Jill Czanstkowski is an individual who has found a way to make a difference in her hometown…a major difference!
Her love and compassion for those in need are rare qualities that might just start an avalanche in other locales.
HottyToddy.com: Jill, please share with our readers a little about your background.
Jill Czanstkowski: I am originally from Bossier City, Louisiana. Attended the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. I moved to Mountain Home after marrying my husband, Tom and began my teaching career. I taught special education for 12 years in the MHPS school district. I took a pause, as I like to call it, from teaching for three years. I am returning this year as a special education teacher at the junior high and Bridges Facilitator. My passion has always been to help kids that truly need the help, those kiddos that would be viewed as the “underdog.”
HottyToddy.com: The Bridges of Mountain Home is a unique concept. Please explain exactly what it is.
Jill Czanstkowski: Bridges originated in West Plains, Missouri. The concept is to try and remove the obstacles that are in place for students that live in poverty. Bridges’ vision is to “bridge the gap between student needs and student success.” Bridges would like to help students in poverty dream rather than just survive. We will act as a hub for students in need connecting them with civic organizations/churches to provide the needed service. If the need cannot be met, Bridges will step in. We would like to go a step further and assist students with materials and resources for projects so they can have pride in the work they present. We hope to also assist in things such as snack day, costumes for parties, valentines, etc. to help all students feel a part.
HottyToddy.com: How did “Bridges” come to Mountain Home, Arkansas?
Jill Czanstkowski: I was inspired by an article shared by our Superintendent, Dr. Jake Long. A school in Missouri addressed their homeless student population by transforming existing buildings into housing. I felt “nudged” to send Dr. Long an email. As a former employee, I knew the heart of our district but also knew staff and funds were short. I let Dr. Long know my heart, my passion, and that I was free to him if anything of this nature came his way. We met and he encouraged me to investigate Bridges of West Plains via their facilitator, Cyndi Wright. She was amazing and basically handed Mountain Home everything she had in order to help us be successful.
HottyToddy.com: The event which transpired this past Friday evening benefitted about how many children?
Jill Czanstkowski: We had 353 students come through our Back-2-School Bazaar. We offered free school supplies, haircuts, dental, and vision screenings. It was amazing!! We only planned for 250 because we had no idea what to expect. We didn’t want to turn anyone away, so we took the remaining lists and are working to get those filled before Open House this Thursday. What surprised me most is how popular the haircuts were for the kids. They were so excited! If you think about it though, a haircut is not a necessity, it is a luxury.
HottyToddy.com: What ages and grades were included?
Jill Czanstkowski: Kindergarten through seventh grade. Junior High and high school were more difficult because their lists are not available until open house. We did give them basic items that all students need such as paper, pencils, notebooks, etc.
HottyToddy.com: Describe the level of success in your view.
Jill Czanstkowski: Hugely successful! One of the greatest events I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. I’m sure there are improvements that can be made for next year and we will get together and go through those things very soon.
HottyToddy.com: How have the community leaders become involved and how many have done so?
Jill Czanstkowski: Our community was so supportive and actually we couldn’t have done this event without them. Their donations made the purchase of the supplies possible. We had three banks present to cook hot dogs, five hairstylists donated their services, a dentist donated his services, and 27 other individuals and business who either had a booth with supplies or donated money and were sponsors of the event.
HottyToddy.com: The school district appears to have blessed “Bridges.” Is this a fair assessment?
Jill Czanstkowski: Absolutely!! They provided an unused library to be our hub. This is a great space. They also have given us a budget that we can use to debit money spent. Dr. Long, the school board, and other administrators have done everything possible to help Bridges succeed.
HottyToddy.com: Would you recommend the program to other communities and why?
Jill Czanstkowski: Yes. This program, or one like it, can be created to meet the needs of each individual district. It only takes someone with a heart geared towards this type of work, a district that sees the need and supports the cause, and a community that will get behind this cause. I can’t imagine a community that wouldn’t get behind kids in need. Every community would do this!
HottyToddy.com: Will “Bridges” proceed forward into 2017?
Jill Czanstkowski: I dare not predict the future, but I will do everything in my power to see that it does. As long as Dr. Long, the district, and the community support this cause, Bridges will do everything that it can to help kids in poverty reach their fullest potential. We want to find the athlete, scholar, artist, musician, etc. and help them to achieve what they were made to do.
HottyToddy.com: If so, will there be any tweaking?
Jill Czanstkowski: I’m sure there will be tweaking along the way. We are very new, since April of 2016. As with anything new, we have a lot to learn and experience as we grow and expand our services. We will monitor and adjust as we go.
HottyToddy.com: Are our Christian values motivation enough to warrant “Bridges.”
Jill Czanstkowski: I don’t think you have to be a Christian to get behind a program like Bridges. There are many people passionate about helping others that may not be believers. They are not mutually exclusive; however, God calls Christians to take care of the poor and Bridges is one way to heed that calling.
HottyToddy.com: Can programs like “Bridges” place a dent in the lives of the homeless and poverty in general or are we simply attempting to chill a forest fire with a water gun?
Jill Czanstkowski: We are probably using a water gun to put out the fire, but if we can change the lives of just a few and help them reach their potential, we change the lives of generations. I realize we are putting Band-Aids on big problems, but we have to start somewhere. Big picture I would like to help the families who would like the help, those who are really ready for a change. Help with employment, parenting, addiction, trade school/education. This is a starting point and we will see where we end up.
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 985-852-7745.