BRIDGES launches immersive hub for youth-adult partnerships
Youth Action Center to be led by longtime BRIDGES staff member and Bridge Builders alum
MEMPHIS, TN—On April 6, BRIDGES announced the formal launch of the BRIDGES Youth Action Center (YAC), a first-of-its-kind programming and training model centered on activating and amplifying youth voice through authentic youth-adult partnerships. Since 2018, BRIDGES has been meeting and planning with youth leaders, community partners and a variety of organizations to create a comprehensive programming model that will not only provide space and resources for engaged youth leadership opportunities, but also offer specialized training for organizations seeking to incorporate youth insight into their own decision-making and governance structures.
The Jim Boyd BRIDGES Center in Uptown Memphis is a large campus divided across two primary buildings, one housing the BRIDGES offices and Wilson High Adventure Hall with a high ropes challenge course and climbing wall, the other comprising a series of meeting spaces and offices that until recent years served as rented operations space for ALSAC/St. Jude. In 2018, BRIDGES repurposed the space as a location for Bridge Builders to participate in experiential learning, plan events and host meetings. Recognizing the importance of having a place where young leaders could make decisions about programming and collaborate with staff and facilitators on projects that spoke to them, BRIDGES began envisioning the vast potential of a hub dedicated to activating the talents of youth leaders. In Fall 2019, the organization officially kicked off development on the BRIDGES Youth Action Center and embarked on Vision Next, a three-year strategic planning process centered on developing new youth leadership opportunities to meet the changing needs of the Greater Memphis Region.
“Authentic youth-adult partnerships are a vastly untapped resource in Memphis, the Mid-South and across our country,” said Tosca Nance-Jones, Vice President of Community Engagement. “Because young people bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to old problems, organizations of all kinds can benefit from including youth in spaces of shared-power. The young leaders accessing the YAC today are tomorrow’s educators, entrepreneurs and political leaders.”
One of the key features of the YAC is the training and support the hub will provide for organizations with minimal or no prior background in youth engagement. The center will facilitate learning in three key areas that allow institutions and organizations to plug in at different levels:
- Knowledge + Skill Building, featuring interactive workshops, training series and best-practice youth engagement models
- Collaborative Projects, featuring dedicated consulting, customized experiences and resource-intensive ventures
- Advisory Board + Council Development, featuring creation and implementation of specialized youth leadership groups within organizations
Community relationships have played a huge part in making this work possible, and the BRIDGES Youth Action Center already has several founding partner organizations: Memphis Public Libraries, Stand for Children TN, Seeding Success, Blue Meridian Partners, Annie E. Casey — Evidence2Success and the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. Funding to support the YAC comes from a wide range of sources, including The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Plough Foundation, Kresge Foundation, The Memphis Library Foundation and private donors.
Mahal Burr—a longtime BRIDGES staff member, Bridge Builders alum and grassroots community organizer—will serve as Youth Action Center Director. Ms. Burr started at BRIDGES in 2014 as the Bridge Builders CHANGE & Community Action Coordinator and became the CHANGE manager in 2018. Bridge Builders CHANGE is one of the three paths of Bridge Builders engagement, offering paid fellowships for youth leaders involved in social justice work and community organizing. Ms. Burr, who has an educational and professional background in teaching and social change theory, has been a passionate advocate for a variety of community-focused causes since was a teenager herself. As director, she will be responsible for making the YAC a holistic part of existing Bridge Builders programming and forging partnerships that ensure the center will be an accessible, sustainable space for the entire community.
“It has been incredible working at BRIDGES the past seven years, and I have grown so much because of this place,” said Ms. Burr. “I’m really excited about stepping into this new role and that I have the opportunity to continue growing with this amazing organization as we strengthen our commitment to uplifting youth power and youth voice in Memphis.”
In the interest of public health and safety, the YAC is currently conducting its work virtually, but BRIDGES hopes to bring everyone together at the Jim Boyd BRIDGES Center as soon as it is possible to do so safely. The opportunities and resources provided by the BRIDGES Youth Action Center will continue to evolve over time, and youth will be leading the way.
BRIDGES unites and inspires diverse young people to become confident and courageous leaders committed to community transformation. Visit bridgesusa.org/yac to learn more about the BRIDGES Youth Action Center, or contact Lindsey Butler.