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Bridging the Gap -- neighborhood bridges is a Gateway for Kindness for Lakota Families

Bridging the Gap


Article by A.J. Lape

Photography by Provided

Originally published in West Chester & Liberty Lifestyle

Behind the scenes in the Lakota Local school system, a quiet revolution is underway, fueled by the spirit of local love. Neighborhood Bridges, a national 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is on a mission to bridge the gap between poverty and success. Dedicated to an equitable education, they’re rewriting the narrative for students in need, connecting them with anonymous community donors who can break down barriers and help them on their pathways to success.

Local leaders Kelley Casper and Leah Aguilar are the backbone of Neighborhood Bridges Lakota. If a student or family has a need, advocates like school nurses, administrators, counselors or resource officers reach out to Neighborhood Bridges and make a quick referral. Casper and Aguilar swiftly get to work, ensuring the need is promptly addressed.

The process is simple and confidential: liaisons log onto the Lakota Neighborhood Bridges website, fill out a form documenting the need and an email alert system is activated, reaching several thousand subscribers.

Aguilar, an educator in the Lakota District for twenty years, recalls one of their favorite success stories where a mother’s car wasn’t equipped to handle her son’s wheelchair, making family outings challenging.

“An advocate at a junior high worked with this family and knew what the need was,” shares Aguilar. “So we put [the need on the Neighborhood Bridges site], and a generous community member donated a minivan. We were then able to get it fitted through donations from the community, Mobility Works and Butler County Developmental Disabilities. We also got them a year’s worth of insurance by donations.”

Casper, a Lakota School Board member and former educator, says, “What attracted me to Neighborhood Bridges is the immediacy of it. Neighborhood Bridges is almost instantaneous…in a couple of hours [a need] can be filled.”

Casper emphasizes Neighborhood Bridges’ commitment to filling every need, irrespective of income level.

“The only stipulation is you have to be a Lakota student,” she explains.

Aguilar shares another example of the profound impact of a simple act of kindness.

“We had a mom who lost her spouse at Christmastime a couple of years ago,” she recalls. “She had to get all new tires, and when she got home, her refrigerator had died. Mom was devastated, and theirs was an immediate need that impacts a child's ability to be successful.”

Neighborhood Bridges swiftly rallied once the need was posted, providing not only a new refrigerator but also groceries and gift cards.

Residents can sign up for alerts, find a need and commit to meeting it. Donations can be dropped off at one of four donation sites: West Chester Fire Departments 72 and 74, Liberty Township Fire Department 112 and Lakota Local Schools Central Office.

Casper explains, “We pick those up, and distribute to the advocate who requested on behalf of the family. This keeps things anonymous unless a large item is donated that must be delivered to someone’s home.”

Any funds donated or raised for Neighborhood Bridges/Lakota stays in Lakota.

“But if we get someone who offers a bed, and we don’t have a current need,” Aguilar adds, “we would try to connect with another Neighborhood Bridges community to fulfill a need they might have.”

Casper and Aguilar would love to see the vision of Neighborhood Bridges expand with more subscribers, eventually instituting a program specifically for unaccompanied minors who are no longer in the care of their parents.

Put your love for our area into action and meet a need for our neighbors through Neighborhood Bridges. To find more information, contribute to fulfilling a need, or make a direct donation, visit their website. Residents are invited to explore opportunities with their employers, as many are willing to provide matching funds when presented with evidence of a specific need. NeighborhoodBridges.org/community/Lakota-oh, [email protected]

"Neighborhood Bridges is almost instantaneous…in a couple of hours [a need] can be filled.” - Kelley Casper

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