Connecting youth with hope and tools for lifetime success.
As the dance director at Building Community Bridges, a nonprofit serving local youth, Mecca Dixon loves working with her dance team at the organization — a young team full of energy, ideas, and positivity. They keep her loving her work with BCB.
She became involved with BCB after meeting its founder, Doug Wright III, and talking to him about the community-based dance team that she manages, along with my daughter Yessnia, called the Royal Tigerettes. Like other volunteers at BCB, Dixon shares her talent and years of experience with local youth to help them develop their own skills.
“I wanted to develop a place where youth come and hang out, have fun, and learn something new and different, and it’s affordable for parents,” says Dixon.
Since it started serving Jefferson City-area youth in November 2017, BCB’s mission has been “to inspire, uplift, and aid youth development through self-awareness, education, entrepreneurship, and community issues that impact their daily lives.”
BCB provides free classes to local youth 17 and under in boxing, art, dance, photography, modeling, fashion, music, DJing, piano playing, and more at its location at 213 E. Ashley St., all while providing mentorship to youth through volunteers who teach the classes.
Local volunteers who teach the classes have expertise in their fields and share their knowledge with the youth to empower them, says Alicia Edwards, BCB’s director of operations.
“Volunteers are people who cross our paths, have the heart to give back, and have a trade or skill they want to give back in,” she says. “Then we create a BCB program around that [volunteer].”
BCB and its volunteers not only help youth develop their skills in the areas they’re passionate about, but they also show them how to take their skills and turn it into entrepreneurship or a vision for their future. Edwards says BCB is “in a nutshell, a hub and a resource center for young entrepreneurs and struggling families.”
Edwards knows from personal experience how entrepreneurship improves lives. A mother at 17, Edwards once depended on food stamps, public housing, and other government assistance to get by. After years of struggling, she decided she was going to take back control of her life. She took her hairdressing talent and opened up her own salon, Beautiful Expressions. Her salon is now next to the BCB Community Center, allowing her to dedicate time to both. Edwards’ salon also serves as a strong example of entrepreneurship for BCB youth.
“I learned how easy it is to get stuck in a position where you’re living in public housing, you’re receiving food stamps, you’re receiving temporary assistance, and it makes you stay in that simple mind frame of, ‘This is OK. I’m barely making it, but I’m making it. This is OK,’” she says. “We want the youth to know that there is more beyond barely making it. So, if we can empower youth to use whatever talent or gift they have to make money for their family, then we can break the cycle of doing what their mother did or their grandmother did and so forth.”
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, BCB launched a new program called Men and Women of Fortitude. The program, which runs concurrently with the school year, offers tutoring and after-school help with homework. Kids in the program learn how to fill out job applications, what clothes to wear to a job interview, and how to manage a budget and personal finances. It’s all about self-sufficiency.
“Men and Women of Fortitude teaches youth the tools they need to be successful in life as they’re maturing, and it’s geared toward adolescents transitioning into adulthood,” Edwards says.
To support families of the youth BCB serves, the organization opened a food pantry to ensure no one goes hungry. They also create strong partnerships with other organizations, like Common Ground, Catholic Charities USA, and Preferred Family Healthcare, to connect families for assistance with health care, substance abuse, paying rent, and more. By lifting up local families, BCB is caring for the children and adolescents after they leave the community center and head home.
“We also realized that while we’re working on creating entrepreneurs through the gifts that the children have, we also have to create a safe family structure for them to go back home to,” Edwards says.
For more information on BCB, visit their Facebook page: facebook.com/buildingcommunitybridgesjcmo