The 2016 Bridge to the Future Rites of Passage class at Santa Rosa's Community Baptist Church is celebrating a decade of graduating local teenagers and preparing them for the future. The program, created by late, longtime pastor James E. Coffee and Shirley Gordon, former vice president of operations for the North Bay regional State Farm office, is a unique and special celebration this year.
"Our keynote speaker, Chantal Jenkins, is an alumna of the very first class," says Sue Sion, part of the coordinating team.
Jenkins, an attorney, was a graduate of the class of 2000 and now works for the Social Security Administration in San Francisco. Jenkins just won her first case.
The program "is keeping [Pastor Coffee's] dream alive," says Vivian Coffee, his widow. "The graduates are contributing members of the community."
Coffee says her husband's idea was to provide youth with life skills they aren't taught in school. The workshops, which are held monthly, include time management, a team-building ropes course, financial awareness, self-esteem, cultural awareness and other classes.
Participants also perform service projects, in which they give back to the community. This year, the service projects included providing gifts for children of inmates incarcerated in the Sonoma County jail system.
The Rev. H. Lee Turner is celebrating five years as pastor of the Community Baptist Church, and notes how the program has grown. "These young people are remarkable," he says. "They learn abilities that they need in life, including self-confidence. This program is a foundation-builder . . . it's one of a kind."
Lenita Marie Johnson lives in Sonoma County.
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