Carrie Silver
As former Furman first lady Susan Shi explained, it was precisely this type of student Bruce had in mind when she shared her vision over lunch one day in 1996. The widely respected philanthropist wanted to start a program that would match the tremendous potential of this group of students with the resources and support network they would need to achieve educational success. “Bridges has done that and done that incredibly well,” Shi said. “It exceeded all of our desired expectations.”
Nalisha Henry with United Way of Greenville County, was in the program’s third class and said the group was the most diverse of any she’d encountered at that time. She said the bonds formed with that group helped encourage and empower her to pursue her goals and helped to expand her view of what was possible.
“I like to say Bridges is a microcosm of what I wished the world looked like,” Henry said. She said what Bridges does so well is level the playing field for students who are gifted but face challenges and who are, in many cases, the first generation in their families to attend college. The Bridges program taught her the skills she needed to turn her dream of attending college into a reality, she said. Henry went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Furman University and a master’s degree in public administration from Clemson.
Silver said that, with help from the community, Bridges has grown to include a monthly workshop called Saturday College, where students further develop academic and personal skills. In 2010 the Crossing the Bridge component was added to help students succeed through their college years. Involving the students’ families was crucial to the Bridges program’s success. Because of that connectedness and how it ties into the networks of support at the core of Bridges, students are not only more likely to achieve their goals but are often inspired to give back to their communities. “I feel very confident that our students are not only ready for college but ready for life,” Silver said.
For more information about the program, visit http://www.bridgestoabrighterfuture.org.