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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Building the Blue Bridge founder Stacie Brasher, right, reads the names of Georgia police officers who have died, as Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Pro Tem Paula Stinnett rings a bell during the Honoring Those Who Serve event hosted by Building the Blue Bridge at Honor Park on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

When Stacie Brasher saw the protests and riots happening in Minneapolis after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer last May, the scenes from the city where she'd lived for six years were all too familiar.

"Having lived in that area and seeing the pain of my former neighbors and friends, it just really impacted me, and I saw a lot of people hurting on both sides," Brasher said.

That led her to want to do something to help bring citizens and law enforcement together in her current community of Ringgold, Georgia, where she founded the nonprofit organization Building the Blue Bridge.

"I decided to start this nonprofit that would offer programs that would give the opportunity to both law enforcement and first responders as well as to the community to come together and find a way to bridge the gap that's been created," she said. "Because I'm not in law enforcement and I'm not one to pick up a protest sign, I kind of struggled with what I could do to help, and starting this nonprofit was my way of helping."

The organization began offering Reboot Recovery, a 12-week program for first responders focused on helping them deal with traumatic situations they face in their line of work. The peer-led program is free to first responders and their spouses.

Brasher said that people sometimes feel an emotional disconnect between themselves and law enforcement, perceiving them as distant or uncaring.

"But sometimes when you really kind of dig into that, you realize that a lot of these law enforcement [personnel] are dealing with the traumas that they see day in and day out on the job," she said. "These people have the spirit of wanting to help; that's why they went into this profession. But they are also trying to protect themselves because of all of the things that they see."

In addition to focusing on a different trauma-related topic each week, the program helps participants build a network of peers who have experienced similar situations.

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Honoring Those Who Serve event in Fort Oglethorpe

Will Hinch, a deputy with the Walker County Sheriff's Office and a former military policeman, is a graduate of Building the Blue Bridge's first Reboot Recovery course.

He met Brasher at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Fort Oglethorpe, where he serves as junior vice commander. Hinch's wife, Amber, who's involved with a support group for spouses of law enforcement officers, Behind That Line, started talking about starting a Reboot Recovery course in Ringgold.

Hinch said he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt since he served in Iraq. Although he's been to therapy and recovery programs in the past, Reboot Recovery is different because the course teaches how to deal with trauma using examples that are specific to first responders, he said.

Hinch said he struggled with PTSD for many years before getting help, and it wasn't until he started talking about it that he started getting better. Being with a group of people who understand the pressures of the profession makes that easier, he said.

"You know that everybody who's in the class with you speaks your language," Hinch said. "Everybody has similar experiences, so you can connect with each other a lot better."

He plans to be a program leader when Building the Blue Bridge starts its next course, which Brasher expects to be this August.

 

CONNECTING WITH YOUTH

Building the Blue Bridge is also working on a video with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office that will show different vignettes involving teenagers being pulled over to demonstrate how to interact with law enforcement, Brasher said.

"We teach them driver's ed, we teach them what side of the road to drive on, but we don't necessarily teach them what side of the road to pull off to when they get pulled over, and it's going to happen," she said.

The video will show what to do if they see blue lights in their rearview mirror — from where and how to pull off the road to where to put their hands and how to behave.

"Our hope is that when a teenager, or really anyone in the community, interacts with law enforcement, we want to make it as positive as it can be," Brasher said, adding that the organization plans to share the video with local schools. "We want to make this a safe experience and, as odd as it sounds, a positive one. Especially for the kids, so that they walk away learning something and also have a renewed positive outlook on their law enforcement, their heroes."

For more information on Building the Blue Bridge and its programs, visit btb3.org.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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