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The Bridge holds second Expo to connect local officers, youth
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Lt. Jeff Shoemaker and Lt. Lisa Collett of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office meet with a group of teens Saturday morning at the Gainesville Civic Center during The Bridge Expo and Forum. The nonprofit group’s event allowed youths to meet professionals and learn about various career opportunities available once they graduate from high school.

Few pieces of modern architecture are as steeped in antiquity as the bridge. Throughout history, humans have built bridges with the determination that no physical obstacle should divide us from each other.

But some gaps can’t be crossed with wooden planks or steel cables, and have to be crossed by members of a community who see a void and decide to act.

After seeing a growing disconnection between adults, youth and community at large, local Gainesville church leaders last year formed The Bridge, a nonprofit focused on connecting groups of young adults with a network of support within the community.

On Saturday, The Bridge held its second annual Expo and Forum where youth were invited to interact with each other, discuss issues and learn about the different potential roles that they can play as they become adults in the community.

According to Bridge Pastor Zora Hunt, the yearly expo serves two purposes: to connect youth with career resources and bring them into contact with members of local law enforcement.

“We wanted them to have a forum with the police and sheriff’s office, so they can ask questions and feel comfortable to go out and share that info with friends,” Hunt said. “But in this and other events, we want to help them in learning about their purpose by providing panelist from different walks of life and different careers.”

Representatives from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police Department, Wells Fargo, High Definition Barber Shop, Hall County Voter Registration and other organizations were on hand to talk with youth both as a group and one on one, giving advice and discussing issues.

During the Expo, groups of young people visited each of the organizations to ask questions and receive information about job opportunities, responsibilities and roles in the community.

At one station, representatives from different athletic departments questioned youth on what steps they are taking towards sports goals. At another, Hall County and Gainesville public safety officers talked to groups about bridging the gap between law enforcement and the communities they protect.

Lt. Jeff Shoemaker of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office spoke about the recent tragedies in Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Minnesota, cautioning the group to mindful of where they receive their information. Shoemaker and other officers stressed to the youth that police organizations in Hall County are members of their community, and are dedicated to serving it.

“At the end of the day, we work for you,” Shoemaker said.

It is this type of “community-oriented policing” that keeps a high level of community satisfaction with local Hall County law enforcement, says Sgt. Kevin Holbrook of the Gainesville Police Department’s Community Relations department.

“Although we have had issues nationally, this is who we are every single day. It’s a simple philosophy. Yes, we are officers and have a job to do, but at the same time, we have to be members of the community.”

Holbrook said events like the Expo helps departments bridge a generational gap and do their jobs better by asking “what can we do better?”

Regional events