The Bridge was prepared to announce plans on Monday, May 14, for its tenth anniversary celebration. The red-and-white balloon arch above the stage area in the courtyard had been set up. About 200 white folding chairs were lined up in neat rows on the concrete terrace in front of the stage with clusters of balloons here and there. As Bridge guests looked on, a banner was situated under the arch. The first eight rows of the chairs were reserved for various VIPs.
As the clock ticked closer to the 3:30 start time, five chairs were set up on the stage, refreshments were placed on tables and the Dallas Street Choir arrived to get things going. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so no chance of rain. But that’s where Mother Nature proved to be too cooperative. Like a magnifying glass, the rays of sun seemed focused on that one spot in Texas.
Early arrivals lingered along the shady walkway checking the wall tiles listing major donors; Bridge guests and staff found their places underneath the trees behind the rows of chairs; speakers like Mayor Mike Rawlings, former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and newly named Bridge President/CEO David Woody III chatted with Bridge supporters County Commissioner Clay Jenkins, Paula Blackstone, and Nasiba Hartland-Mackie and her grandmother Patimat Adilova. Despite the heat, Bridge Board Member Jennifer Karol and Thomas Hartland-Mackie and Bridge Board Chair Lynn McBee looked ever so cool. Why, Thomas was even wearing a jacket!
As a guest walked by with his pooch, Jennifer said that the initial accommodations for pets had recently been expanded due to an overwhelming demand.
Taking their place on stage, the Choir sang as event guests took their places in the chairs. It soon became apparent that the stanchioning off of the first eight rows had been unnecessary. At 4 p.m. Nasiba, Patimat, Thomas and other Bridge Board members Bill Barnett, John Castle, Nafees Alam and Jennifer took their places on the front row, and Casey McManemin and Allan McBee, perched just behind them, all seemed to be at ground zero of the day’s near 90-degree hot spot. The rest of the rows were sparsely filled, with only the back rows near the shade filled. Bridge guests and staffers also filled the covered terrace and lined the walkway.
With the sun shining fiercely, sunglasses became more than an accessory. Ever the gentleman, Thomas passed his shades to Nasiba for her use.
Promptly the program got underway with Lynn welcoming the group and introducing former Mayor Laura Miller, who told the tale of The Bridge like a mother recalling family history. She started off by attributing much of The Bridge’s very beginnings to former President George W. Bush, who “decided to make it a priority.” To tackle the challenge, a “town hall meeting” was held to ask the homeless what they needed. Their answer was a 24/7 shelter where they could transition off the streets and into independence. At that time, the Day Resource Center was only open during the day and the night-time shelters only at night.
In 2003 a commission on homelessness — The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance — was formed; in 2005 Mike Rawlings was named head of the commission; and in 2005 a bond package of $24M was passed for the creation of The Bridge.
But the location of the future shelter became a subject of debate. Everyone had their own idea of where it should be situated. The solution was to call Tom Dunning, “who is the nicest man in Dallas.” Somehow he managed to get a consensus of having its present site. As Tom eased out of his leadership of the Alliance, a new leader was sought.
Like a wonderful storyteller, Laura explained how they applied the Jewish process of conversion to get Mike Rawlings to accept the post. In Judaism conversion, the rabbi will say no to the potential convert three times. But if they persist, the rabbi will relent. So Mike didn’t convert to Judaism, but he did agree to heading up the Alliance. As Laura told the story, Mike was heard laughing.
It was the perfect way for Laura to hand the podium off to Mike. Looking around the courtyard, he admitted that it was indeed hot, but when they started working on The Bridge, “the trees were not here.” He recalled how when it opened his mother was sitting in the audience along with members of the Dallas City Council. He reported that today’s City Council is committed to its partnership with The Bridge. More than 40,000 clients have been helped since The Bridge opened its doors.
Halfway through Mike’s talk, the sun was getting a wee too much for Patimat, so Nasiba took her to the side wall in the shade and gave Thomas’ sunglasses to Patimat. The shade made a world of difference for the gals, as they watched the rest of the program.
As an example of the program efforts, Mike introduce Jerry Hayes, who was one of The Bridge’s guests and is now on its staff full-time. He recalled that first day when he arrived at The Bridge. He thought his whole life was gone. But instead, he discovered a whole lot of services, including something as simple as a shave and a haircut, that would help turn his life around. With pride he said he was one of the first to move upstairs — “I hadn’t been in a bed in years.” He kept working hard and eventually got his own apartment. He did a shout-out to the staff members who had believed in him.
Lynn then introduced David, who joined The Bridge in 2015 as Chief Services Officer and had up until recently served as interim executive director. He started off by recognizing the 11 staff members who had been at The Bridge since its opening.
He then listed two priorities for the staff moving forward:
- To facilitate recovery from the homelessness. “We are not simply a homeless shelter.”
- To help each guest identify that home.
David said there are three words heard consistently — recovery, impact and community.
The Bridge, he said, has become a “one-stop” shop providing all the services to impact the homeless through recovery into becoming contributing members of the community.
He reeled off facts and figures, like crime being down 55%, and the surrounding neighborhood of the Farmers Market booming, as proof that the plan is working.
According to David, leadership, education and communication had helped The Bridge to become a national model, “but there is much more work to be done.”
One of the challenges facing The Bridge’s clients is affordable housing, he went on. The board of directors is working to partner with landlords to develop a project to meet that need. He said that as soon as the plans are finalized, they will make it known.
Before announcing plans for the anniversary fundraiser, David said, “I want to quickly mention how meaningful my selection as president and CEO is as an African American man. As you may know, over 60% of the guests we serve our African American men. I take seriously the inspirational role and the responsibility that I must manage daily. And to our guests, I always want to remind them that they too can plan, improve and achieve the goals they establish for themselves.”
He then announced that to celebrate the past ten years of providing shelter, education and hope for the future, The Bridge’s Tenth Anniversary Gala — Impact, Celebrating 10 Years of Homeless Recovery — on Thursday, September 20, at The Bomb Factory, would be hosted by Nasiba and Thomas. Organizers were mum on who the named-entertainer would be. Stay tuned.