A Bridge to Opportunity

By Freda Hawver Pachter  

A first-generation American, who lived as a child in Denver’s Westwood public housing projects, Randy Ho could have taken two very different roads.

A cousin joined a gang and ended up serving time for auto theft.

Randy, 20, had a thirst for knowledge and thanks to a great Idea that Works called The Bridge Project, he received tutoring, mentoring, motivation and inspiration that helped him embrace every opportunity that came his way. One of his favorite activities as a child was hanging out in the Bridge Project’s music lab around the corner from his home. Now Randy is a star college student on a full ride at the University of Denver, where he’s majoring in opera performance.

At age 7, Randy moved with his family into Westwood in southwest Denver and joined the Bridge Project, which offers year-round programs to students in four Denver housing projects. The University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work runs the program in cooperation the Denver Housing Authority and numerous community, corporate and foundation partners.

Randy’s parents were both immigrants. His mom is from Vietnam and his stepfather is from Mexico. Both had to log long hours to support their three children: she as a tailor, he in construction.

Language barriers could have slowed Randy’s academic progress, but he jumped into Bridge Project activities and mentors fueled his desire to learn. Randy now speaks three languages: English, Vietnamese and Spanish. He loves math and reading. A favorite mentor, David, an older Bridge Project participant who was then in college, started tutoring Randy when he was in the fifth grade.

“I would read with him. He reinforced my math lessons.”

David served as a model for the person Randy could become.

“He would ask, ‘What do you want to do in the future? What do you want to do now to get there?’”

David and Randy remain friends today.

Randy Ho at the University of Denver.

While Randy’s parents set high goals for him and his mom bought him as many books as she could, Randy needed help achieving his goals.

Along with mentors like David, teachers played a big role. One heard him sing, nurtured his talent and helped him join Denver’s city-wide honor choir.

Then Randy learned about Denver School of the Arts, auditioned, joined their vocal music program and some days spent 90 minutes on buses each way getting to the school across town.

“I was the proponent that I wanted to do this and I had to fight for it,” Ho said. “I loved it. I was not a good singer back then, but I wanted to learn and get better.’’

Along with tutoring and mentoring, the Bridge Project gave him his first job. He worked for the Tech Team, a group of older students who learn how to teach and support younger students with a variety of projects from financial literacy to recording their own audio books. Through Bridge, Randy found a community and a haven from neighborhood violence that could have diverted him from success.

The program is headquartered at DU, so Randy pops in frequently between classes to say hello and pitch in as needed.

Knowing what a difference Bridge mentors meant to him, Randy continues to work with younger students.

“The Bridge Project really focuses on you as an individual,” Randy said.

So, he works to learn what motivates each student and to make personal connections with each of them.

A sophomore, Randy is applying to study in Milan for a quarter next year. The idea of studying in the cradle of opera is thrilling. Randy also has an exciting internship set up with a recording studio in California. Along with musical performance, he’s earning a minor in business to give him flexibility after college.

Among the many gifts the Bridge Project has given him, perhaps the most sustaining is a deep confidence.

“They helped me see a better outlook in life. [When you’re taking the wrong path] you can look cool to your friends, but you’re not cool inside.”

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