My Amazing Cleveland Bridge Builders Journey

I’m now officially a Cleveland Bridge Builders (CBB) Graduate and what a whirlwind year it has been!  When I applied, I had no idea that baby number 3 was on its way or that there would be lots of major changes in the organization where I work. So, it was undoubtedly a challenge to commit to all that Bridge Builders has to offer, but I went all in, took full advantage of this awesome experience and quite honestly it’s up there as one of my best life experiences.

So, what made it so amazing?  Well, I got to know and form friendships with a fantastic and eclectic bunch of people who come from all walks of life. It’s unlikely that I would have met most of these people if it hadn’t been for the program as their life paths are so different from mine.  We also had the opportunity to meet with community leaders from civic groups, food banks and community-based schools and to do volunteer work which was great.  These experiences challenged my belief system and opened my eyes to different perspectives, the needs of our community and showed me the power of a collaborative approach.

My group also had the privilege of working on a Leadership Action Project (LAP) with Kids in Need which merged with Shoes and Clothes for Kids during the year.  The merger, as you can imagine, threw up some interesting challenges which led us to retool our focus and led us to assist in helping to enhance their volunteer program which was greatly appreciated by the organization.  When it came to presenting our project accomplishments and experiences, at the last CBB session, we chose the theme of “Flexibility” and dressed in 80s gear – just think Richard Simmons, spandex, headbands and all the rest!  It was great to be part of this team and amazing to see how we gelled so well. We hope the work we did will have an enduring impact on this organization and our community, and it’s only the start as our team plans to continue to volunteer there!

For those that have been following my posts, I’m thrilled to say that I was one of seven from the program who completed what’s known as the “David Akers Challenge”, which is to meet everyone in the Class (yes, that’s 60 people) one on one over coffee, lunch or a beer over the course of 9 months.  This was by far the best part of my CBB experience.  Getting to spend individual time with my Class Mates was great and allowed me to get to know each of them on a more personal level.   I often asked them to tell me something about themselves that people would never guess and I was blown away by how open everyone was.  I learned so many unique things which gave me some great insight as to what was behind their aspirations and motivations for driving change.  Overall, it was great to learn from everyone’s diverse life experiences.

So how do I fill the CBB void and what’s next?!  Well for sure I’ll be staying in contact with the many people I have met through the program – some tied to business, some I will continue to work within non-profits and others I will stay in touch with as they are great, well-rounded people.  Also, walking out of the program, I now have knowledge of at least a dozen organizations for civic engagement.  So, over the next 6 to 12 months I’m going to dig deeper into some of these to determine where I’d like to expand my involvement.

Finally, if you are reading this and wavering like I did for a few years about applying for the CBB program, then I would say just go for it as it’s an awesome experience and so worth doing.  It’s an experience I can guarantee you will not regret.  If you are lucky enough to be selected to be a Cleveland Bridger Builder, then my advice would be to go all in!  Make sure you do the “Akers Challenge” and make sure you go to the happy hours after the sessions.   Also, go with an open mind, dust off those preconceived notions and be ready to learn as much as possible.

Thanks to all the Class of 2017.  We did a lot and achieved a lot – we listened, we debated, we volunteered, we learned, we laughed and we made 60 great friendships!  Thanks for your support.

Brian Marino is a Partner and Financial Planner at Skylight Financial Group, Cleveland