BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — More than 1,700 young people converged on the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport on Friday for the first-ever Bridgeport Youth Summit, a day of information and inspiration for the city’s next generation.
“It’s transformational for the city,” said Merle Berke-Schlessel, president and CEO of United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. “There are a lot of kids and a lot of opportunities.”
United Way is the “backbone operation” for Bridgeport Prospers, which presented the daylong event, bringing busloads of youth — from seventh-graders through age 25 — to a full slate of sessions on careers, leadership, college and public policy.
“There’s an opportunity gap where a lot of our kids don’t know what’s out there,” said Rina Bakalar, a consultant with United Way who organized the day through Bridgeport Prospers’ Cradle to Careers program.
“It sends the message that we all work together to support our young people.”
Julio Reinoso, coordinator of community service for the Bridgeport Library system, staffed a well-attended free books table, where children browsed and chose their favorites. A stack of 100 SAT preparation books were among the first to go, he said.
“You need to expose them to things like this,” he said. “It’s so important because we encourage and support students to keep on going and go to college.”
Many of the books came from Lorrie Stapleton of Books 4 Everyone, which she runs out of her Greenwich home. She brings thousands to city schools in Connecticut each year.
“The biggest thing is making sure they’re all free,” she said. “This is extraordinary. This opens their eyes to such a wider world.”
Several local colleges were on hand to discuss their programs.
“I’ve been looking around and seeing all the opportunities, like college,” said Bassick High School junior Ilanys Hernandez. “I’m learning new things, so that’s good.”
Another group of about 50 students gathered to learn about changing the world through legislative channels from state Sen. Marilyn Moore and others.
A large group enjoyed a surprise lunchtime concert by Bachata Heightz in the main arena.
Mayor Joe Ganim addressed the group before charismatic keynote speaker Adolph “Doc” Brown took the stage.
“You’re important now as our students and you’re important later as our future,” he told the cheering crowd.
Bassick senior Miglay Samedi said she’s hoping to go to nursing school next fall, so she stopped and talked to some of the college representatives.
“I learned about healthcare and I met a nurse,” she said, noting she’s taking her time and looking at all her options. “I like the journey.”
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