by Stephen J. Langel, Chief Development Officer, NewBridge Cleveland Center for Arts & Technology //
NewBridge seeks to transform the lives of economically disadvantaged adults and youth in Greater Cleveland. For adults, NewBridge offers free career training programs that prepare graduates for in-demand, market-based careers. For youth, NewBridge provides free, cutting-edge after-school arts programs in ceramics, digital photography, film, graphic design and music recording and production in order to encourage students to stay in school and pursue post-secondary opportunities.
These programs have been tremendously effective in in helping the community as 81% of our adults are hired within six months of graduation and earn more, on average, than $27,000, plus benefits, to start. In our last phlebotomy class, 14 of our 16 students had jobs within two months, with the other two students unable to apply for medical reasons. Also, 97% of our last two senior classes graduated high school and 77% of those were accepted to college, with many receiving scholarships.
Tristan is a high school senior whose life has been transformed through art. Tristan first heard about NewBridge Cleveland Center for Arts & Technology from her family when she was a freshman in high school. Now, four years later, she is a confident, accomplished young ceramicist who is planning to apply to the Cleveland Institute of Art to continue her training and education.
Tristan creates beautiful, polished works of art, including bowls and mugs, each containing striking colors and patterns and each unique. The creative process helps her to express how “I feel on the inside” and gives her the strength to cope with any problems she might face each day. Creating art “helps me to appreciate myself,” Tristan says.
And Tristan wants the same for those who view her art. She wants the observer to “see what I see, the colors, and the patterns in the colors.” “Tristan adds, “That’s why I have different handles [on each mug she creates], so there is something different for everyone.”
Tristan says that her inspiration for this path came, to a great extent, from NewBridge, where she had a safe, supportive atmosphere to learn her craft and express herself. Not only did teaching artists, like ceramics studio coordinator John Miyazawa, take an interest in her art, but he and other staff took a personal interest in her performance in school. Tristan says that her instructors asked to discuss her report card and encouraged tutoring when necessary. She adds that she now has more pride in her schoolwork. We believe that Tristan serves as an example of the difference a supportive environment and a creative outlet can make in students’ lives.
Cortece & Dionna
Cortece and Dionna are both aspiring rap artists and music producers who learned their craft and grew as performers while at NewBridge. They were part of our after-school music recording and producing program for four years and now not only write and perform, but also do their own production and editing.
Cortece says that this program gave him the opportunity to stay out of trouble and channel his energy into something positive. Dionna adds that the positive, supportive environment here helped her grow as a musician. She felt safe here to make mistakes and improve as a result.
Beyond teaching them the basics of their craft, NewBridge’s teaching artists taught Cortece and Dionna a strong work ethic and persistence, along with how to be humble and focused in their approach to creating music. The hands-on training and extensive projects motivated them to work harder as they began to see initial success, Dionna said.
While NewBridge provided the first step to transform their lives, Cortece and Dionna continue to benefit from that experience. For Cortece, the creation of music allows him to express his feelings and cope with the stresses of life. He adds that his experiences at NewBridge “made me want to better myself.” Dionna agrees, adding that she is inspired by her music, motivated to speak to “what’s weighing heavily on my mind.”
Beyond ceramics and music recording and production, our after school program offers artist-led classes in digital photography, film and graphic design. These classes are offered five days a week and help encourage students to stay in school, graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary opportunities. We also provide the interpersonal skills needed for long term success. As Tristan, Cortece and Dionna show, art can change lives.
NewBridge prides itself on providing both a supportive environment that emphasizes the personal needs of our students and removing any obstacles to their success. One of our pharmacy technician graduates, Daryl Johnson, serves as an example of the importance of this approach.
Daryl was one of the first graduates of our Pharmacy Technician Program. He came to NewBridge after the recession left him without a job. According to Daryl, he came here because he wanted to learn the job skills necessary to be able to take care of his family, to have more financial stability.
Daryl was also drawn to NewBridge because we offer our training at no cost. Finding out that our classes are free “was really close to my heart,” Daryl says, because he could not take on any debt. He adds that NewBridge stood out because such training is usually very expensive and he could not afford it.
Since NewBridge reaches out to underserved communities, we provide full scholarships, including tuition, books, uniforms or any other fees that are typical obstacles to proprietary schools or community colleges. We also provide bus tickets to students in need of transportation assistance, along with wraparound services to help students meet day-to-day challenges around housing, childcare, transportation and domestic violence. It’s our goal to remove any obstacles to success.
Daryl was also struck by the positive, supportive culture we foster here at NewBridge. “I really felt that the help that I got was sincere and from the heart.” He adds that NewBridge’s “focus is on helping people,” he said, adding that “it’s a positive culture to build people up, to build the community up.”
We believe it’s essential that our students feel safe and supported, which helps the students to believe in themselves and to build the self-esteem necessary to lead successful lives. Like Daryl, other students have told us that NewBridge is a “safe haven.”
Several recent graduates also told us that their instructor is like a part of their family and someone they turn to for guidance, someone who motivates and inspires them, and helps them cope with life’s challenges. This environment, this support, along with providing our services for free, is what makes us different, and what we believe helps us stand out.
Daryl continues to be drawn here as, after stints with the Cleveland Clinic, CVS and elsewhere, he now works at NewBridge, in part, by helping to train the next wave of pharmacy technicians. Coming back to support NewBridge “was kind of a dream for me,” he says.
For Tyeishia Long, NewBridge Cleveland was the difference between homelessness and a bright future.
Tyeishia, 24 years old with a two year old daughter, had slept on a mattress at a different home every night for more than a year because she had no money for a place of her own. She felt hopeless, stuck earning $8 an hour at a local photo shop and barely paying her bills. Unfortunately, Tyeishia lacked the skills or experience to change the pattern of living paycheck to paycheck.
But then she heard about NewBridge. Finding out about this opportunity “saved my life,” she said, adding that the fact our courses are free meant she could move toward a career without going into debt.
But her challenges did not end there. Tyeishia had trouble passing the basic skills test needed to become a student, but NewBridge made sure that she had the help she needed to overcome this obstacle. Using our free tutoring and refresher training, Tyeishia finally passed the test.
She made it clear, during the interview process, that NewBridge was a lifeline for her. “My life depends on this,” she said, as she could not support herself and her daughter on minimum wage jobs. “I need a career and I need it now.”
Unfortunately, even after acceptance into the program, she still faced other obstacles. Even though NewBridge is free, she still needed to work to pay her bills and support her daughter. But doing so, as well as taking classes and taking care of her toddler, left her exhausted. According to Tyeishia, she was so tired that she had trouble staying awake during class.
But that’s where NewBridge’s supportive, nurturing environment came into play as her classmates and teacher provided her with the support she needed to make it through to graduation. “We were a family. We all loved each other, looked out for each other, including bringing food when others didn’t have it,” Tyeishia says. Also, her teacher brought her free bus passes when her car broke down so that she could get to and from class.
Tyeishia learned now only how to be a phlebotomist, but also how to be a professional, using the technical skills and workplace skills that NewBridge makes a central part of our program. Her skills only increased during the externship that NewBridge provides as part of an agreement with University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth. “I became one with the needle,” Tyeishia joked. This training and experience put her in demand and she just landed a job with the Cleveland Clinic.
Now, not only is Tyeishia saving up money to get her own apartment, but she has the time to be a much greater part of her daughter’s life. Beforehand she only had the time to feed her daughter and put her to bed each night, but that’s no longer the case.
NewBridge changed her entire perspective, Tyeishia said. After our program, “I felt like I was going to be okay,” Tyeishia said, adding “I wasn’t drowning anymore.”