By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
After a childhood filled with others trampling on her self-esteem, one local woman is determined to keep Portland’s at-risk youth off the streets by teaching them how to raise their self-confidence and become empowered through etiquette and personal development training as building blocks to a strong future.
Patricia Feathers, the founder of the northeast non-profit youth organization Urban Bridges Studio, Inc., was four-years-old when she was taken from her mother after her dad moved her to Buffalo, New York.
She was soon placed with family member after family member throughout the southern states, where she said they mentally, physically and psychologically abused her. “They always told me, nobody is ever gonna’ love you,” she said.
At the age of 15, however, Feathers said she found the strength to somehow prove them wrong.
“So many kids listen to that verbal abuse, and they act out,” she said.
According to Feathers, many of the children who go through Urban Bridges come from parents who tell them they won’t make it to 20, they will end up in jail, they will become pregnant before they get out of high school, or they will never become whatever their dreams and aspirations are.
“But they want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and police officers,” she said. “They want to help the community, but they need someone to help them realize they can rise above all of the negative words and become whatever they want to be.”
And this, she said, is exactly what she intends to do—one child at a time.
Urban Bridges Studio will celebrate its 5th year anniversary on Nov. 6. Over that period, the organization has worked with more than 70 young girls and over 40 young men through classes, workshops and trainings available throughout the year.
Feathers said each of its two-month long programs serve as a safe place for youth to go after school, where they can learn how to boost their self-esteem through table etiquette instruction, how to conduct themselves at home and in interviews, modeling classes and image enhancement. The program also includes workshops with professional individuals from within the community who share their experiences as bank representatives, policemen, and teachers.
“What we do is offer more than a typical finishing school,” said Feathers. “I work with the kids from the time they come through the door.”
Feathers said she remembers the day almost two-years ago when one of her young pupils, who arrived with an enthused friend, walked through the door with her head down and fists clinched. “She was really afraid, and felt like she was a ‘big girl,” said Feathers. “I just thought to myself; you just wait.”
“By the time she graduated from the program, she was so much more loose, and her confidence has soared.”
Feathers said, when the youth begin the program, they often have their shoulders down, a tough exterior and broken language. She said this is often because of their low self-confidence in themselves, and maybe they have been told all of their lives they are too big, too tall, too short.
“I’ll do whatever I need to do to help these kids,” she said.
Feathers also said the program truly helps kids stay out of trouble. “A lot of our kids really need things to do after school,” she said. “In Portland specifically, a lot of our youth join gangs and they turn to the streets.”
The program, however, really helps give them something to do, she said. “Our program specifically increases their self-esteem, self-confidence, social skills and social protocol in the community, at home and in schools. It’s a great way to learn how to love yourself.”
Currently, delivery is available for the Urban Bridges bake sale fundraiser, which will last until January. The program has survived on class fees and small donations, but Feathers said they are always accepting donations, and any amount helps.
For more further information about Urban Bridges Studio, Inc., and for a class schedule visit urbanbridges.org or call 503-493-9436.