In Walla Walla, Washington, United States, service-oriented individuals don’t need to look further than SonBridge Center for Better Living to take hold of educational opportunities.
From internships for Walla Walla University students and high school work opportunities to employee training programs, community members are offered a unique place to further their education and gain experience.
Kiersten Ekkens, recent Walla Walla University communication graduate, completed a summer social media and marketing internship to help her explore a future career path. “This internship has been a great stepping stone between my college and professional career,” she said. “I have been able to put into practice so many skills that I learned at university, and now I know better what aspects of communication I want to pursue.”
SonBridge hires between 12 and 15 students from Walla Walla Valley Academy each school year for their high school student worker experience. The students sort and stock donations in the store, do janitorial work, and maintain meeting spaces. WWVA and various home churches subsidize the students’ wages, so their work gives them job experience while helping them pay for Christian education.
Kitty Haney, co-executive assistant, manages the students’ work experience. “It’s not just cleaning and sorting work,” she said. “They learn responsibility and practical skills in the office or at the store cash register. This job teaches them to take initiative and look for ways to serve, not just follow a list.”
SonBridge Teen Connect is another program geared toward youth in middle and high school. “Our main focus is to offer a safe space where teens can get assistance with homework. We also want to begin training such as personal finance and maintenance to teach them real life skills,” programs director Alex Engels said.
SonBridge often partners with Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) to provide job training programs for community members who lack adequate work skills. BMAC uses SonBridge’s space to host financial security workshops, life skills classes and parenting classes, bringing relevant knowledge to many eager learners.
To connect with the older community, SonBridge works with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) program called Senior Community Service Employment (SCSEP). This program connects retired individuals with participating organizations to help them reintegrate into the workforce, while providing in-job skills training. Kathryn Frost went through the program with a very positive experience. “I can’t recommend AARP’s SCSEP enough,” she said. “It’s just a stellar program, and I’m very thankful for their support.” She was offered a position at SonBridge while still in training with SCSEP and now works in the administrative office.
The goal of SonBridge Center for Better Living is to provide education and professional development to its employees, volunteers, and community members. The center continues to succeed in its mission to “Connect Lives and Empower Change” by reconnecting people with valuable work and learning experiences. Through these programs, they embody God's call to begin the “process of education which will last through eternity.”1
1. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1903), 307.