Sil Ganzo first began working with immigrant and refugee children at an after school program. When the center ran out of grant money and was set to close in 2013, she took on the task of finding funding to revive the program.
Under Ganzo’s leadership, OurBRIDGE has grown to become the only area nonprofit for immigrant and refugee kids that functions as a child-care center, after-school enrichment program, English language tutoring program, and cultural awareness program all in one.
“I saw a real need for an after school program geared for the immigrant and refugee children of Charlotte,” Ganzo says.
ourBRIDGE serves immigrant and refugee children grades K-5. The program has approximately 60-70 kids representing close to 20 countries. That list of countries differs from year to year, says Andrew Eastwood, ourBRIDGE program coordinator.
Each year, approximately 600 refugees arrive in Charlotte from over 15 different countries.
ourBRIDGE focuses on the holistic needs of refugee and immigrant children beyond school work. Refugee children need individualistic attention that goes beyond the academic.
The program’s tutors and staff are crucial to the mission to foster the program’s respectful, accepting environment, allowing the children to interact and form friendships with each other, as well as learn about the differing cultures that make up their community here in Charlotte.
ourBRIDGE has a goal to expand its services up to grade 8 in the coming year, as well as opening another location in the future. While they have a staff of paid tutors, the program sees a constant need of volunteers to assist in the after school classes and activities.
“The focus of ourBRIDGE goes beyond just equipping the kids for the classroom; it equips them for life beyond the classroom,” Ganzo says.
In order to accomplish this, the program’s tutors think outside the box when it comes to planning the kids’ activities. A simple activity like baking their own cookies means the children researched their own recipe, went grocery shopping with their parents, and baked cookies together, helping them learn life skills to adapt to their new home.
Since the start of the program in 2014, ourBRIDGE has expanded and is recognized as a program that is spreading such good in the immigrant and refugee community here in Charlotte.
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