A program cooked up by faculty, staff and a graduate student from Troy University’s Phenix City Campus has proven to be the recipe for success in improving literacy and bringing generations together in the rural town of Hurtsboro.
Made possible by a grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, the two-week Building Relationships in Diverse Generational Environments or BRIDGE program returned to the less than 600-resident southwest Russell County town of Hurtsboro this summer for the second straight year. This year’s focus was on literacy, health and community and centered around the concept of food.
Held at the Hurtsboro Senior Center, the camp brought rising fourth, fifth and sixth grade students from the community together with the senior citizens who regularly take part in the Center’s activities.
This year’s camp paired the two groups for various activities, including the seniors sharing some of their favorite recipes with the students. With the help of faculty, staff and students from the Phenix City Campus, the program participants used the collected recipes to create a cookbook.
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation has supported the project for four years, including the last two years in Hurtsboro.
“It has been an honor to receive the Dollar General Literacy Foundation grant for four years, the last two being for the BRIDGE project in Hurtsboro,” said Dr. Paige Paquette, associate professor of English at the Phenix City Campus who wrote the grant. “Dollar General plays a huge role in the Hurtsboro community, and it is our TROY team’s privilege to be a part of such an incredible program.”
After successfully securing funding from the Foundation the first two years to work with children from the Phenix City Housing Authority’s YES! Summer program, the idea to take the project to Hurtsboro grew out the vision of TROY graduate student Shavaun Franklin, who had the desire to give back to her home community by conducting the summer literacy program.
“BRIDGE is a win-win literacy project which gives students the opportunity to be in an environment that fosters love and respect for their elders, as well as reminds our seniors that they are an important part of our foundational principles,” Franklin said. “This year focused on health and nutrition, which is helpful to both the seniors and our students. Through the various activities, the seniors and students were able to come together and learn from one another and it helped our students to better develop their reading, writing and communication skills.”
Franklin was introduced to Dr. Richard Allen, an OB-GYN at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital who grew up in Hurtsboro and is the president of the Russell County Training School Alumni Association. Like Franklin, Dr. Allen’s heart for the community had led him to the same vision – a summer program that would benefit the youth of the community.
“BRIDGE is a wonderful program that brings together the excitement of the youth and the wisdom of the seniors and allows them to relate to one another in ways that help both generations,” Dr. Allen said. “It is just a wonderful experience to see the joy that this program brings to both groups, and it brings warmth to my heart.”
Providing the program to the small, rural community is something that is also close to Dr. Paquette’s heart.
“I grew up in a town just a bit bigger than Hurtsboro,” she said. “As a kid, I saw the population as young and old people and no in between. We, young people, didn’t possibly think that the senior citizens could relate to us in any way. The BRIDGE program allows the seniors an opportunity to speak into the lives of the next generation, and the kids actually teach the seniors a few things also.”
Senior Center regular Edna Hawkins agrees that while the program is aimed at helping the students develop their reading and writing skills, it has a tremendous impact on the whole community.
“The BRIDGE program has been so helpful in Hurtsboro,” Hawkins said. “It gives the young students the chance to get to know the seniors and to learn a little about how things used to be. The students learn a lot from the seniors, but the seniors also learn a lot from the students. We appreciate Dollar General and Troy University for all they have done and continue to do in our community.”