Building Bridges, founded as Seeking Common Ground, is a community-driven nonprofit founded in 1994 by two social workers, Melodye Feldman and Kerry Stutzman, to bring people together across identities. The founders believed that creating opportunities for people to deeply understand “the other” could break cycles of violence and inspire collaborative solutions. Our mission continues to build on this foundational belief.
Our longest running program, known as Building Bridges for Peace (BBfP) or Building Bridges Middle East/US (MEUS) was launched in 1994, just months after the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Peace Accords, and brought together Israeli, Palestinian and American young women for intensive dialogue. In 2009, we published a Best Practices Report for cross-community interventions that evaluated the previous 15 years of impact, and is in use around the world. Additionally, Building Bridges led programming in other conflict and post-conflict areas, including Northern Ireland and South Africa.
After nearly two decades of Denver-based leadership for MEUS, we opened an office in Jerusalem and begin investing in staff capacity there. The office was consistently staffed and supported by alumni leaders. As a result of this strong in-country leadership, Building Bridges Jerusalem was able to become an independent Israeli nonprofit in 2015. Building Bridges Jerusalem now leads all on-going work in the Middle East, including engagement with alumni based in the region.
As Building Bridges Jerusalem built increased ownership in Middle East work, we shifted our focus to cross-community work here in Metro Denver. This evolution was driven by feedback from alumni and stakeholders, and research into the local landscape. American participants in Building Bridges MEUS consistently expressed the desire to apply their skills to address divisions in their own schools and neighborhoods.
The demand for local work became increasingly urgent as Metro Denver’s growth created dramatic demographic changes and economic displacement. In this context, cross-community conflict increased with few youth leadership programs equipped to empower youth to deeply engage across identities. We saw a niche we could fill, which drove the launch of the Transform Youth Leadership Program in 2014. Today, we are using the time-tested program model from MEUS, adapted and updated for the local context, to continue equipping young people with the tools to become change makers in their communities.
To date, over 2,000 people have participated in Building Bridges programs, and many have continued to be involved in cross-community work in their personal and professional lives. Many more people have been impacted by partner organizations’ programs grounded in the Building Bridges model, such as Creativity for Peace in New Mexico and NewGround in Los Angeles.
The nation is in a critical, defining moment. Racism and bigotry are resurgent and emboldened. Young people bear witness to unrest, hatred, and interpersonal violence on a daily basis. It is essential that we work in partnership with youth to create a new path, towards community and healing rather than separation and discord.
At Building Bridges, we have proven that transformation is possible. People want to connect, learn how to heal what is broken, and take bold action to dismantle the barriers between us. We focus on the building blocks of conflict transformation – nurturing self-confidence, affirming dignity, expressing empathy for others, and forming authentic connections. These are the tools young people need to lead transformational change.