Ronald Wilkerson sits at a conference room table at Bridge 2 Success, the youth-oriented nonprofit he founded 10 years ago.
In the room are boxes of school uniforms donated by Walmart. Throughout the building at 3409 Baseline Road in Little Rock, 15 children ages 5-17 work on computers, play basketball and do stretching exercises.
In the kitchen at the back of the building, which was once a Family Dollar store, staff members prepare lunches that will be delivered to several Boys and Girls Club locations across the city.
Wilkerson, pastor of Faith Temple Deliverance Church of God in Christ next door, started Bridge 2 Success as a resource for young people.
"It's been a very rewarding 10 years," he says. "It was difficult starting out because we didn't know what we were going to do. All we knew is that the youth of this area needed some type of support, some type of programming. There needed to be some help for parents and things for kids to do after school and during the summer, a positive place for them to go that offered structure."
Program services are free and Bridge 2 Success is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. in the summer and after school until 6 p.m. Staff members work with students on communication skills, conflict resolution and on subjects like math and reading.
Youth coordinator Valerie Brown likes to focus on STEM projects and problem solving.
"This summer we have them working on robotics," she says, showing off five models that use robotics and solar power to walk. "I want to get the kids interested in STEM stuff."
In a room off the cafeteria, Brown, who is retired from the Army and served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, shows a collection of gardening kits and science projects for the children she bought with her own money.
"I want them to do something more than just play. I want them to learn. I want to give them something exciting to do."
There are 22 computer stations, TVs, board games, pool tables, a Ping-Pong table and video games. Children also play tennis once a week, swim, bowl and roller skate.
"I love my babies," Brown says of her Bridge 2 Success charges. "I love being around them and seeing them grow and flourish."
The group has always provided meals to students at the center, serving breakfast and lunch in the summer and supper while school is in session.
Since the pandemic it has expanded its services, working through the Arkansas Department of Human Services to deliver food to children at Auxora Arms Apartments, Crossing at Nandina Apartments and Fair Oaks Apartments in Little Rock and Hemlock Courts Housing Project in North Little Rock, says nutritionist Antoinette Racy.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a larger need and there is still a larger need for meals," Racy says. "What we found is that a lot of parents and caretakers were displaced from employment or struggling to get back into the workforce. It puts the entire family at risk."
Bridge 2 Success also provides lunches and snacks for Boys & Girls Club summer camps.
Bridge workers, who Racy says have all been vaccinated, are also trying to educate families and students on covid-19 vaccinations.
"This area, Ward 7 in southwest Little Rock, is majority African American and Hispanic," Racy says. "There's a distrust of the medical community, so we want to tell them what the vaccine is about and how it works."
Bridge 2 Success is funded through grants and donations. On Tuesday it was awarded a contract with Little Rock for up to $200,000 from the Prevention, Intervention and Treatment funds overseen by the city's Department of Community Programs.
"We want to work with the youth on the streets to help curb the violence in Little Rock," Wilkerson says. "We will be working with [people] from the ages of 13 to 30 to provide life skills, to help with job awareness and assist them in growth and development."
Wilkerson says he wants to use the money to help "target people who are in need of our support, who are hanging out on the streets with no positive outlook on life."
With 10 years behind him and the program, Wilkerson is optimistic about the future.
"I want to see us as a full-fledged center for seniors, adults, young adults and children," he says. "A facility to minister to all of the age groups, all of the people that need our support."
Source : https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jul/25/bridge-2-success-celebrates-10-years-of-aiding-lr/?features783