Impact Story: Jaala Hemingway

Participating in Building Bridges at the age of 18 changed my life in profound ways.

I felt connected to the other young women who participated in the program and empowered in my own abilities to communicate with others effectively and to be able to exercise more compassionate and strong leadership.  I felt a strong pull to do everything I could to bring peace with me in my interactions and to hear the stories and perspectives of people with whom I disagreed and potentially didn’t like very much, and I felt like I had the skills to begin to work toward these goals.

I felt these things because they were true; I had grown tremendously as a person in my very short time in the Building Bridges Summer Intensive.

However, the most impactful change Building Bridges had on my life was opening my eyes to the places where and methods through which I could put these skills and feelings to use.  I am the child of working class parents, one of whom graduated from high school, and one of whom did not.  I had always thought that my path to give back to the world would be through teaching.  As part of Building Bridges, I learned that there are many ways and many places that one can apply advanced communication techniques, understanding and empathy, and collaborative leadership skills.

I found my path in non-profit organizations, which I didn’t really know about until I attended Building Bridges.  I have found ways to utilize my communication skills from Building Bridges in ways that may seem unorthodox; one of those ways is through “translating” technological ideas to people who need to use the technology, and organizational tech needs to people who need to help implement solutions to those needs.  It could be easy to overlook the communication skills necessary to facilitate that kind of process, but I truly believe that Building Bridges gave me a leg up in being able to do that part of my work well.

I have been able to lean on leadership skills I learned in Building Bridges as a supervisor, a team lead, a group facilitator, and in many projects I’ve undertaken since then.  I have also had the great pleasure to be a part of the Building Bridges Board of Directors beginning in 2013, and to have served as the Chair of the Board since 2015.  I am the first Board Chair who is also an Alum in the US.

My experience in Building Bridges was not one I could leave as a static memory from almost 2 decades ago.  My experience in Building Bridges has profoundly shaped the course of my life, and helped me to define my purpose with more clarity and to carry it out more confidently.  I was able to participate because of generous donors who underwrote the costs of my participation.  I have since been able to become a monthly donor to the organization.  This work cannot be done without sustaining donors, and the impact of those donations is deep, but also far-reaching, as the skills learned are also skills that are often modeled for others and even taught to others.


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