Over the 2020-2021 school year, Paper Bridges, along with the rest of the world, endured a pandemic that has caused uncertainty for millions. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Paper Bridges has been able to grow to over 100 student chapters and shift their efforts to making an impact on local communities. Paper Bridges has been inspired to host fundraising events to cover the shipping costs to send personal protective equipment to foster youth and begin their merchandise collection to give back to the fundraiser.
Paper Bridges chapter members decided to join their chapters despite the challenges of the pandemic to make meaningful connections. One way chapters have done this is through letter writing workshops to provide emotional support and encouragement to orphans internationally. “I really wanted to meet people who liked volunteering like me and contribute to a beneficial club,” CSArts Chapter Social Media Manager Madi Aliano said. Similarly, CSArts Chapter Vice President Iliana Guerena said that she wanted to create personalized relationships through writing letters. “I love writing letters and personalizing them to create bonds with orphans around the world,” Guerena said.
Other chapter members have been motivated to join their school’s Paper Bridges chapters because of their own experiences in the foster care system and the adoption process. For them, it can be meaningful to help vulnerable children because of their first-hand understanding.
“I joined my school’s chapter because I love to help people; I would say that is my biggest passion,” South Delta Secondary School (SDSS) Chapter Secretary Kezi Kovacs said. “This [organization] is very personal to me because three of my brothers, as well as myself, were adopted. My youngest brother was adopted from an orphanage in Uganda, and what he went through there, along with his recovery process, was altogether tectonic,” Kovacs said.
Student-run Paper Bridges chapters have taken the initiative to help their communities. Chapters have initiated successful donation drives to help foster children, youth with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Anderson High School (AHS) Chapter, for instance, collected over 1,500 school supplies to donate to foster children in their community who otherwise would not have been able to access these items. Churchill High School Chapter participated in a lobbying initiative where chapter members reached out to their local politicians about legislation impacting foster youth.
The SDSS Chapter also initiated a successful donation drive in their community where their chapter donated over 50 PPE to Directions Youth Services. Kovacs enjoyed her chapter’s donation drives the most. “They gave a sense of pitching in as a community for the greater good,” Kovacs said. “Drives like [donating to Directions Youth Services] help to connect the community as well as raise social awareness and establish relationships.”
Paper Bridges implemented initiatives to help foster youth nationwide as well. Speaking about her favorite initiative in the school year, Social Media Director Kelly Yu noted, “My favorite initiative was the mask fundraiser since all the chapters came together to fundraise for the 100k masks we were able to donate to foster centers nationwide.”
Along with Paper Bridges nationwide efforts, the organization has focused on spreading awareness about the adoption, orphanages and the foster care system on their Instagram and blog. By sharing experiences and educating people about these issues, Paper Bridges hopes to empower people to help vulnerable children and educate others.
Due to COVID-19, Paper Bridges executed nationwide fundraisers to bring the community together and positively impact the lives of vulnerable children. Because of the popularity and success of these fundraisers, Paper Bridges hopes to continue these efforts into the next school year. “I think yearly fundraisers would definitely keep things more organized and allow Paper Bridges to grow even more,” Yu said.
To further their efforts to help vulnerable children, Paper Bridges’ merch store allocates its current proceeds towards shipping PPE to foster youth amidst COVID-19 as well as science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) kits to orphanages worldwide.
In addition to working locally and nationally, Paper Bridges has worked to encourage the development of chapters internationally to make more meaningful connections with international orphanage partners. To Paper Bridges CEO Emily Yuan, this international focus is one of the most exciting aspects of the organization. “I love working to set up chapters internationally since these are the ones that are able to work with local orphanages and have a more direct impact on kids,” Yuan said.
Paper Bridges is proud of their progress for this school year and is looking forward to continuing their goals in the 2021-2022 school year: to maintain successful initiatives and implement new ideas that will allow Paper Bridges to make an even bigger impact on vulnerable children.
At the close of this school year, Paper Bridges chapter members have expressed their excitement for potential new projects. Kovacs mentioned that it could be a great idea for chapters to host video calls to directly connect with children in orphanages and foster care centers. “It would be cool to set up video calls with children in orphanages/foster care to support them, listen to their stories and learn more about them,” Kovacs said. “I think that would be an enjoyable experience for them and chapter members.”