West Hartford family makes ‘critical’ donation to Bridge Family Center

The family of Jason Ryan and Susan Averna made a $25,000 donation to the Bridge Family Center. The nonprofit, which provides wellness services to over 8,000 children and families a year, said it was a critical donation.

WEST HARTFORD — A $25,000 donation made by a local family to the Bridge Family Center comes at a critical time.

The donation, made by West Hartford residents Susan Averna and Jason Ryan, was gifted to the nonprofit that provides wellness services to over 8,000 children and families each year at a time when referrals coming to the center from schools are tripled.

“As predicted, we are coming out of this pandemic and schools are back in session and all the kids that were invisible are now being visible,” said Margaret Hann, the Bridge Family Center’s executive director. “Referrals from the schools are very high. I was looking at some data the other day and they are at a minimum double but are closer to triple what they were.”

Hann said the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of children and families.

“We’re seeing a lot of kids and families that have struggled,” Hann said. “Anyone who comes to us for services and has anxiety and depression as part of their issues, the pandemic has made that much worse. Everything is magnified.”

Hann said the increase in referrals is in large part due to a combination of the pandemic’s impact on children and the full-time return to schools, where teachers and educators are able to identify a struggling student easier than they could if that student was learning remotely.

“Sometimes it's kids who have been invisible,” Hann said. “That was my biggest concern. I’ve done this for a long time. When schools shut down, those kids that teachers couldn’t notice those that are really struggling or having some other indicators of abuse or neglect at home. They weren’t being seen. It doesn’t mean the families weren’t trying. The families were really stretched.”

The donation, Hann said, is going to go a long way to supporting the Bridge’s staff, who can then in turn support those children and families who need help.

“The gift makes sure that we continue to move quickly and responsibly to folks that need us,” Hann said. “We can make sure that we close all the gaps of services, which are many. We are able to make sure that our staff have a safe and user friendly environment to provide services and can pay a competitive salary. We’re able to say yes all the time. Our tagline is every family, every child, every time. A gift like Susan and Jason gave us helps us carry out that mission every day.”

Averna, who is a psychologist, said she and her husband decided that the Bridge Family Center was the perfect place to make that donation. Averna had volunteered there in the past, and as a psychologist, recognizes the importance of the work they are doing during a critical time.

“We wanted to make a bigger impact this year given all the strains of the pandemic,” Averna said. “The Bridge seemed like an obvious choice. They do so many different things. Counseling is critically important right now. There’s a real shortage of therapists.”

The Bridge Family Center offers a variety of services, including its family resource center, school-based services, a teen center, counseling and residential services. That’s why Averna and her husband decided to direct their donation to them.

“I’ve talked to friends who have needed help for themselves or their children and the wait lists are long,” Averna said. “Not just the Bridge, but everywhere. It’s hard to find people with openings. The Bridge has a big reach into the community with different buildings and centers. It’s accessible. It was the first thing that came to mind when we thought where we could make a big impact.”

Hann said the generosity Averna and Ryan showed will allow the Bridge to continue to help West Hartford families as they continue to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

The donation, she said, could save someone’s life.

“It’s very critical. You cannot step away now,” Hann said. “One thing I am so proud of is that we don’t step away from our mission. We don’t take our eye off the ball. We take it very seriously. Children and families are the center of our work. That is our guiding force. This pandemic has been one of the most difficult things we’ve managed in our lives and we’ve never stepped away. We’ve leaned in stronger than we ever have. That’s when our families need it the most. This is the kind of gift that changes people's lives.”

Connecticut Media Group