The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

As the only team in the NFL that is owned by the fans, the heart of the Packers franchise can be summarized in one word: community. On May 6, the power of communities was on display when students from choice, charter, private, and public middle schools and high schools traveled to Lambeau Field for the annual Bridge & Build event. The students shared posters with solutions to the mental health issues that countless youth face on a daily basis and other school initiatives of which they were proud. Students were also given the opportunity to speak about their experiences with an audience of bipartisan legislators and fellow students.

Lambeau Field, one of Wisconsin’s most well-known symbols of unity and hope, served as the perfect place for both youth leaders and officials to form bridges. During his speech, Mark Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Green Bay Packers, emphasized this by repeating his father’s advice, “Don’t burn bridges; build them.”

“As you saw today, there are a lot of young people, there’s a lot of committed community partners, leaders, elected officials who are all coming together and saying, we want to do something more, we want to support youth, we want to help build the future of Wisconsin,” declared Greg St. Arnold, who has been a project manager for Bridge & Build and contributed through his outreach work and his years of leadership with humanitarian services.

Too often there is a gap between youth and community officials. However, Bridge & Build allowed the elected officials and community partners to get to know Wisconsin students on a personal level by hearing their stories. For example, the students from Beloit Memorial High School have been through countless instances of adversity yet maintained perseverance against all odds. One group of seven declared “We’re hear” a plan for teens to help teens on mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness of Rock County commended the Beloit students’ efforts and pledged support. Another six young men from Beloit committed themselves to steering their peers away from bad influences and violence. They described how the community has reached “a point of apathy.” Although many youths around them felt hopeless about the future, these young men rose above their environment to find solutions to the problems facing their community.

Omar Nabhan from Beloit encouraged other students who are seeking to make a change. “Keep pushing for what’s right and what you believe. Keep trying, even if people tell you ‘No,’ keep pushing until you get a ‘Yes,’” he said.

Student journalists from Wisconsin Lutheran High School (WLHS) in Milwaukee attending the conference captured the powerful youth voices at Bridge & Build. Traveling with them, was WLHS’s Step Team, which performed a series of routines to honor the Beloit students’ leadership and offer them encouragement. Together with the many posters reflecting the achievements and aspirations of Wisconsin youth, a community story of pride, purpose and hope emerged at Lambeau Field.

In addition to bridging the gap between youth and state government officials, Bridge & Build shattered another potential boundary. The youth who attended reflected diversity in all areas, whether it be race, sex, religion, or wealth.

Opportunities for youth to interact with others who may look different or live in a different area was an enriching experience. Even state government and politician leaders set aside partisan differences in order to listen and learn from the cross-section of Wisconsin youth because everyone shared the same purpose: bridging youth and building a stronger Wisconsin.

“Whether you’re from different schools, different parts of the state, different ages, different business sectors or whatever—I want people to feel like they can come together and lean on one another and say: let’s do something together,” added St. Arnold.

When bridges are built between youth and government officials, something extraordinary happens. Though this conference at Lambeau Field only happens at most once a year, wouldn’t it be great if children from all types of schools could collaborate with bipartisan political and community leaders more often for a better tomorrow? Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the power. With enough determination and faith, every young man or woman who wants to shape the future can do so. After all, it is only together that we rise.

– Mason Marrai (‘24) is editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Lutheran High School Newspaper, The Pilot.

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