The Bridge is a leg of Community Youth Services that teaches at-risk youth how to express themselves through writing, producing, and performing Hip-Hop music. The program is held at Brighter Futures Youth Center in downtown Olympia. The goal is to instil passion for something constructive, while at the same time, giving participants a safe place to make new friends, develop personal skills, and learn how to express themselves through music. “Many don’t realize it initially, but writing about personal topics is amazingly therapeutic,” says Bobby Williams, Program Director, “It provides young people with an outlet to deal with life’s challenges in a creative manner.” Williams is a performing Hip-Hop artist who hails from Olympia. He performs with T.J. Laces as “Double B and Laces.”
In Thurston County alone, over 2000 alcohol and drug related deaths were reported last year, and displaced persons have increased 36 percent since 2006; according to the “Thurston County Homelessness Census.” Despite these statistics, Thurston County leads the way in offering services for those suffering from chemical dependency, homelessness, and/or mental illness. Still, it is a volatile environment for some youth to grow up in. Running away from home, moving from place to place, and early introduction to drugs and/or alcohol are just some contributing factors that can make youth be considered “high risk.” This does not mean, however, that the battle has been lost. Organizations like The Bridge are fighting back.
The Bridge is an eight week program. Participants work in groups to create one song each from the ground up. Some make beats, others rap, and yet others work on “the hook.” It is a collaborative process which fosters a sense of community between people of all colors and creeds. Each session begins with a short group discussion where topics range from, “What do you want your life to look like when you’re 30” or “Personal development goals.” At the end of each session Williams leads a group freestyle session. “It’s great watching them grow,” says Williams. Although “raw” talent varies, it is an inclusive and accepting environment where one frequently receives “shout outs” for progressing week after week. At the end of the program the kids get the chance to record their songs in a professional studio and host a live performance, which can draw well over 200 attendees.
Williams also hosts weekly one hour writing workshops at the Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center. Williams provides a beat, and a topic which the inmates then write about. The beat repeats through the small JBL computer speakers, while the youth verbally dislodge angst and face off with their contempt. At the end of the hour everyone stands in a circle and raps their content. “It’s all about finding a creative way for the kids to talk about their issues and get some therapy on the page. The kids wait all week for their one hour with Bobby, it is immensely beneficial,” says Corrections Officer Tony Cleaves.
“The principal goal is self-understanding,” according to Williams. The Bridge has expanded their mentoring from a few kids at Evergreen State College, to over 20 participants today. They are expected to keep growing, and plan to expand the program into other counties and states. Williams does a fair amount of grassroots fund sourcing, finding people and institutions willing to help the cause. The Bridge also accepts donations of all sizes through the Community Youth Services website. The Bridge is open to anyone ages 14-19 and the next deadline for applications is Jan. 4.
Whether it is offering a safe place, teaching teamwork, therapeutic writing cultivation, or just giving youth who need it a goal to work towards, The Bridge continues to redefine traditional forms of therapy.