As the new name suggests, BridgeWays is building bridges to help kids get from where they are to where they have the potential to be. The United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) partner agency, previously known as Camp Fire, recently ended its affiliation with the national Camp Fire organization and rebranded to better reflect its relationship with the local community.
The shift to BridgeWays was based, in large part, on a community assessment with input from donors, stakeholders, parents and teachers, who collectively agreed that the name Camp Fire was simply no longer indicative of the nonprofit’s scope of work.
“We kept hearing, ‘You bridge the gap for teachers. You bridge the gap for parents. You bridge the gap between kids who are introverted and extroverted,’” said BridgeWays CEO Nancy Meadows. “That’s how we essentially came up with the name BridgeWays. This is giving kids in a variety of environments, the capacity to reconnect to achieve their full potential.”
But distancing themselves from the imagery of pitching tents and roasting marshmallows wasn’t the only reason BridgeWays elected to disaffiliate from a national brand. Leadership realized that critical issues impacting kids vary greatly – from coast to coast, state to state and even from one school system to another.
Now, BridgeWays can be laser-focused specifically on what kids across Central Alabama need, without ties to a national agenda. That, Nancy said, is what everyone who BridgeWays serves really wants.
What does a more localized approach to caring look like? BridgeWays will continue to offer the same services that distinguished it from the traditional Camp Fire model, but with increased attention to several key areas of need.
For one, the nonprofit recognizes the necessity to address mental health, behavior and character development, based in part on the high incidence of violence in schools.
“We’re addressing character education — teaching kids to make healthy choices,” said Nancy. “We’re offering small mentoring groups, where kids form their own little family unit and meet every week throughout a semester. They have a safe site where they can talk about the things that are troubling them.”
Then there’s Camp Fletcher, a summer camp offering a broad range of activities that create a positive atmosphere and teach campers how to be leaders, role models and friends. There’s a focus on the future. Counselors promote a personal sense of responsibility for the environment and the community.
Through different activities, the staff at BridgeWays also works to instill children with a sense of hope in terms of careers and what they want to accomplish in life. This is based on the belief that kids need to know and understand that there are options for everyone, no matter their grades, skillset or interests.
“So much of that is about career education and helping them consider, as early as fourth or fifth grade, where their aptitudes and interests intersect,” said Nancy. “If kids can see that there is an achievable path to success, they’re likely to be hopeful. They’re far more likely to stay in school.”
Utilizing Partnership with UWCA
Throughout the rebrand, BridgeWays’ partnership with UWCA has been particularly important to making the vision a reality. When thinking about redoing its long-range strategic plan, BridgeWays’’ leaders often sat down with someone at UWCA to talk through the process.
“Especially now, having disaffiliated from a national organization, United Way keeps us connected,” said Nancy. “United Way has its finger on the pulse of the community in ways that we cannot.”
Nancy said the staff at BridgeWays always listens to United Way when looking to add a new program or a new location; they routinely pick up the phone and call United Way for advice and input. She said there’s never been a greater need for a strong relationship with UWCA.
“United Way of Central Alabama is not just identifying critical emerging needs, but also looking at trends and anticipating what kids, teachers and families are going to need. We absolutely depend on United Way.”
BridgeWays’ core mission is, and always has been, to respect the innate value of every young person. While the name has changed, the work remains the same. The focus is even stronger. And United Way of Central Alabama is pleased to support the good work that’s being done every day.
“We are BridgeWays,” said Nancy. “We’re connecting kids to each other, to their schools, to their families, to their communities. We’re building bridges.”
To learn more about BridgeWays and the programs and services it offers, visit the website.