Germantown: BuildaBridge Brings Hope into Children’s Lives

Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt is a co-founder of BuildaBridge.]

J. Nathan Corbitt is a co-founder of BuildaBridge.

BuildaBridge, located at 205 W. Tulpehocken St. in Germantown, is aimed at bringing hope and healing into the lives of children, families and communities in tough areas through the use of artistic gifts.

Co-founders J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early both have musical backgrounds. Corbitt is a musician, music educator and ethnomusicologist, which is the study of music through anthropology. Nix-Early is a music therapist.

When the two met at Eastern University, they were asked to bring a team down to Costa Rica after an earthquake hit to work with a group of congregations of Jamaican decent.

“We did a music institute there and we learned that artists are really good but they didn’t necessarily know how to recognize trauma and were often more focused on their art rather than the child or adult. We recognized we needed to teach others to do that and work in those kinds of situations and that’s how we got started,” Corbitt said.

“One of the reasons for going down there was that their community was very fractured and people weren’t working together after this huge earthquake so we learned that when people sing together, they learn to do other things together,” Early said.

From this experience, they realized that they needed to be making a change in Philadelphia. BuildaBridge was founded in 1997 by Corbitt and Nix-Early. In 1999, BuildaBridge created a program in Northeast Philadelphia.

Corbitt explained the importance of recognizing that BuildaBridge uses the term art-making as opposed to the arts.

“It is the process of art-making–that is, how children engage with the creative process. So if we focus on the arts, people will think performing arts, museums, concert halls and that’s not our process. Our process is the art-making process–to bring about hope and healing. So the act of making the art and being engaged using art is metaphoric to teach the act of creating and that is what we do,” Corbitt said.

A lot of the work that BuildaBridge engages in is referred to as therapeutic art–making art healing in itself as opposed to art therapy which is a clinical approach and something that BuildaBridge does not focus on. BuildaBridge does not go in and diagnose individuals or assess them.

“There are some emotional, physical, social and psychological benefits. There are some relationship benefits to art-making, so there are lots of benefits that make it therapeutic or healing,” Early said.

Vivian Nix-Early, co-founder of BuildaBridge, talked about the organization.

Corbitt said he firmly believes in the importance of building long-term relationships inside of a community. “If you are going to work in a community or work with children the best way to see change happen is through long-term relationships and that’s difficult in a transitional environment and that’s what is moving us,” Corbitt said.

BuildaBridge has always worked internationally with local organizations. “We worked with an orphanage in Haiti. The school that we worked with has adopted everything that we have done and they run their own arts camp for kids, they do everything themselves,” Corbitt said.

Although BuildaBridge works internationally, the organization works within the Philadelphia area to provide more direct service to children.

BuildaBridge offers multiple programs that individuals can participate in. Among these are the discovery program, artology program, dance explorations, healing and music together.

The discovery program bonds compassionate and talented artists with children who are in need of help. The artology program offers artistic assistance in order to enhance an individual’s creative side. Dance exploration is a summer program for females that aims at bringing hope to the lives of those in transitional homes of Philadelphia. The healing program is a gateway for young children to cope with traumatic experiences that they have dealt with throughout their lives.  The healing program uses music and instruments in order to display self expression and reinforce academic and social development.

Changing an area like Philadelphia can take a fair amount of time. “Change takes decades, not years. When you work in any place you can see individual change taking place in people’s lives but you never know how a young person is going to grow up because it takes such a supportive network,” Corbitt said.

BuildaBridge developed programs in order to motivate and connect individuals who are located in tough places in the Philadelphia area.

Under BuildaBridge’s new strategic plan, the focus is still on working with kids. However, the organization recognizes that its strength is as a training organization. The new plan will focus on training creative people to work in the context of poverty and crisis.

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