Building Bridges of Good: Ben Bridge’s Commitment to Community Consciousness Near and Far
For over 100 years Ben Bridge Jeweler has dedicated itself to three things; service, ethics and excellence. “’Community Consciousness’ really encapsulates our philosophy of giving,” says current President and COO Lisa Bridge. “Our philosophy of how we choose to operate is having that consciousness of long term impact.”
Contributing over $400,000 to nonprofits and charities annually, the company understands the importance of giving back, not only in their local retail communities, but also in the communities in which their industry does business. “Each store and each community look a little different and our impact looks a little different because of the needs of that specific community,” says Bridge.
Imagine having to choose between your child’s school supplies and an appropriate wardrobe for work. Imagine searching for a job while raising a family and keeping enough food on the table. Imagine being on your own and struggling to make ends meet, living paycheck to paycheck with no idea how to achieve stability.
This is a reality for women like Leah. After growing up in generational poverty and enduring a string of abusive relationships, Leah was left broken, frightened and unsure of how to support herself and her four young children. But with the backing of her family and an organization called ‘Dress for Success’ (DFS), Leah was able to land an interview at a corporate office and even get hired on the spot. “Not only did I find a perfect pinstripe suit that I wore to the interview,” she says, “but I received hair and makeup services, a gas voucher, free childcare and an invitation to HOPE, a program that helps us during our first 90 days of a new job.”
Supported by businesses like Ben Bridge, DFS strives to create a strong community of independent professionals supporting each other and achieving success for themselves and their families. With over 12,000 volunteers, the organization has been able to help over a million women through their programs, and with a vast network of 150 offices in 30 countries, each Chapter of the organization relies on strong community ties and corporate support.
Community Support – The Key to Making a Difference
The Ben Bridge Jeweler partnership with Dress for Success’ Oregon Chapter began six year ago and can largely be attributed to the company’s focus on customer relationships and giving back. “[A longtime customer and friend] introduced me to [Dress for Success]. . . and I found it really fabulous,” says Ben Bridge Portland store manager Barbara Carlson. “They cover every aspect of being prepared and confident to walk into that job interview.” After touring the DFS facility and becoming inspired by the vast array of services they offer, Barbara began working with Ben Bridge’s corporate management to involve themselves in the Dress for Success mission.
“Promotion of women has been a natural part of Ben Bridge because we’ve always believed in all kinds of equality,” says Lisa Bridge. “I’m fortunate enough to be the first female president, but all of my predecessors have all really promoted women.”
The contagious nature of doing good is a concept that has inherently been at the core of the Ben Bridge company from its inception, both in regards to serving the needs of the community and in creating an equal opportunity space for their associates.“It’s always been about the person and the talent,” adds Bridge. “We haven’t had to have a specific initiative to get to this point because it’s been a part of the Ben Bridge DNA from the very beginning.
Bridge’s late great-uncle and former Co-CEO, Herb Bridge, helped instill such a culture into Ben Bridge’s DNA through one simple phrase. Engraved in a plaque on his desk, it reads, ‘service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth,’ a notion that will continue to carry the company for generations to come.
Associates Go Above and Beyond
Since 2012, Ben Bridge has been the official Diamond Sponsor of the Dress For Success Oregon ‘Celebrate Success’ fundraiser,andcommitment to supporting organizations like DFS runs deep, not just through physical contributions, but an additional focus on engaging their customers and associates in their good works. “We invite a guest [to the ‘Celebrate Success’ event,” says Barbara Carlson, “usually a customer. . . so that they have opportunities to get involved in any way they want to.”
For Ben Bridge, it is not just about giving back, but encouraging those around them to do the same. This is especially true for their associates, who themselves have become very dedicated to DFS and other local causes. “I think [involving associates in charitable endeavors] creates a better sense of community and camaraderie within [our] team and company,” says Shalla Wilson, a Portland store manager who assists with the DFS event every year. “I am just so proud to be part of a company where community service and volunteering is such a big part of our culture.”
Over the years, several other Ben Bridge associates have become heavily involved in the organization on their own time, volunteering and making a direct impact on women in their local communities. “Dress for Success Oregon really is much more than clothing,” says Leah “they have a complete set of personalized services that have given me a new vision for my life and the tools to achieve it – a vision beyond minimum wage jobs and barely getting by.”Supporting local organizations like Dress for Success is not the only way Ben Bridge gives back. “Community has always been important to Ben Bridge,” says Lisa Bridge. “We believe in the communities were a part of locally and contribute on a local level as well as the communities we impact through our business,” communities like Molepolole, Botswana.
Bridges Far…A Global Bridge of Good
Botswana, a small country in Southern Africa, is the largest producer of gem quality diamonds in the world. It is also home to Kemmonye Khatetswe and her six children. Before training to become a master
diamond craftswoman working on Ben Bridge’s Signature Forevermark diamond collection in her hometown of Molepolole, Kemmonye grew up in poverty that carried through to adulthood. Struggling to provide for her family, she was employed by the diamond industry in 1994 and trained in the art of cutting a polishing these beautiful gems. Now holding the prestigious job of master diamond craftswoman in her community, Kemmonye has cut and polished some of Botswana’s most beautiful and unique diamonds. “I laugh it off,” she says of the praise received for her work. “Diamonds have played a big role in the development of our country…I’m just grateful that I can provide for my family.”
As part of a global industry operating in various countries throughout the world, Ben Bridge is dedicated to creating a positive impact in the communities in which they do business, including the local
community of Molepolole, Botswana. “We were just [in Botswana],” says Ben Bridge President Lisa Bridge, “I led a group of associates to ‘trace the journey of a diamond’ so we were able to see the impact.” First visiting the Jwaneng Diamond Mine, the group met with workers whose stories were much like Kemmonye’s, followed by a trip to a local school for
orphaned children. “We were able to bring them backpacks and contribute to getting them uniforms and able to spend the afternoon playing and learning with them,” says Bridge. “[To see] the opportunities that are available to these students and to be able to spend time with them was really a highlight of our trip. I think everybody left with big smiles on their faces.”But that was not the only part of their trip that made them smile. In visiting a local hospital, Bridge says, “the director of the hospital. . . looked at us and said ‘thank you.’ Because you are buying our diamonds. Because of your support we are able to take care of our community,” says Bridge. “That full circle is really incredible to see. . .we get to bring joy into the world to celebrate moments and also positively impact communities near and far.”