Giving back. Building a better community. Getting involved. Improving health. Meeting new people. This is what Bridgemen is all about.
A program of STOP AIDS Project at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Bridgemen coordinates monthly service projects for gay, bisexual, and transgender guys in their 30s and 40s. The goal is to make San Francisco a safe and happy place for everyone by building bridges between many social networks through service and social awareness. In the process, guys build self confidence and communication skills that are important to maintain healthy lives.
This week, the group gathered on a beautiful sunny morning at Ocean Beach in San Francisco for the annual Martin Luther King Day beach clean-up.
“Just before we got started with the clean-up one of the regular surfers at Ocean Beach came up to me and said ‘thank you for what you’re doing,’” said Frank Stenglein, Bridgemen program manager. “It was so nice to hear that, because these guys are out here every day surfing and so they know the impact of a service project like this.”
Some of the guys who came to clean up Ocean Beach have been participating in Bridgemen for months; others joined the group for the first time. But as they combed the beach, they quickly bonded into one crew united by a common cause to make San Francisco a better place for everyone.
“I’m really passionate about social justice, community service, and grassroots organizing, so Bridgemen is a great fit with my interests,” said Nerve, a program participant. “It’s so important to have a program like this in San Francisco because it offers guys like me a place to help out and contribute to our community. We do all of these projects on our own initiative.”
Each month’s service project is selected by the program participants based on their interests. In November the Bridgemen served Thanksgiving dinner to LGBT seniors and older adults in collaboration with Openhouse. In December they worked with Magnet, our gay men’s health center in the Castro, to do community outreach and education as part of World AIDS Day. The group also gathers each month for smaller service projects.
“We provide an outlet for guys to build friendships and leadership skills,” said Stenglein. “A lot of the guys that come to us say they’re looking for something beyond the bar scene. They’re searching for that ‘third place’ to meet other guys, and Bridgemen gives that to them.”
“I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time,” said Nick, a program participant. “I came out when I was 18 and I’m going to be 28 in a couple of weeks. It’s really been a journey this whole time to find other guys that I have things in common with and who share my interests and values, and that’s what I’ve found in Bridgemen.”
As the Bridgemen move into 2012, participants are busy selecting their next service projects. They’re always looking for new guys to join their efforts.
“I would tell guys who are interested in being active, being in a community, feeling a sense of belongingness, and at the same time giving back: check out Bridgemen,” said Nerve.
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