The Helen Gurley Brown Trust today announced it has given $15 million to the New York Public Library to establish NYPL BridgeUp, a new educational and anti-poverty program that will provide academic and social support to New York City youth. The effort, which aims to support at-risk youth and prepare them for success, will be based at NYPL’s branches in Manhattan and the Bronx.
“Helen’s gift—the largest in the history of the NYPL in support of branch educational programs—combined with the library’s existing efforts will provide a national model for addressing issues of urban poverty,” says Tony Marx, NYPL president, in the announcement. “As a free provider of education and opportunity for all, [NYPL] has long worked to engage at-risk youth, and this extraordinary gift and unique program will strengthen that mission. We look forward to engaging other public libraries large and small across the country.”
The five-year program will offer services to more than 250 New York City eighth graders each year at five NYPL locations in underserved neighborhoods in the Bronx and Manhattan. These students will stay together in groups of 10 for support over five years with a goal of attending college or technical school, NYPL says. The program will work in low-income neighborhoods, providing a safe space for participants during after school hours. BridgeUp is experimenting with a new approach that sets a record for the cost-per-student-served in an anti-poverty program in New York City at $20,000 per student, per year, the largest funded program of its kind in New York City, the Trust says.
“Urban poverty comes from a multitude of factors and must be fought with a diverse arsenal of tools,” notes Maggie Jacobs, director of educational programs for NYPL, in the announcement. “This resource-intensive program provides customized supports for our participants’ academic, social, and creative development, key inputs every teen needs to thrive and succeed.”
BridgeUp will partner with middle schools in at-risk neighborhoods to select each group who will have a dedicated space inside a local Library and be led by a recent college graduate—a Helen Gurley Brown Fellow—with a background in education and past leadership experience, NYPL says. Fellows will plan individual programs for each member of the group; groups will also complete a major “Passion Project” together every year tied to a shared interest.
“Having worked with urban youth for years, I have seen the devastating impact of failed systems and the unfortunate consequences of teens falling through the cracks,” says program director Shelby J. Semino in the announcement. “BridgeUp is about building a new system that works for these kids, in these communities. BridgeUp is about providing access to opportunities for creative thinking and learning. And most importantly, BridgeUp is about transforming the lives of these kids, so they in turn, can change the lives of others. It is one of the most sensible and hopeful urban poverty programs in decades.”
According to the Trust, this is not the first time that the philanthropy of the late Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan, and her late husband, movie producer and executive David Brown, has focused on New York City and education: In 2012, they gifted $30 million to Columbia and Stanford Universities to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, housed at both Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and the School of Engineering at Stanford.
Notes Eve Burton, senior vice president of Hearst Corporation in the announcement, “Helen was a bridge builder….When she first came to New York City, she went to the branch libraries to write and to think. She always viewed the library as a sanctuary and oasis from the urban chaos. It was her specific wish that her Trust establish an after-school home at the library for low-income children. BridgeUp creates that home and more, establishing a community system to support a life beyond poverty.”
BridgeUp will be part of a menu of pilot programs being launched this fall at NYPL to provide structured after-school activities, including academic help tied to Common Core standards.