| Program: || Bridging the Gap Project, Inc., Atlanta, GA |
| Contact(s): || Gail A. Hoffman, Director: (404) 872-9400 |
| Purpose: || To improve the quality of life of Georgia's refugee and immigrant communities to improve their relationships with the law enforcement officials and other members of the community |
The Bridging the Gap (BTG) Project was initiated in 1994 by people who had spent years working on placing refugees in America and helping them make the transition to a settled lifestyle. The project principals secured the sponsorship of a number of institutions, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services and the Governor of Georgia's Children and Youth Coordinating Council. BTG was based on the idea that the biggest challenge in settling immigrants in this country does not stem from racial barriers, but from misunderstandings related to cultural diversity. The project tries to reduce those misunderstandings with three primary strategies: a crisis intervention program, an education initiative for immigrants, landlords, and law enforcement officials, and a youth program.
The crisis intervention program was initiated to respond to 911 calls made by non-English speaking callers. The immigrant community had perceived that police were sometimes hesitant to enter their communities. To assist non-English speaking immigrants, BTG employs 29 staff members--speaking a total 15 different languages--to respond to a hotline designed to alert BTG to emergency crime situations. The staff receives these calls and notifies the police of the situation. The project has designed separate education and training programs for police and immigrants to work more effectively with each other. As part of the project, BTG works with law enforcement agencies to recruit personnel from diverse cultural populations. In addition, the project has developed a mediation and education project to improve the interaction between landlords and immigrants. The community outreach division convenes meetings to orient and educate ethnic communities about life in the United States. In addition, the division assists these communities in building relationships with mainstream social service providers. The project also provides employment referrals for immigrants and has implemented translation services so that immigrants can better interact with government institutions. BTG also focuses on immigrant youth, since many of the crimes reported to the hotline occur among young adults of diverse backgrounds who live in the same communities. The youth program includes support groups, a newsletter and a truancy prevention program. In addition, a "Youth Challenge Day" is an annual event that brings ethnic youth together with law enforcement officers to participate in sports activities and educational workshops. The Youth Leadership Initiative provides a conflict resolution and diversity training program to a select group of young leaders of a high school plagued by hate crimes. Under the New American Services Program (NASP), BTG works in partnership with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide services such as fingerprinting, photographing and the distribution of immigration forms. Under the Community-based Citizenship Initiative, which is still being developed, BTG will offer civic classes, cultural awareness training and English as a Second Language Programs.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
Since the inception of these programs, the Bridging the Gap Project has fielded an increased number of calls from immigrants who realize that the program can assist them in a crisis. Their training programs have helped law enforcement officers overcome and increased their willingness to serve diverse communities. The BTG Project has trained over 3,000 people, including law enforcement officers, educators and immigrant populations in its programs. These programs focus on barriers to communication and stereotypes that create divisions among these groups. Future plans include extension of the program over a four-state area, encouraging more youth involvement and expanding the educational programs to a greater cross-section of the population.