Nonprofit BRIDGES for a Just Community to cease operations by early September

Organization introduced idea for Freedom Center

CINCINNATI - A nonprofit that has been working for nearly 70 years to make Greater Cincinnati a more welcoming place for people of all races and religious faiths will cease operations by early September.

BRIDGES for a Just Community announced on Tuesday afternoon that it would be closing, saying the nonprofit never fully recovered financially from the economic downturn that began in 2008. Its two major fundraisers, an annual dinner in May and a walk in October, haven't been able to generate as much money as they did in the past. The organization has been operating since 1944.

“While these factors have all played a role in the current financial situation and the decision to close is very difficult, BRIDGES leaders recognize the incredible impact the organization has made over many decades of changing attitudes,” the announcement said.

“It’s a very sad and very difficult day,” BRIDGES CEO Lynnette Heard told WCPO Digital. “In so many ways, this feels like a death. And there’s been a lot of grieving going on. But we also are very realistic that if the organization cannot fulfill its mission with the financial cloud hanging over it, it simply is time.”

In 1994, BRIDGES, which was founded as the Cincinnati chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, introduced and organized the campaign to build the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. That same year, the nonprofit was appointed to conduct diversity training for the Cincinnati Reds, which the BRIDGES announcement notes was the first professional sports franchise to receive such training.

In more recent years, BRIDGES has taken lead roles in convening community discussions after the April 2001 riots in Cincinnati, the post-9/11 anti-Muslim backlash and the 2003 ballot issue to repeal the anti-gay Article 12 amendment in Cincinnati’s charter.

The organization is searching for a new partner to operate Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that helps prepare young adults for leadership roles through paid apprenticeships with local nonprofits.

Heard said she’s consulting with lawyers about the future of other BRIDGES projects and programs.

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