Rhodes College Volunteers Work with Memphis’ BRIDGES to Build a Community of Young Leaders

Pictured among the dedicated BRIDGES facilitators are Rhodes students Ieshia Hoye and Iris Mercado at the BRIDGES center this past January for a MLK Day celebration.

BRIDGES, an organization bent on setting aside individual, social, economic and cultural differences to work for the benefit of all, has served Memphis for more than 90 years and this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of its Bridge Builders program. Rhodes has worked alongside BRIDGES many of these years through the efforts of its student volunteers who have served as mentors to middle and high school students.

Ieshia Hoye ’14, the Rhodes Kinney Program coordinator for BRIDGES and a volunteer of three years, says she has seen incredible growth in students of all different religious, racial, and ethnic backgrounds through their participation in the program. She believes that the biggest strength of the organization is that it “allows students to hear multiple viewpoints” and that “they have a chance to be open and offer their ideas to help the community.”

The BRIDGES students even came up with the idea to have a student congress represent Shelby County schools last year.

Chigozie Emelue ’15, another BRIDGES volunteer and participant in the Bridge Builders program, says that he also has seen firsthand “the way youth progress not only in their interpersonal and leadership skills, but also in their awareness of the world around them” as a result of their involvement. He accredits this growth to the organization’s philosophy of “participation by choice,” a mantra that allows youth to “voluntarily step out of their everyday environments, and lets them learn from their peers through open, honest conversations.”

Along with the many benefits BRIDGES brings to the students it caters to, it has also benefitted the Rhodes community in a similar way. From 2002 until 2011, for instance, Rhodes hosted its regional PeaceJam conference for sophomore high school students.

John Rone, director of college events at Rhodes, recalls that “a different Nobel Peace Prize Laureate attended each year.” This event was an excellent opportunity for students to hear from people whose lives have been devoted to perpetuating sentiments of peace. The participants also were able to share projects of peace that they had worked on in conversation with a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Rone adds, “observing these students working together on projects that promoted world peace was truly an inspiration.”

Hoye also emphasizes her belief that BRIDGES is beneficial “for both the people volunteering and the students going through the program in that it offers leadership skills on both ends.” She recalls her first time acting as a facilitator for one of the BRIDGES groups, “I was terrified but afterwards realized that I had learned so much about myself as a leader.”

Emelue attests to this by reflecting, “I owe a big part of who I am, especially my leadership skills, self-confidence, and ability to engage diverse communities to the experiences I have had at BRIDGES.”

“We are very grateful for the service and dedication of Rhodes students to BRIDGES and to our community,” says Julia McWhirter, director of community engagement for BRIDGES. “We would not be able to serve the 4,500 students we reach annually without the support of partners like Rhodes.”

(Information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Sophie Anderson ’15)