BridgeBuilders: Engaging and Empowering the Bonton Community

Bridge Builders

The mission of BridgeBuilders is to engage, equip, and empower individuals and families within the Bonton neighborhood of South Dallas so that they may encounter the love of Jesus Christ and see their community transformed.

"South Dallas has been surviving, and even thriving in some aspects, without the same kind of resources that flood different parts of the Metroplex," says DBU alumnus and Community Advocate, Sheldon Norred. "BridgeBuilders is looking to close the gap by connecting residents to resources outside of the community while also envisioning a world where equity exists for each individual person."

At BridgeBuilders, it all begins with the intention to engage. Before they serve someone, they get to know them. This relationship building occurs through weekly basketball outreaches and an Adopt-A-Block program for hosting block parties, getting homes to code compliance, and beautifying the neighborhood with the intent of connecting residents to BridgeBuilders programs and, more importantly, to Jesus Christ.

Equipping starts as young as age five with an after-school and athletics program that foster faith and spiritual formation. By middle and high school age, programs teach principles of business, entrepreneurship, and finance to youth who also receive assistance in applying to college or trade school as graduation approaches. As adults, the ministry continues by providing employment services through financial coaching, job staffing, GED classes, and life and job skills training in partnership with CitySquare.

Neighborhood Bible studies, youth mentoring, and a program that supplies ongoing career support and encouragement further empower the community.

"At the end of the day, BridgeBuilders would like to eventually work itself out of a job through the equipping and empowerment of our community," says Jonathan Fechner, also a DBU alumnus and BridgeBuilders Executive Director.

Fechner's father, Mike, established the ministry back in the 1990s after hearing a local resident advocating for the desperate plight of her hurting community. Out of this relationship, BridgeBuilders was birthed and the fight to see the community restored began.

Jonathan's father later passed away from cancer in 2014, and after Jonathan finished serving as assistant to Dr. Adam Wright, DBU President, he became Executive Director in 2018. Now, he carries forward the vision his father started in seeing Bonton residents and their community redeemed.

"We want to see the community of Bonton rise up and take ownership of their neighborhood and to see individuals and families transformed by the power of Christ and through receiving necessary resources and opportunities."

DBU has been partnering in ministry with BridgeBuilders for many years to serve the spiritual and material needs of South Dallas.

"BridgeBuilders has been blessed to have many Greek Life organizations and DBU classes come and serve alongside our ministry as we seek the total transformation of this community in South Dallas," says Fechner. "It is always a blessing to have volunteers and ministry partners who have the similar mindset to see body, mind, and soul transformed for the Kingdom of God."

Yet, as Norred reflects, the ongoing issues and challenges the Bonton community faces are complex, "more than poverty and work ethic."

"I have met people here who work harder than the most successful businessman to no avail," he explains. "It is like Sisyphus, the Greek legend who was condemned to push a rock uphill and watch it roll back down all his life. The exception being that many of these people are paying for the sins of others. For this reason, we need hands and voices—hands to lift up our brothers and sisters and voices to speak up for them when they are silenced and ignored."

Restoring and empowering struggling communities in our nation like Bonton will not come without a cost—the willingness of the part of many to step out of their comfort zones and join in living among, serving, and uplifting others.

"We so often measure God's love for us by what He was willing to sacrifice for us," says Norred. "Do we measure our love for our neighbors the same way?"

To read encouraging stories about the work of BridgeBuilders and how you can get involved, go to https://bridgebuilders.org/

 

Written by Dr. Michael Whiting

Dr. Michael Whiting is Assistant Professor of Christian History and Leadership at Dallas Baptist University.

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