On July 30, Puentes Al Futuro, or Bridges to the Future, a five-week summer camp for at-risk youth living in Windham held its closing ceremony. Puentes Al Futuro is a grant-funded program sponsored by Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and staffed by student volunteers.
Sixty students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades participated in the event. While they received instruction from certified teachers in music, dance, swimming and language arts, the primary focus was on self-exploration and helping the students attain a better understanding of their culture and heritage. “Our goal is to help these children flourish in their own skin,” said Puentes Al Futuro Director Max Goto.
At the same time that camp participants learned swimming and dancing, English Language Learners were encouraged to develop their language skills while interacting with their peers in a positive, fun environment. One of the project’s premises is that this interaction makes the students’ assimilation into Windham Public Schools easier.
“If you know who you are, you know where you’re going,” was the mantra often repeated to the students by Rosie Hernandez, the family liaison for Windham Middle School and one of the driving forces behind Puentes Al Futuro. Hernandez plays an integral role in ensuring that this program continues to happen year after year. In addition to being solely responsible for the recruitment and application processes, Hernandez was referred to as the “heart and soul of the program,” by CCE Director Kim Silcox. “You can clearly see her passion for what she does through the way she interacts with students,” Silcox continued. “These children are her top priority.”
Goto reiterated the importance of the Bridges program. “This program allows us to lend a helping hand to students in the local community by providing a fun and exciting camp that is also academically and culturally relevant,” Goto said. “By fostering a relationship between these children and Eastern students, we are able to show the kids that higher education is an obtainable goal and hopefully jumpstart their future collegiate careers.”