Longtime Westerville resident Rick Bannister said he and his wife, Diane, have created "neighborhood bridges" to fill the needs of local residents and "provide a gateway for kindness."

Longtime Westerville resident Rick Bannister said he and his wife, Diane, have created "neighborhood bridges" to fill the needs of local residents and "provide a gateway for kindness."

Set to officially launch Monday, Jan. 16, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bannister said the 501(c)3 charity and its website, westervillebridges.org, would link residents that need help with resources that can provide it.

"Neighborhood Bridges is an organization that will be built on trust and love -- so anyone is welcome to post a need on the bridge," he said. "Residents who see a need in their neighborhoods, needs of our senior community, churches, parents and co-workers."

He said Westerville has a lot of unmet needs and a surplus of citizens, families and businesses able and willing to fill those needs.

"Over the past 25 years, and through all my involvement in the schools and community, I have observed first-hand the many everyday needs that our children and families have," he said.

He said Neighborhood Bridges would take advantage of technology and social media to "build a bridge," concentrating on the school district at first.

"We will launch Neighborhood Bridges in our schools first, because I know that our teachers and counselors see need every day," Bannister said. "I am personally aware of the great capacity that this community has for thinking of one another.

"So we will bridge the specific needs to those who want to help," he said.

Westerville City Schools Superintendent John Kellogg said he likes the idea.

"Neighborhood Bridges is a creative idea-using technology to fill needs that exist in our schools and our community," he said. "We celebrate a large and diverse student body and we are blessed with thousands of caring and supportive families, businesses and service organizations.

"I am excited that this initiative will begin right here in our schools and in the community of Westerville," Kellogg said.

Bannister said launching the program on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is no accident.

"Martin Luther King once said, 'The time is always right, to do what is right,' " he said. "I intend to make this my life's work, so we are ramping up for launch now and on Jan. 16, I will be working full time to build this bridge.

"My goal is to stand in the middle of the bridge and encourage advocates to both sides," he said. "The website is operational, so between now and then, our strategy is to educate the community about Neighborhood Bridges and get them signed up to stand on the bridge."

Janet Davis, president of the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, said chamber members are always looking for ways to help the community.

She called the effort "an exciting vehicle to open access and opportunities for caring and kindness."

"I am excited to see this initiative come to life and know that Westerville is the ideal place for Neighborhood Bridges to begin," she said.

Bannister said while the initial focus would be in the schools, Neighborhood Bridges is "open to everyone."

"Westerville is a special community that is large and celebrates diversity in many ways," he said.

"I've lived here 42.5 years and I know that Westerville is ready," he said. "We can build a model that can be shared with other communities. I hope 2017 will be a year of kindness for Westerville."

For more information, visit the website or email Bannister at westervillebridges@gmail.com.

Letters also may be sent to Rick Bannister, Neighborhood Bridges, P.O. Box 2635, Westerville, OH 43086.

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