Worthington has no shortage of charities and service institutions, but a new organization is hoping to help connect those existing resources together.
Worthington Bridges is the newly formed branch of Neighborhood Bridges, an organization founded and based in Westerville.
Neighborhood Bridges is a nonprofit charity that doesn't try to replace or duplicate the efforts of existing organizations, but instead attempts to help them work together and communicate with each other and the people they serve, according to its organizers.
Founder and CEO Rick Bannister said Neighborhood Bridges pays only three employees at a time and is funded largely through sponsorships and grants for its relatively small amount of expenses.
To serve its mission statement of providing "a gateway for kindness," Neighborhood Bridges uses technology and social media to identify needs in the community and help connect those with the needs and those who can help.
Put simply, "we bridge the gap between people who have needs and people who have resources," said Ray Lees, the Worthington Bridges area director.
Lees said a network of people ranging from school counselors to social workers and pastors would serve as advocates who can help identify those in need.
Bannister said the organization "relies on advocacy" because those people tend to know the most about need in their communities.
"We've built Neighborhood Bridges on love and trust," he said.
"If we get a need posted by an advocate in the community, we know it's a sound and solid need. We don't need to vet it. We can spend our time filling that need."
Bannister said his goal is to spread Neighborhood Bridges branches throughout central Ohio, and Lees said the suburbs are a bigger source of need than many people realize.
Lees said "as the gentrification of Columbus happens," families in need increasingly find themselves in the suburbs.
Lees and Bannister both said the organization uses the percentage of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches in a school district to tell whether a community has a need for their services.
According to Worthington Schools spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda, 28 percent of Worthington students fall into that category.
"People in a lot of other suburbs think, 'Oh, Worthington, they're rich,' but that's not necessarily the case," Lees said. "We definitely have pockets of wealth but we also have pockets of poverty."
Worthington Bridges already has a 14-person steering committee made of volunteers from Worthington Schools, Worthington City Council, Leadership Worthington, the Worthington Resource Pantry and a variety of other organizations.
Bannister said he has been thrilled by the response, which bodes well for the organization's success.
"What really makes Neighborhood Bridges work is the ability to engage the local stakeholders," he said. "I'm very grateful to the leadership in the Worthington community. The food pantry, the chief of police, City Council and the schools have all come together. It's been very heartwarming."
Lees said Worthington Bridges is working to expand slowly and he isn't trying to make a major splash just yet.
Mostly, he said, he is interested in making sure to communicate with leaders and advocates and letting the organization's influence spread from there.
"A lot of it is by word of mouth," he said. "We're all trying to use our connections to make new connections. So we don't have a grand marketing plan. I think person by person is the way we'll get more exposure."
For more information, visit worthingtonbridges.org.