Bridges offers brighter path to complete education

Revelers dance during the 2014 Bridges Prom at Star Skate. The event raises funds for Bridges, a nonprofit that helps teenagers who live on their own due to various circumstances.

Most high school students will never know what it’s like to go through high school alone.

There will be plenty of anxious teenage moments, but most have the benefit of a family or, at the very least, a guiding parental figure.

For those who don’t, Bridges is there to bridge the gap.

In 10 years working with the program, Bridges Executive Director Debra Krittenbrink has seen many success stories emerge from trying beginnings.

“We serve high schoolers who live on their own because of some parental crisis,” she said. “Either the parents are deceased, incarcerated, drug-addicted or homeless themselves. These students are on their own, and we want to help them.

“We empower kids to succeed. We want them to get education without obstacles. Well, if you are trying to go to school and you’re sick and you can’t go to the doctor, that’s a substantial obstacle. So is not having proper clothing or dental care.”

Krittenbrink said the support Bridges offers to its students is crucial. Some students are living alone due to a family crisis, parental incarceration, chronic illness or a traumatic home situation.

United Way funds the Bridges student needs program, which offers direct support to Bridges’ clients.

“It can be anything from medical and dental co-pay to emergency food, emergency clothing or getting a birth certificate. Basic things for their apartments that they don’t have, like an alarm clock. Sometimes it’s school supplies. Things that the students need for basic survival,” Krittenbrink said.

It’s not a blank check.

Students who are accepted into the program are expected to treat school as their primary job and must maintain passing grades and attendance, which are monitored on the Norman Public School website.

Without funding from the United Way, Krittenbrink said it would be impossible to help so many find their way.

“The United Way fund, we can tap into immediately,” she said. “It’s not a grant that we have to apply for and wait for results. We can help the kids as soon as they need it. That’s what’s so critical. If someone is ill, I don’t want to have to wait to get some money. United Way really enables these kids to be served immediately.”

In a pessimistic state economic climate, Krittenbrink said it can be difficult for nonprofits to make ends meet. But through direct support, Bridges has continued its legacy of protecting students’ rightful claim to a complete education and bright future.

“I think all nonprofits have faced financial challenges,” she said. “We’ve had terrific support from individuals as a very grassroots program and great support from the United Way. We don’t have to go through a lot of red tape to help our students. We have a fund we can draw from to help them as they need it.”

The United Way of Norman funds programs at 27 local nonprofit organizations. The United Way and these agencies work together to create lasting community changes in Norman, Noble and southern Cleveland County. For more information or to give to the United Way of Norman, visit UnitedWayNorman.org.

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.