By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
June 1 was a busy day for BridgeWays Alabama, formerly Camp Fire Alabama. Not only did the organization announce its new brand, it was the first day of camp for kids attending Camp Fletcher.
The staff also has been gearing up for their largest fundraiser of the year, BridgeWays Junior Board’s ninth annual S’mores and Pours, presented by the Thomas E. Jernigan Foundation. The event will be held June 24 at Avondale Brewing Company.
According to BridgeWays Director of Outreach Sian Eastwood and Events Coordinator Patty Bromberg, the plan for this year is bigger than ever.
Bromberg joined the staff in 2019, transformed the event into what Eastwood describes as a “boho-chic wonderland” and raised a record-breaking amount of money.
The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic. This year’s festivities will be building on the success of 2019 with a record number of individuals and companies sponsoring the event.
Festivities will include food from Taco Mama, a silent auction and raffles and live music from T.U.B. and UnKnamed Band. In addition, Jay’s Cheesecakes will be on-site, serving cheesecake by the slice.
“They are going to be making a special s’mores cheesecake just for us,” Bromberg said. “They are phenomenal. He sent me the photos from their test run that they did this past Saturday.”
Pop-up shops will feature local businesses and artists, including favorites from 2019 as well as some new additions. Vendors will include Kendra Scott, Village Dermatology, Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co., Sweet Spun Cotton Candy, Tim Rocks Caricatures, a Feel the Beat Entertainment photo booth and Wild Honey Flower Truck.
According to Eastwood, the vendors will be donating a percentage of their sales to Bridgeways.
Bromberg noted that the event will be dog friendly, so there will be bowls of water available and maybe even some dog treats.
A Year of Change
Staff members at BridgeWays Alabama used their time during the pandemic year to make some advances.
“We are now operating independently so that we can really focus on our local market,” Eastwood said. “We launched our new name and new brand on June 1, so this will be the first big event that we have to get our name out into the community and help people understand why we made the changes we did and what we are all about.”
BridgeWays’ mission is to provide a space for young people to learn to care, connect and contribute.
Programs and services focus on teaching young people in grades 5K through 12 about social emotional intelligence. Lessons seek to teach students more about the core values of kindness, caring and respect, not only for others but also for oneself.
While BridgeWays staff members weren’t able to go into schools this past year, they were able to record their lessons and provide videos to administrators, counselors and teachers they typically work with.
“Everything we do in school has been developed at the request of principals, counselors or parents,” Eastwood said. “We are all about serving people where the need is.”
The organization’s Outside-In character development program, for example, was created in response to a rise locally in bullying, intimidation and violence in schools.
Students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a camp experience also have the opportunity to attend Camp Fletcher during the summer.
The facility is located near McCalla and was founded in 1926 by Pauline Bray Fletcher to serve underprivileged Black children in the greater Birmingham community.
BridgeWays continues to build on that legacy, offering a place for kids to explore the outdoors and grow during their summer vacations. This summer, camp is at full capacity and has a waiting list.
During the pandemic, the organization was able to create its Fletcher Academy program, providing a space where students could complete their remote learning coursework while also participating in outdoor activities. According to Eastwood, staff members hope to see the program continue in the fall.
“I think that environment helped so many of the students we serve, not being in a school classroom,” Eastwood said. “They were still getting their work done but knowing that they were allowed to go run outdoors and do outdoor education, creek ecology and play games, it just helped.”
The students were kept on a schedule, beginning with coursework in the morning before breaking for outdoor learning, then back to coursework in the late afternoon.
“I think this pandemic has put everything into perspective and put the focus on what is really needed in our local community,” Eastwood said.
Funds raised at this year’s S’mores and Pours will not only support existing programs but also BridgeWays’ efforts to address issues that arise in the future.
“Everybody is able to get back together and enjoy some fellowship and fun,” Eastwood added. “At the end of the day, they are coming to support a great cause. They are helping support our programs and initiatives for children in the community. That’s really what it’s all about.”
For more information, go to eventbrite.com and search “S’mores and Pours Fundraiser.”