BridgeTO Youth was founded by Sammer Haq with the purpose of helping students in underserved and underrepresented communities succeed beyond high school. It began with the idea of offering free tutoring to youth and has since grown into a successful program that provides so much more. It became registered as an official not-for-profit organization in August 2019.
BridgeTO offers free professional tutoring, guidance and mentorship, exclusive events, exclusive access to sponsored BridgeTO scholarships, and a high school graduation gift of a laptop, among many other benefits.
“Regardless of where you are from, what hardships you have encountered, I have always seen people for who they could become, opposed to who they currently are,” founder Sammer Haq said, in a statement on the BridgeTO website.
When asked about her inspiration for founding BridgeTO Youth, she said, “I grew up in similar communities as these kids… I went to [the] University of Waterloo… I really quickly realized that nobody looks like me. No one comes from my neighbourhood… It honestly starts from when you’re younger. There are so many different opportunities out there that we just don’t have access to.”
Many students have found success through BridgeTO Youth, including BridgeTO “Superstars” Ilhan and Nastaxa, who both earned $5000 scholarships and are each thriving at the University of Waterloo and York University respectively. “I’ve found so many amazing people. So many passionate people… It makes me so happy to see these kids succeed,” Sammer said.
Having adapted well to the COVID-19 pandemic, BridgeTO Youth holds remote learning tutoring sessions and virtual events for students. The BridgeTO team is composed of over 50 volunteers, including 21 mentors, 10 tutors, and a team of 15 for behind-the-scenes work.
BridgeTO’s past events and trips have focused on a wide variety of topics and careers, such as branding, STEM, financial management, journalism, activism, and news reporting.
For example, one past event was a trip to the CP24 studio in downtown Toronto in April 2021. BridgeTO students received a guided tour of the news station, learned about the behind-the-scenes activities in the news station, and viewed photos from the exciting Toronto Raptors championship win in 2019. The students said that the experience was “incredible.” To learn more about BridgeTO Youth’s events, visit their events or blog page on their website.
An event that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic was the BridgeTO Hacks event on 29 May 2021, a partnership between Pharrell Williams, Amazon, TakingITGlobal, and BridgeTO Youth, which incorporated music composition and coding. It was the largest event held by BridgeTO so far, with over 100 students, many prizes, speakers, and celebrity judges.
In terms of the future, Sammer would love to see BridgeTO expand across the GTA and outside the GTA to support more underserved communities across Canada.
Sammer says that one piece of advice she would give to youth is to talk to others, find out what they’re up to, and get mentorship and guidance. “You have so much potential. Never doubt yourself in that sense. Allow us to help you; allow us to support you in your endeavours. Look at programs, whether that’s BridgeTO, whether that’s something else out there, because there are so many opportunities. Take advantage of it, don’t worry about where you come from [or] what you have. The world is at your fingertips, so go for it. Let us support you.”
To apply to BridgeTO, visit this website: https://www.bridgetoyouth.com/apply?fbclid=IwAR0k3nD2GGjKw8J84dZC0L4ThbD3Xt63MIl3-gYlLyX0DSXHkfhGtw10jvE. To enroll in the BridgeTO program, you must be a TDSB student in grade 11 or 12 as of September 2021, have a minimum 70% average, and demonstrate financial need.
To find out more about the program, visit BridgeTO’s website at: https://www.bridgetoyouth.com/?fbclid=IwAR0k2kHNtv_Uvnjmvml66GFjQToRGntEfqYEIA_MdXsWjK4fdMIAQHsew4k.