Looking back over the past few years, I, Dr. Lara Setti, have been honored to serve as the chair of the BRIDGE board, working alongside our visionary CEO and Founder, Gwendolyn VanSant, and other dedicated board members to help cultivate a governing body with a clear sense of purpose, mission alignment, and steadfast commitment to the organization.
One glorious summer evening in 2018, we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of BRIDGE at our “Resilient Connections” Gala surrounded by our community of new and long-time supporters, friends, clients, educators, and activists. We continue to be supported by an incredible array of new, ongoing, and reinvigorated donors who have enabled us at BRIDGE to expand our work across professional domains throughout Berkshire County and beyond.
As a board, we had the great fortune in 2017 of working with Janet Block to develop a strategy for the next 3 years aimed to ensure adequate resources to allow Gwendolyn and her team to lead BRIDGE to the next level of expansion and growth while continuing to do BRIDGE’s justice-oriented work of collaboration, training, and activism. As a result of this effort, we were proud to introduce a new BRIDGE membership model to sustain and bolster BRIDGE’s mission and increase cross-sector connections, working with corporations, small business, and community leaders to make justice and safety for all a reality. This has created ways for businesses, organizations, groups, and individuals to support BRIDGE annually, through different circles of impact and receive a suite of services tailored for their needs (i.e. training, consultation, workshops, lunch n’ learns, cross-promotions, and discounts) to create and strengthen thriving, equitable workplaces and communities. Earlier this year, the board also spent a day with Ruby Maddox of Direct Your Purpose whose insightful facilitation helped us clarify BRIDGE’s organizational capacity needs, individual and collective board accountability needs, and mission as we move forward. Through all of these efforts, our goal has continually been to strengthen the board's foundation and in so doing, take BRIDGE's work to the next level while maintaining the integrity of its mission.
As BRIDGE’s outgoing board chair, I look back at the past few years of BRIDGE’s work with awe and inspiration. Gwendolyn has led BRIDGE’s team with tireless dedication--educating and inspiring so many and bringing individuals, communities, and institutions together to work toward a shared vision of a community based on justice, equity, and active participation. As a physician and community member of Berkshire County, I have personally found the work of BRIDGE to be critical, informing my everyday actions and weaving its way into the fabric of my life. I have learned to examine my own privilege, opportunities to create change, and obligation to take action. In January, as I step down and pass the baton to A. J. and Ari, I have absolute confidence in the resources of this board and its new leadership to carry out their work in support of BRIDGE as it continues to grow and deepen this work.
It has been an honor to serve in this role and my plan is to work with BRIDGE in other capacities in the future.
Dr. Lara Setti
Vanessa, I know that you have been working with BRIDGE for the last few months of 2019. In what capacity did your relationship and work with BRIDGE begin (e.g., as a volunteer, staff member, etc.)
My relationship with BRIDGE started through a friendship with the CEO of BRIDGE, Gwendolyn VanSant. I was curious about the work that she was doing through BRIDGE and the way that she carried herself while doing this work in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
So, Vanessa, that is really compelling…When did you ultimately decide to begin your more formal working /relationship with BRIDGE?
Once I came to understand more of the reason that Gwendolyn’s passion was so strong about something that I felt was a hopeless case - that is teaching people to respect, if not love one another - I was led in my heart to also try to help make a difference in this world, if possible. The thought of doing this with another Woman of Color made it seem so much more reasonable to attempt. I also very quickly came to realize that this wasn’t just business for Gwendolyn. Working to lift other people and helping them work through biases were huge parts of her passion, and I wanted to at the very least learn more about this work.
I can hear your passion for the work through your relationship with BRIDGE! Would you please give me one example of work that BRIDGE is doing and that keeps you involved with the organization?
Indeed, and it involves some of our very young people in the Berkshires…This past summer, there was a little white boy in a North County elementary that called another young child the “N” word. BRIDGE was contacted to ask Gwendolyn if she would come in to help minimize the chances of this occurring again by way of a Cultural Education session.
Gwendolyn went to the school with an area author of children's books, who is a partner of BRIDGE.
