Bridge Chattanooga uses nature and outdoor adventures as a springboard to form relationships and teach students skills that help them lead healthy, productive, and joyful lives, said officials. In addition, staff members serve as advocates for students, often connecting families to resources to bridge gaps.
The program serves Dalewood Middle School students year-round under the umbrella of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Brainerd.
Bridge Chattanooga is a trauma-informed outdoor adventure initiative that started in 2017. Since its inception, 150 students in 14 crews have completed the program. Program Director Sarah Quattrochi says students experience various life skills through activities like hiking, canoeing, biking, climbing, caving, horseback riding, and swimming.
"Many students in our program have never had the opportunity to try these outdoor activities,"s aid Ms. Quattrochi. "We teach them about teamwork, communication, and conflict resolution as we go."
Social, emotional learning is a prime objective of Bridge Chattanooga, with staff members discussing goals and insecurities in-depth with the students in the program. "Trust is built as we work together to make it through tough challenges, and sometimes we learn about larger issues that students and families are facing, such as food insecurity, homelessness, and mental health struggles," said Ms. Quattrochi. "We work with the school and many community partners to connect families to resources to bridge these gaps and face these issues together."
The after-school program relies on volunteers, one full-time and two part-time staff members. Kahla Stewart is Bridge Chattanooga's Outdoor Education specialist. She says, "A lot of these kids don't have the opportunity just to be kids every day. Some of them are thrown into the adult world very early, but our outdoor activities allow them to enjoy their childhood."