For nearly two decades, Bridges Project for Education has leveraged a small staff and limited resources to help thousands of Taos County students imagine themselves into the future. Person by person, meeting by meeting, Bridges has helped students pursue their dreams by unlocking the doors to postsecondary education.
College access is a community issue, Bridges knows. Inequality hurts us all. And so they take steps to level the playing field by demystifying the process, identifying resources, sharing information, and helping students find their way forward in education and life.
Who are the students Bridges serves? The answer is simple and revolutionary: EVERYBODY.
While other programs restrict their scope to serving certain populations, Bridges welcomes anyone with the desire to move forward with postsecondary education. By the middle of 2017, they'd conducted more than 3000 individual meetings with students—all free of charge--and reached thousands more through community outreach events.
Students like Thomas Tafoya. The first in his family to attend college, Thomas credits the personalized approach of Bridges for "keeping him on track" throughout the application process and giving him the edge he needed to reach his college goals. "Bridge was a great experience for me and my family. We had no idea what the process entailed. We just had no idea."
"When you're working with Bridges, they get to know you personally, so they're able to help you tell your story. It's a really important part of the process. If we could get more people like Joleen and Sue who can work with the students more personally, to be able to help them tell their stories, I think it could make a huge difference."
His parents concur. As eager as they were for their children to attend college, neither of Thomas's parents had experienced it themselves. "It's scary for parents," Amanda, Thomas's mom, confessed. "But for me, the happiness that [my kids] show me, takes all the pain away."
Working with Bridges, she said, was like having "architects of the process. They laid out a plan, and they helped us to continue along the way that we wanted our son to go to college." She added, "Bridges didn't judge you for not going to college. They made it a very safe and nice environment. You didn't feel belittled if, as a parent, you didn't do those things." Now a student in economics at Duke University, Thomas urges other Taos youth to take advantage of the help Bridges offers to explore their college options.
For the Khweis family, who emigrated from Palestine when eldest daughter Juman Khweis was a toddler, both applying to and affording college were daunting challenges. "When I was in high school and thinking about the college application process," Juman says, "I was just at a total and complete loss as to what to do." Although her family believes strongly in the power of higher education, navigating the system in a new country presented a host of difficulties.
It was my dream to go to Georgetown, because I wanted to study international affairs. [Without help from Bridges], there’s no way I would have gone to Georgetown. I really don’t think I would have tried applying for bigger schools. There were so many pieces of the puzzle, and if I didn’t have Sue as a support system and a resource, I just wouldn’t have tried."
While applying for financial aid can be an onerous process, it can mean the difference between graduating with little to no debt and leaving school with a heavy student loan burden--or, worse still, not being able to attend at all. With their extensive experience guiding students through the maze of applications, Bridges has had remarkable success guiding students toward the opportunities that best fit with their goals and temperaments. "We try to make it be about fit, not about selectivity," says Joleen Montoya-Dye.
Georgetown gave Juman their biggest international scholarship, and with local scholarships she was able to cover the remaining tuition.