The way the little white boy’s eyes lit up when he saw this author – a man of color, who writes children's books – was amazing! The little boy seemingly knew the author and was elated to see him. This reaction by the little boy made me think that all too often our children are led astray by ignorance and a lack of education on appreciating and respecting differences. Communication is the key!
I have several grandchildren, and if I truly want them to get the fullness of knowledge and education in cultural competence, for themselves and to help others live in this ever growing diverse world, then I must at least try to continue to learn as I help others to learn the Platinum Rule. “Treat others as they want to be treated, not how you think they want to be treated” as CEO Gwendolyn VanSant constantly reminds us.
Vanessa, thanks so much for sharing your work with BRIDGE!
Buenas tardes a todos, soy Gabriela Cruz y este dia tengo el placer de hablar de una gran mujer llamada Gwendolyn,La conocí hace doce años en el programa de masajes para bebés donde ella era la intérprete.
Empezamos a crear una relacion y ella empezó hablarme sobre su sueño de crear una organización que ayude a integrar a las personas de diferentes culturas a este país y brindarles servicios y ayuda,
Lo primero fue organizar cenas donde se mostraba a las personas como preparar los platillos se compartían las recetas y se hablaba de la cultura de ese país.
Después inició su organización llamada Bridge, ella estaba feliz porque no había sido facil, pero siempre ha sido una mujer persistente. Posteriormente se inició el programa de mujeres. Donde asistíamos mujeres de diferentes países, donde nos brindaban información de diferentes temas que nos ayudaban a tener una mejor relación con nuestra familia, en la escuela de nuestros hijos y en nuestros trabajos. Nos educaban sobre las leyes y cultura de este país lo cual nos permite integrarnos más fácil y sentirnos parte de esta comunidad.
El trabajo de ella no ha sido fácil ha tenido que vencer muchos obstáculos, pero ella nunca se rinde, jamás he visto una mujer tan apasionada y entregada a su comunidad, sacrificando tiempo con su familia o descanso personal por ayudar los demás. Siempre buscando solución a los problemas.
Es una mujer quien siempre tiene una sonrisa y una Buena actitud para todos, una mujer que celebra el triunfo de los demás.
Agradezco a la vida el haber la conocida a Gwendolyn VanSant
Good afternoon, my name is Gabriela Cruz, today I will be talking about a great woman. Her name is Gwendolyn.
I met her 12 years ago in a baby’s massage program, where she was an interpreter.
We talked more, after that, and became friends; she talked about her plans, helping other woman and people from different countries, offering services to help them integrate in our communities.
She started cultural dinners where I shared my dishes, recipes and culture. It was amazing.
Later she created an organization, it was called Bridge. She was so happy for this goal. In this organization she started a program called Women to Women. The purpose is to put women together sharing their experiences and bringing different subjects and other organizations to help us. Also she created more programs for young people and summer camps for kids.
Gwendolyn’s work has not been easy, she has had to overcome many obstacles, I have never seen a woman who is so brave and thoughtful for her community.
She inspires me to be a better person. Gwendolyn, a lot of the time, has to sacrifice her days off to take care of other people, looking for justice for everybody.
She is a great woman, friend, mother, and wife. I have been learning a lot from her.
Thank you Gwendolyn for your amazing work. You are the lady who always has a smile and good words for everybody. I think that Gwendolyn is an angel of the Berkshires.
I became involved with BRIDGE about three years ago in response to the 2016 election. I wanted to get involved locally because I recognized that I needed to leverage my resources and abilities to stand up for what I believe in--safe communities where everyone is valued and treated with dignity. I'm honored to join an organization that's been working for justice and equity for over a decade.
A lot of volunteers first get connected with BRIDGE through its grassroots organizing, like the Towards Racial Justice and Equity in the Berkshires campaign (Race Task Force and TRJ-South), or its community classes like Real Talk on Race--but I first became involved as an office volunteer because I felt that would be the best way for me to contribute my experience and skills to BRIDGE's mission.
