Bridges Norman is working to change “the pattern of poverty” for students who, for one reason or another, cannot live with their family, its executive director said.
The nonprofit's goal is to help high school students living on their own get back on their feet while still attending school, Debra Krittenbrink said.
Bridges Norman provides teenagers an apartment, school supplies and life skill classes, as long as they do well in school and pay rent. A complex containing 20 apartments in Norman is available to students with sliding scale rent.
“Social services are so overburdened that there are very few placements for teenagers, and we provide a safe alternative for that,” Krittenbrink said.
Among the reasons students get involved with Bridges Norman is that their parents may be incarcerated or deceased, or there could be family problems that prevent them from living with their family.
Most are 16 and 17 years old and are referred to Bridges Norman by the high schools.
Bridges Norman participants are expected to have a job, pay for their rent, food and clothes and maintain good grades. Bridges Norman works with churches and other organizations to obtain donations of clothing and food.
Any student that is kicked out of school or does anything illegal will be let go from the program, Krittenbrink said.
“It produces an adult that is more aware, sensitive and mature than your average kid,” she said.
Bridges Norman was started 19 years ago after school counselors from Norman High saw that there were teenagers who wanted to enroll in school but were not allowed to without a parent or legal guardian.
According to the nonprofit's website, Norman school counselors and community leaders worked together to get the guardian law changed in Oklahoma, and now teenagers can enroll in schools without a parent or guardian. Yet that still left teenagers who needed help with housing, which was why Bridges Norman was started.
Now, Bridges Norman is working on fundraising for a safe room, since students currently don't have a safe place to go during tornadoes, Krittenbrink said.
While Bridges Norman always welcomes material and financial donations to help the students, the immediate goal is to have a safe room ready for this tornado season.
“Since all of them have experienced trauma or neglect, they're terrified more than the average kid when we get tornadoes,” Krittenbrink said.
The second annual Bridges Prom was held at Star Skate in Norman last month.
This fundraising event gives adults the chance to dress up in prom clothes from whatever decade they like.
While fundraisers and donations are important, so are volunteers.
The volunteers help cook, tutor, do housework and also serve as mentors. Each student is assigned a mentor who provides a caring, listening, nonjudgmental ear.
“I'm constantly amazed by the tenacity and the hard work and the optimism of our students, because all of them have been through some difficult times, but they manage to persevere and succeed, and that's extraordinarily impressive to me,” Krittenbrink said.
Bridges Norman works with about 45 students a year, with a new group coming in each summer.
Krittenbrink said she sees some huge successes with about 80 percent of students continuing on to higher education.
“We recognize that we are changing the pattern of poverty, because once our students get more education, they get a decent job and are able to provide for families and make lasting changes in their lives,” Krittenbrink said.
At a glance
• Where: 1670 N Stubbeman, Norman, OK 73069.
• Phone: 579-9280.
• Online: www.