Charlotte immigrant, refugee advocate receives humanitarian award

Charlotte immigrant, refugee advocate receives humanitarian award

Sil Ganzó — the founder and executive director of ourBRIDGE for KIDS, an after-school program for Charlotte’s immigrant and refugee children — was recently awarded the 2020 Nish Jamgotch Jr. Humanitarian Award. 

When the pandemic hit, Ganzó helped transition her organization from its after-school mission to helping distribute thousands of meals per week to the community.

The Nish Jamgotch Jr. Humanitarian Award is presented annually to an individual or group that demonstrates exceptional service and whose creative achievements elevate the quality of life and show solid promise of enhancing the survival, dignity and well-being of humankind for others in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community.

Content Continues Below

Named for the retired UNC Charlotte professor who established the program, the Nish Jamgotch Jr. Humanitarian Award is facilitated by Foundation For The Carolinas, which also holds the fund that supports the award.

In the words of Dr. Jamgotch, “to be creative means to uncover something new; or to synthesize seemingly unrelated experiences in a fresh and inspiring way; or to provide a foundation for future intellectual and scientific breakthrough that can truly make a difference” and it is in this spirit that awards should be made.

“Sil Ganzó epitomizes the vision Dr. Jamgotch had for this award,” said Brian Collier, FFTC executive vice president and member of the award committee. “Time and time again she has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. Not only has she overcome them, but she developed solutions that allowed others to thrive.”

“The goal of Dr. Jamgotch in establishing this award was twofold: celebrate our unsung heroes and provide examples to others of how we can all play a role in improving our community. If more of us lived up to the standards Sil has set, the lives of children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg would be immeasurably better.”

Ganzó began working with the immigrant and refugee communities in 2010 for an after-school program called The Bridge, which provided tutoring services. When that program ended in 2014, Ganzó started ourBRIDGE for KIDS so that students could continue receiving academic help, as well as socio-emotional support and cultural awareness and appreciation. At ourBRIDGE, students receive after-school homework and literacy support in a culturally responsive, trauma-informed environment. 

However, when the pandemic hit and Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order on March 14 closing all public schools, Ganzó shifted her organization’s focus. She started on March 18 by delivering 40 breakfasts and 40 lunches as part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools meal-distribution program. 

On June 1, she launched a campaign to raise $200,000 to provide meals to immigrant and refugee families until the end of summer. The organization is now distributing more than 3,000 meals per week and will continue doing so for at least two more months, all while keeping the entire staff employed.

In total, the organization has distributed more than 120,000 meals and has coordinated with 23 community partnerships, 32 community members, 15 major donors and foundations, and hundreds of volunteers and individual donors.

“Receiving the Nish Jamgotch Jr. Humanitarian Award for the work done through a global pandemic brings me an incredible sense of reassurance,” Ganzó said. “Even though it was frightening and overwhelming for all of us at the beginning, I knew that we were capable of successfully shifting ourBRIDGE’s efforts from offering after-school programs to distributing thousands of meals per week to our families and neighbors.”

“I am thankful for our team’s selflessness, for their commitment to our work and for their trust in me to lead us through it. This award will forever represent courage and community. It will also remind me to keep working towards the vision, as unattainable as it may seem at times.”

For more information on ourBRIDGE for KIDS visit joinourbridge.org.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, public affairs manager at WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.