Updated: Apr 29
After being founded in Maryland in 2017, Paper Bridges has reached the milestone of hitting over 100 student chapters. Paper Bridges has grown rapidly since it was founded, with Paper Bridges chapters located across the globe, in countries such as China, India and Australia.
The international Paper Bridges chapters include groups of high school or university students who seek to create a positive change to the lives of orphans, foster children and other vulnerable youth around the world. To achieve this, chapters complete projects, such as sending letters, running donation drives and organizing fundraising events to donate supplies, including personal protective equipment and toiletries.
Alyssa Teramoto, Paper Bridges Chapter Director, has played a vital part in Paper Bridges reaching over 100 chapters, as she accepts chapters and provides them the next steps for becoming an official Paper Bridges chapter. In addition to guiding new chapters, she assists established chapters. “I encourage chapters to feel free to reach out to me or the other Chapter Director Kyra Chassaing,” she said. “I feel like a lot of chapters are uncomfortable reaching out, but reaching out and asking questions or raising any concerns is really important.”
Along with the assistance of the Paper Bridges Chapter Directors, another resource provided to new chapters is the Paper Bridges chapter starter kit. The starter kit includes information, including ideas for how chapter officers can lead projects and establish a leadership team.
Success Stories From Our 100 Chapters
Chapters all around the world have shown their passion for helping vulnerable children through many ongoing initiatives. During their school supplies drive, Anderson High School (AHS) was able to collect over 1,500 items for Pathways, a local charity. Pathways is a non-profit social service organization that provides resources to communities in Texas, including services for foster care and adoption. Chapter President Annika Hesse and her team arranged the donation drop-off with the coordinator of Pathways. According to Hesse, because Pathways does not typically receive the supplies that they donated, the coordinator was especially thankful for their help.
AHS Paper Bridges Chapter’s donation drive was such a success, largely due to the collaboration among their chapter members. “My favorite thing has been seeing how students of all grade levels have come together to support such a cause,” Hesse said. “It was nice to see that students were engaged and that they want to participate and contribute.”
The South Delta Secondary School (SDSS) Chapter also had a successful donation drive in their community. With the help of her chapter, SDSS Chapter President Ciana Dawydiuk-Clozza donated over 50 personal protective equipment to Directions Youth Services. Direction Youth Services is a division of Family Services of Greater Vancouver, offering services and programs for individuals under the age of 25 who experience homeless or in crisis.
Overcoming the Obstacles of COVID-19
Despite the success of the chapters, the pandemic has been a challenge to navigate. “COVID-19 has been a struggle for every chapter that has been virtual to stay in constant communication with the members and make it feel like a community, just because being on a 2-D screen has that effect,” Yichi Zhang said. “Also, not being able to meet regularly in person doesn’t give you that atmosphere that it does when you are writing letters or making bracelets together in a classroom.”
Although the pandemic has brought challenges, chapters conducting meetings via online platforms were able to recruit more students than if they had in person meetings. Unlike in person meetings, online meetings have been able to hold more members, reaching a larger audience of students.
For Chapter President Annika Hesse, online meetings have been beneficial for her chapter. “One good thing about COVID-19 is that we are able to have such a big club because we have around 60 members, and if we were in person we wouldn’t be able to host that many people,” she said.
To Paper Bridges, reaching over 100 chapters has become an even greater accomplishment as it was achieved during a pandemic. Although presenting challenges, COVID-19 has unified chapters and has encouraged people to make a difference in their local communities.
Due to the effects of COVID-19, many chapters have focused their efforts on making an impact in local communities, rather than reaching a global impact. Yichi Zhang, Montgomery Blair High School’s (MBHS) Paper Bridges Chapter President, has noticed a recent shift in chapter initiatives moving from being more internationally focused to domestically focused. Domestically-focused initiatives have been carried out to help disadvantaged children who have been displaced in some way, such as children with intellectual disabilities, foster youth, immigrants and homeless youth. By focusing their efforts on local communities, chapters are able to easily communicate and commit to ongoing initiatives with foster care centers, residential facilities, group homes and other facilities helping vulnerable youth.
Encouragement for Interested Chapters
Paper Bridges encourages interested students to create their own chapters at their school, as it is a rewarding opportunity to make a difference in one’s community and globally.
Chapter President Ciana Dawydiuk-Clozza recommends those interested in Paper Bridges to start a chapter at their school. “All the other chapters are really supportive. I think if you were to reach out to another chapter on Instagram you would have an overwhelming response of positive things to say and ideas to share,” she said.
Dawydiuk-Clozza advises those thinking about starting a chapter to be organized by creating an executive team to provide other chapter members leadership experience and diversify ideas. Annika Hesse and Yichi Zhang’s advice for starting a new chapter aligns with hers, with both emphasizing the importance of finding a strong cohort of leaders passionate about Paper Bridges’ mission.
“Everyone wants to make a difference in some way, and as high schoolers it is [challenging] to make a meaningful long-term impact on anyone or anything... Paper Bridges supports children and allows them to see other aspects of the world that are not necessarily your own,” Zhang said. “Being able to connect with someone and share their stories is really important, and it is really fun to sit down with friends and have a bonding experience of writing letters, and it makes everyone’s day better.”