Through working in the office over the last three years, I've learned so much about BRIDGE's work with individuals, communities and institutions to create a more just, equitable and safe world. It's inspired and empowered me to get more involved and promote BRIDGE's racial justice work in my own life and community, and I have gained a more informed perspective as a working donor by learning what is actually needed--as opposed to what I think is needed--inside and outside of BRIDGE. I've been especially moved by and proud to support BRIDGE's work in lifting up the life and legacy of Dr. W.E.B Du Bois, the Not in our County campaign and town Trust Policy work, as well as numerous events and performances that feature authors with a different voice and perspective from my own.
Today, I'm both a BRIDGE donor and volunteer. It's rewarding to work behind-the-scenes in the office--Gwendolyn and the entire BRIDGE team accomplish so much every day: facilitating support and leadership groups for immigrant women; organizing community meetings with local leaders and residents in response to incidents of injustice; leading trainings on bias in the workplace for local businesses; designing and implementing curriculum for schools, parents and guardians to learn tools and resources for discussing issues of race, gender and class within families--and so much more! I'm honored to be a part of it, and to see and experience BRIDGE's growth organizationally. Over the last few years, I've seen the shift and impact in hiring of invaluable office support staff that has enabled Gwendolyn to focus on outreach, which has resulted in several generous matching grants. I'm also grateful to be able to see the impact of my donation, which has been used enable underfunded organizations to obtain BRIDGE's training and consultation. I'm encouraged by the increased training requested by institutions large and small, to learn how to better support their clients, employees and communities as a whole.
I'm so excited for what BRIDGE has planned in 2020! Please join me and make a donation today to help promote equity, inclusion and justice.
Looking ahead to 2020, as representatives of the BRIDGE Board, we (A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron), are focused on resourcing and supporting the BRIDGE team as it transitions into its second decade (yes!) of organizing, service, and training for equity and justice here in the Berkshires. Toward this effort, we are looking to expand our work and welcome in new board members. We currently seek potential new board members who are happy and eager to fundraise for BRIDGE as well as lift up and represent the work of BRIDGE while also showing commitment to self-reflection and ongoing learning.
It’s an exciting time at BRIDGE! Many wonderful community and organizational partnerships are blossoming. BRIDGE holds a minority and women-run status through the state of Massachusetts’ Supplier Diversity Program, something we are committed to maintaining on the board with intentionality and care. As our CEO Gwendolyn VanSant recently shared with us, we can also expand our definition of “diversity” for the board to include profession, age, region, etc. We look forward to collaborating with corporate leaders across all sectors as board members and advocates, something we know is a best practice in corporate responsibility. More than anything, we want to continue to build a strong board of directors who will work together to guide and support BRIDGE as it becomes a nationally-recognized model for training, education, and rural organizing!
We, A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron, are honored to step into the Board Co-Chair role and work with our brilliant CEO, Gwendolyn VanSant, to steward BRIDGE into a new chapter of network- and momentum-building, with a continued commitment to accountability, collaboration, and equity at all levels. By accountability, we mean taking responsibility for the impact of one’s actions and following the leadership of people of color who have been at the core of BRIDGE’s mission since its founding. Through cultural competency coaching and strong structures already in place at BRIDGE, we have worked with Gwendolyn as a Governance Committee to create a set of Operating Agreements and formalize an Accountability Committee within BRIDGE’s bylaws intended to fortify and guide our board of directors. BRIDGE will also move forward with a Co-Board Chair structure as a part of our bylaws to further weave in BRIDGE values of shared leadership, space for multiple social identities, and collaboration.
We choose to invest in BRIDGE at this time in history because we have witnessed and experienced the impact that BRIDGE’s organizing, training, resources, dialogue, and work toward repair has had on young people, adults across a range of professional sectors, organizations, institutions, and ultimately, the social and structural fabric of the Berkshires. This is work that touches people’s hearts and lives, increases self-understanding, and shows us our interconnectedness. Now is the time that we need full community collaboration in creating the world we want to live in. As co-chairs, we are passionate about serving as ambassadors for BRIDGE, building resilient connections, and creating a well-resourced future for BRIDGE by supporting our CEO Gwendolyn VanSant and her team to grow BRIDGE as a model for accountable, grass roots movement-building and systematic change.
A.J. Enchill and Ari Cameron
Multicultural BRIDGE helps to improve the lives of community members throughout the Berkshires, and provides consultation and training to groups and businesses across the state and throughout the country.