Westbury alum helps teens and young adults find their way
To Westbury native Jessica Toussaint, making a difference in the lives of youth is just another day at work. The 31-year-old life coach founded the nonprofit outreach Bridge to Promise in March of 2014 as a way of giving back to the community and mentoring teenagers and young adults who may need help finding their own path.
“Our goal is to empower, inspire, strengthen and motivate one young person at a time,” said Toussaint. “What happens to the young people who are alive but living without purpose, who kind of don’t know their way and there’s not much of a guide? When you’re in high school, you have guidance counselors, you have school psychologists, you have a lot of other programs. But once you finish college, it’s like, ‘What is it that I’m supposed to do? As we get older, we age out of services that help young adults search within themselves to see their purpose…[but] we’re their cheerleaders, we’re on the sidelines telling them that they can do it.’”
The nonprofit works with school districts as well as the Ethical Humanist Society to execute two distinct programs that inspire and motivate local teenagers and young adults. The first program, titled Believe and Dare to Dream (or B.A.D.D.), focuses on cultivating a positive and ambitious environment at the high school level as ambassadors follow students from freshman year to graduation.
“We went into [Hempstead High School] with Legislator [Siela] Bynoe and we did the Step Up program to empower youth,” said Toussaint. “And so, because of Step Up, we were invited back to Hempstead [to] do a series…we talked about perception, the way they see themselves [and] goal-setting. Next session, we’re going to do vision boards: we’ve discussed our self-talk, things we want to attain, so now we’re going to put it on paper so to speak and read them something tangible of a reminder of where they want to go.”
Yet, Toussaint realized early on that these services weren’t solely needed for teenagers, but for young adults as well. Bridge to Promise offers coaching-style support sessions for young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, dubbed Operation LIFE, which explores the social-emotional foundations for success. Operation LIFE (Living In Full Expectation) offers career counseling, mentorship, mixers and coaching sessions to help attendees identify the key items that they can take away and apply to their lives.
Another way Bridge to Promise manages to motivate is not just by what the message is, but who is giving it.
“All [of] our speakers are young adults and peers because we find when an adult who is 50 or 60 gets up and is like ‘this is what you need to do’ it’s encouraging, but it causes action when it’s someone around their age because it makes it more tangible,” said Toussaint. “Like, ‘I can actually do this. This person is only two years older than me and it brings more of…a challenge’. That’s our goal: to mirror that to our audience when we have speakers.”
One of the biggest events that the organization holds is the Chat & Chew, a friendly mixer for young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 that also acts as a support service. The night features lectures from facilitators and guest speakers on topics such as leadership, self-perception and self affirmation. The next event will be free and open to the community, to be held on Oct. 7.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” said Toussaint. “I’ve always had a passion for youth and young adults. I felt like we needed a platform…[for] young adults providing support tangibly, and so we started the process in March of 2014. As I got older, I am much more passionate about my generation as far as getting involved in my community and the different spheres of influence because as you get older, you are the next generation. Whatever we do will impact the ones younger, and so it’s raising an awareness of what we do, our behavior, our involvement and the effects of it for…years to come. It was wanting to be the change that I wanted to see in the world.”
As for the fate of Bridge to Promise, the future could not look brighter.
“The future is…creating a network of young people who are thriving, who are walking in purpose and their call, and who are impacting their community, wherever that is,” said Toussaint. “You have a bunch of people that are walking around not knowing their purpose, their call, not knowing what they’re supposed to do….sometimes they’re just afraid to be whatever it is that they’re called to do. So, [we] pump them up…[we] challenge them to help strengthen them. [We’re] paying it forward, making a difference on the next generation and being the bridge, bridging the generations between the older people. We’re learning and walking unified and really making a difference. Sometimes we look at large numbers as making a difference, but we try it person by person.”
For more information on Bridge to Promise, visit www.bridgetopromise.org or call 516-564-3212.