Alumni / Spring 2019

Megan Devenport helps bridge gaps for young women

“Young people are just looking for opportunities to connect and to be authentic and to have someone see them for who they are — as leaders and as influencers in our community,” says Megan Devenport. Photo: Anthony Camera

 

For young women, growing up all too often means retreating into silence as male classmates seize the spotlight. For more than 20 years, Denver nonprofit Building Bridges — founded by two alumni of DU’s Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) — has been helping young women from Denver Public Schools find their voices and develop leadership skills.

Some of Denver’s brightest young female leaders attribute their empowerment to the Building Bridges curriculum, which begins with a two-week summer intensive in the mountains and continues throughout the school year with monthly small group meetings and projects that teach participants how to make change at the personal and community levels.

“Over the summer, it’s this really special bubble that they create: ‘These are my best friends forever and I’m a changed person and I have all these skills now.’ Then they go back to their families and their communities, and they find that it’s really hard to put transformation into practice,” says executive director Megan Devenport, herself a 2012 GSSW grad. “So the school-year component happens in smaller groups. Students come together once a month to hold each other accountable, practice their skills and then dig into some deeper issues. Our curriculum is structured to be really responsive to what they’re interested in and passionate about and support them in identifying an issue area and creating a change project over the last half of the year. They move from this personal and interpersonal growth into community change-making and leadership.”

Last year, for example, one Building Bridges participant started a STEM club for girls at her high school, while another created an educational piece around environmental justice and the ways in which environmental degradation disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

Once participants finish the program, Devenport says, they go on to engage in higher levels of civic and community leadership. Many Building Bridges alumni return to the program to work as facilitators and help with recruitment.

“One of the things that keeps me inspired about my job is that, to a person, they all point to Building Bridges as being a really key part of who they are today,” Devenport says. “We have adults in their late 30s who say that they are still applying the tools they learned during their time at Building Bridges in their workplaces or in their relationships within their family.”

Devenport’s commitment to working with youth runs deep: After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois in 2004, she worked first at a residential treatment facility for adolescent girls, then as a counselor for teenagers involved in the juvenile justice system. As a graduate social work student, she interned in the youth development program at Mi Casa, a Denver nonprofit that aims to advance the economic success of families with limited opportunities.

Prior to becoming executive director at Building Bridges — a post she assumed in fall 2016 — Devenport worked at Denver Shared Spaces, which helps nonprofits find ways to share working space in the name of collaboration and efficiency. But she missed working with youth, and the transformations she is able to cultivate by doing so.

“Our young people are just looking for opportunities to connect and to be authentic and to have someone see them for who they are — as leaders and as influencers in our community — and to put them in a position to really embrace and use their voice,” Devenport says. “Once given that opportunity, the things that these young people are doing are just incredible.”

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