FIU-BRIDGE: Connecting Research with Communities to Create Lasting Change for Children

What if innovative university-community partnerships could empower children to lead healthier and safer lives?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Years ago, when I was a therapist for teens struggling with alcohol and substance use problems, a client, who had been working hard to get on a better path, invited me to an art auction. It was a charity event, taking place in a school approved location. My client’s painting of a guitar was being auctioned off, so I decided to attend. Making small talk before the auction began, my client told me he had, “a confession to make”. “Confession to make?!...” I worried to myself. “Well…tell more…” I said out loud. His confession? While the talk therapy program I was providing was helpful, he said, it was his arts program that made him feel happy and helped him deal with the hardships and stressors in his life. At first, I was dumbfounded by his confession; then it dawned on me just how meaningful it was. I was so moved that when his painting came up, I bid on it. I hope this story helps explain why my university-based colleagues and I work with community arts and other non-traditional youth programs. With our program partners, we work on grant proposals, program dissemination, and evaluation. We embrace a research approach emphasizing positive youth development. We focus on approaches that disrupt the status quo in order to boost children’s assets, promote children’s well-being, and strengthen children’s resilience. As you’ve likely already guessed, I won my client’s painting. It still hangs in our offices to this day (please see image below).

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Miami, Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Miami-Dade County, Florida and Broward County, Florida

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Over 20% of US children live in poverty, resulting in residence instability, less access to services, poorer quality schools, and greater exposure to trauma at younger ages. Minority children suffer additional stressors related to discrimination, acculturative stress, and language barriers. Poverty predicts youth drinking and drug use, dropping out of school, justice system involvement, health problems, and mental health disorders. We need innovative effective programs for poor minority youth. Small grass-roots community organizations are critical; they are experts in implementing programs responsive to their community needs. Unfortunately, these organizations are often small and typically lack expertise and resources for grants development, program dissemination, and rigorous evaluation. Through FIU-BRIDGE university-community partnerships we help provide these essential resources.

Having access to innovative and financially stable positive youth development programs that are responsive to community needs is critical for children’s well-being particularly in poor under-served communities. Grass roots programs have excellent potential to impact youth in creative and enriching ways but are too often plagued by a lack of resources and expertise to formalize and evaluate their services which in turn detrimentally impacts their sustainability and ability to expand. FIU-BRIDGE is a community based applied research institute which brings together expert clinicians and researchers with over a decade of experience engaging in meaningful university-community partnerships.  FIU-BRIDGE is housed at Florida International University (FIU) a minority-serving institution (MSI) that is designated as a High Research and a Community Engaged university by the Carnegie Foundation. FIU is the 4th largest public university in the U.S. and the 2nd largest in Florida, with over 54,000 students of which 61% are Hispanic and 20% are from other underrepresented groups. FIU has recently been named an AshokaU Changemaker Campus and considers itself a solutions center. The FIU 2015-2020 Strategic Plan notes, “FIU has been at the heart of bringing wellness to our community.”  Accordingly, FIU-BRIDGE’s mission is to develop and evaluate innovative programs for youth to reduce risky behavior and empower children’s wellbeing. By leveraging our skills and infrastructure, FIU-BRIDGE has been able to bring to bear extensive university-level resources to community programs and people working to improve the lives of children.  Our university-community partnerships facilitate innovative, high quality, sustainable, comprehensive programs for the promotion of children’s wellbeing particularly among poor under-served communities.  Our aim is to continue to broaden our reach through this Children’s Wellbeing Challenge. We seek to expand our services by (a) advancing knowledge about pioneering, non-traditional community programs that foster positive youth development, (b) establishing new avenues for promoting our findings (e.g., enhancing our web and social media presence), (c) securing opportunities for additional sources of funding, and (d) continuing to develop new partnerships for implementing and evaluating innovative programs to enhance children’s lives. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Mental Health
  • Other

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

positive youth development

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

FIU-BRIDGE uses a community-based participatory research approach. We meet with our community partners from all levels of the organization and conduct a thorough needs assessment. We work in tandem with the organization to develop a comprehensive strategic plan (e.g., finding recruitment avenues, documenting a standardized protocol, developing a comprehensive evaluation plan). We conduct formative research (i.e., solicit feedback from community youth through in-depth interviews and focus groups). We revise our strategic plan based on feedback, and we use our expertise and networks to secure funding for our strategic plan. Our process is one of mutual engagement in a serious effort to improve youth outcomes and advance knowledge.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

FIU-BRIDGE currently partners with multiple organizations to implement and evaluate innovative work with youth. For example, Project TREBLE is a partnership between FIU-BRIDGE and Miami Music Project (MMP). MMP provides free ensemble-based musical instruction for inner city youth. Project TREBLE is documenting the powerful benefits of the MMP program. We recently presented our preliminary findings to MMP instructors who were excited and energized by being able to see empirical evidence that their hard work is making a big difference. Our FIU Yoga Teens partnership with Banyan Health Systems provides free yoga to South Florida teens receiving outpatient mental health services. We are examining the impact of yoga on their well-being and mental health. We have also just begun an exciting new partnership involving equine facilitated psychotherapy for youth in residential foster care.

Organization Type

  • government

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

FIU-BRIDGE is financially sustained through a combination of funding from federal and state governments, as well as private foundations. As a result of our reach in the local community, we also have a broad network of stakeholders who link us to pro bono opportunities, such as our partnership with Dieste, the largest Hispanic ad agency in the nation, who helped us develop impactful HIV prevention media campaigns for Hispanic youth.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

FIU-BRIDGE represents a unique approach to university-community partnerships as: (1) a multidisciplinary research group from psychology, social work, public health, epidemiology, and nursing; (2) part of a minority serving institution with students from underrepresented groups; and (3) a training site for students from the very communities we work in. At FIU-BRIDGE, we value the importance of creating trust with communities who have been exploited by researchers. We are committed to using a community based participatory approach that is developmentally, culturally and linguistically sensitive.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

There has been a shift towards applying a strengths-based, resilience approach when working with youth. Resilience is a broad concept that deemphasizes pathology and emphasizes strengths. It is critical to continue to find creative ways to enhance resilience among youth. At FIU-BRIDGE, we seek to develop programs and partnerships that are pioneering innovative, complementary techniques, such as evaluating the benefits of yoga and mindfulness among teens or the implementation of an equine facilitated psychotherapy approach so youth can experience clinical treatment in a natural setting.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Nicole Kaufman, Florida International University

1 comment

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Photo of Michael Auerbach

Great model. Keep it up!