WILKES-BARRE — It was called the first of many. Building Bridges organizers gathered hundreds together Saturday for their first Community Callout event at Kirby Park.
For kids and adults to get in on the action, they had to wear a name tag, a small piece of the event one organizer said sums up the cause.
“The whole point is so we get to know each other,” said Shivaun O’Donnell, a Building Bridges board member, as she signed in families and helped with name tags.
Lines snaked around dozens of community group booths as people waited for free food, a bounce house, games and the city’s fire safety house.
Drew McLaughlin, the city’s municipal affairs manager, said he believes theevent’s success comes from time spent laying solid groundwork.
“It always takes a long time to lay infrastructure,” McLaughlin said. “You only get one shot to make a first impression,” his voice trailed off, but as he looked around at the scores of people in the park, it was clear the event was a success.
Building Bridges was founded in the wake of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead’s death last year after he was shot accidentally by a friend holding a gun. Media originally reported he was murdered and community leaders pulled together the organization to affront violence.
Samantha Conahan, a G.A.R. High School sophomore was volunteering at the event, watching over children play in an inflated bounce house.
She remembers Winstead, who went to the same school.
“We would see each other in the hallways,” Conahan said. “It was really terrifying when we found out what happened.”
Conahan agreed that events like Saturday’s help build the city’s sense of community.
Welcoming the crowds, Rev. Michael Brewster of Mt. Zion Baptist Church said Building Bridges has strengthened since its beginning.
“Something is rising,” Brewster said. “Rising from the cries of those who will not sit idly by.”
Another founder said the event is a precursor to bigger projects.
“Beyond this, there is more serious stuff that we gotta get into,” said Rev. Shawn Walker of First Baptist Church, Wilkes-Barre, about programs that Building Bridges administrators hope to use to steer children toward productive lives and away from crime.
O’Donnell described a community center that is highly visible to children. She said maybe the center would not offer services in house, but it would be networked with other organizations where children can get help or find edifying things to keep busy.