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Nonprofit for refugee and immigrant children finds an unexpected new home

Our Bridge For Kids celebrates move

Tutoring group will move from Plaza Midwood to Aldersgate Senior Living community.
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Tutoring group will move from Plaza Midwood to Aldersgate Senior Living community.

It is easy to see that OurBRIDGE for Kids, a nonprofit for newly arrived and first generation children, has outgrown its home. Children sit crowded on the floor and the walls are covered in homemade posters and photographs.

After spending the last three years in a Plaza Midwood strip mall, OurBRIDGE is moving to bigger space in an unexpected place this summer: the Aldersgate Senior Living Community.

OurBRIDGE, a nonprofit founded in 2014, serves mostly refugees and immigrants. The organization provides education, English lessons, homework help, meals and transportation.

“We make sure that they feel there is a place where they feel safe and there is really no risk of failure,” said Sil Ganzó, the executive director of OurBRIDGE.

Aldersgate, which is in east Charlotte, has opened its campus to nonprofit organizations like the Charlotte Museum of History and the Western North Carolina Methodist Conference.

“It is being a good neighbor,” said Suzanne Pugh, the CEO at Aldersgate.

The evolution and gentrification of Plaza Midwood has caused rents to skyrocket, leading families who use OurBRIDGE to move farther away.

“We have done our best to shuttle back and forth to different neighborhoods, all the way down to Albemarle Road and Central Avenue, but we realized it was really, really not logical for us to compete with that,” Ganzó said.

Our Bridge_02
Andriika Clark, a K-2 tutor at OurBRIDGE, gives a hug to students Elsa Asres, left, and Ocean Welbegeire, during a farewell party for the organization’s Plaza Midwood location on Friday, June 9, 2017. The group, an after-school program that helps refugee and immigrant children learn English and adjust to American life, is moving to a new location to accommodate its growing size on the Aldersgate campus alongside other nonprofit organizations David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

A growing waiting list also motivated the move. They currently have 78 children in the program, but with a new federal grant and a larger space, OurBRIDGE can help older children as well as more K-5 children.

Ganzó said there were other spaces available, but Aldersgate felt like a family. OurBRIDGE will pay $1 per year to be there.

“When the possibility came out, we were just super excited,” Ganzó said.

The Aldersgate community has a pool, summer reading programs and more outdoor space that the OurBRIDGE kids can take advantage of, Pugh said.

Taj Keaton, a second-grade tutor and a UNC Charlotte student, said closed rooms in the new space will allow the children to focus more during lessons, and the open spaces will help them all come together.

“They are just really positive kids,” Keaton said. “They’re sweet.”

The residents at Aldersgate can benefit from the partnership as well by serving as tutors and mentors, and helping with OurBRIDGE’s literacy programs, Pugh said.

Pugh said they are always looking for opportunities to engage and entertain the residents, and OurBRIDGE also gives them a chance to share their life stories.

Ganzó said the move to Aldersgate is a step toward OurBRIDGE’s bigger goals: opening more branches and making sure every child has the space and time to adjust.

Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney

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