Brooke Bridges — Advaya


Brooke Bridges

Brooke Bridges is a mental health advocate and founder of Building Bridges SEL: Storytelling for Social Emotional Learning.


Brooke Bridges is a mental health advocate and founder of Building Bridges SEL: Storytelling for Social Emotional Learning. Her own journey to mental wellness inspired her wish to help young people become aware of their emotional experiences through storytelling. Before she moved to the Berkshires about three years ago, she was a model and personal chef. In the Berkshires, she’s made and sold bagels at farmers markets and has been working administratively (and doing some planting) at Soul Fire Farm. In the past year, Bridges introduced more than 6,000 kids to open conversations on mental health. She has also returned to school for a degree in developmental psychology and neurobiology.

*”I grew up in LA as a child actress. I enjoyed acting, but as I got older I started disliking it: it brought up so many mental challenges. I didn’t go to college first thing out of high school, but I was a personal chef and I was modeling, which is the worst thing you can do if you have self esteem issues. My mom is from the Berkshires and had moved back from LA and when she saw my modeling photos she got concerned because I was really skinny. She said, come out to the Berkshires and see if it helps you to take a respite from the superficiality of LA. I was sitting in two hours of traffic and decided to give the Berkshires a chance. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
*At first I was waiting tables, then dived into entrepreneurialism. I made and sold bagels at the farmers market. But I’d never really known a cold winter, and I was living alone, and fell into a dark place. I checked myself into a mental health facility, and came out feeling great. That’s when I decided I need to tell kids about my experience finding my way out of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and other negative coping skills, and maybe it could help them, too.
*First I worked with Minding Your Mind (a national program that provides mental health education). The kids I spoke to would be inspired by my talk, but I’d leave and never see them again; there was no followup plan. That gave me the idea to create my own program that would follow my speaking with long-term workshops, which would be more impactful than a one-off session.
So I began developing curriculum for Building Bridges, and it’s going really well. I’ve met with the DA’s office and got a grant to do a program with two schools, although we’re not sure how we’re going to implement it considering the COVID situation. The DA’s office also wants to do a program for their employees and one of the museums here wants me to do a training for their staff.

I haven’t necessarily created anything new in terms of SEL; I added the storytelling aspect. I find that a lot of therapies are focused on the tools and the skills. But they skip over the part that helps people process their emotional reaction. Storytelling gives people the opportunity tell stories in a fictionalized way, even if it’s actually about themselves. My primary hope is that kids will find confidence in their voice to speak about their own truth, to feel seen and heard.
A big part of me wants to make sure that we validate feelings from what’s going in the outside world — the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement — but it’s important to bring them back to our internal world. We think we want to fix things on a national scale, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But if we can change what’s inside, we can, along with our community, make impactful changes.”

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