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  • Writer's pictureFocalOttawa

Bridges Over Barriers

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

From the beginning, Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa set out to be a fund which not only prioritized financial need, but overall wellness. This focus has allowed us to think outside the box when it comes to supporting unique requests. In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to launch Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa was seized at a time when many families in Ottawa were struggling.

How does Bridges Over Barriers work?

Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa recognizes that schools are a hub for young people’s well-being, and that school Social Workers are in a unique position to work directly with some of the most vulnerable children and families in our city, who are not always on the radar of community agencies. Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa receives requests, big and small, from Social Workers in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.

What makes Bridges Over Barriers so effective?

With our clinical lens, we have been able to reflect on the meaning of “need”, and understand that each family’s situation is different. Trusting this lens allows Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa to reduce the “red tape” and be as efficient and expedient as possible. The result is a less than 24 hour turnaround rate for urgent, basic need requests. It further allows for the identification of service and support gaps in the system and larger community, fuelling ideas for future initiatives and support options. Through the work with their school Social Worker, families are able to voice their needs without judgement or discrimination.

For example, a family of 5 was new to Canada from Libya and all three children were attending a local high school. They were here on student visas and therefore had no access to government support such as OHIP, despite the son suffering from a chronic medical condition. Their source of income came from the Libyan government and was significantly delayed because of a change in government. They had worked through their savings and had very little left. Bridges Over Barriers provided grocery cards to offset costs for one month's worth of the son's medication.

Recently, an urgent basic needs request was processed within an hour, to assist an 18 year old new immigrant student with limited English, who had been forced to leave their family home with nothing more than the clothes on their back. The school Social Worker was able to advocate for the student to be given a rare spot in a shelter, but there was not so much as a blanket or pillow for them to use. A gift card allowed the student to immediately purchase these items, as well as a coat and warm shoes.

How does FocalOttawa support your organization?

“The FocalOttawa and Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa partnership is one group of deeply committed youth taking action with their own hands, to support other youth who face tremendous barriers. What could be more meaningful than that?”

In the Fall of 2020, our work took an exciting turn when Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa partnered with FocalOttawa, as the selected fundraising recipient. Thanks in large part to the kindness and trust of Kiwanis members Ian Hendry and Steve Georgopoulos, these two teams were brought together, pooling ideas and collaborating to create a symbiotic relationship where advocacy for both projects became mutually beneficial. To date, FocalOttawa has raised over $20,000 for Bridges Over Barriers with all funds going directly to families in significant financial need.

“Our partnership with FocalOttawa was our first as a fund. It provided Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa with the confidence to dream big, and the opportunity to increase our following and visibility in the community.”


With the help of FocalOttawa, and the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa, Bridges Over Barriers Ottawa has touched the lives of 460 families, and counting. Thank you!

“How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment to improve the world.” - Anne Frank

Matthew Manion and Ariel Burns

Bridges Over Barriers Leadership Team

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