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Even though he was a good student and a self-described overachiever, Dean Bailey never thought about going to college. No one in his immediate or extended family had gone to college, and he wasn't motivated to move in that direction, either.

During his freshman year at Greenville High School, though, Bailey was nominated for a program at Furman University called "Bridges to a Brighter Future." Established in 1997 with a gift from Greenville resident Mamie Jolley Bruce, the program is designed to assist Greenville County high school students who show great academic promise but may not have the support system at home to develop their full potential.

"I had never heard of the Bridges program," Bailey said. "I didn't know it existed. But once I had been nominated by two of my teachers and learned what Bridges was about, I wanted very badly to be a part of it. I was thrilled to be accepted into the program."

In many ways, Bailey was precisely the student the Bridges program strives to help. He was academically gifted enough that he earned high school credits while attending middle school, but his home situation provided a challenge of its own. His mother was raising five children by herself and working two jobs to support the family, walking to work each day since there wasn't a car. Bailey was the second oldest of the children and often had to look after his brothers and sisters after school.

"I liked school and I was an overachiever, but I didn't know anything about college and neither did anybody in my family, so it wasn't anything we could even discuss," Bailey said. "But the Bridges program offered me both the support and the push I needed to begin thinking seriously about my future. Ultimately, the program gave me enough confidence to believe I could go to college and succeed."

And succeed he did. Bailey graduated 11th in his class at Greenville High School in 2008 and received the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship, South Carolina's top award. He enrolled at Furman, the only school he applied to, and graduated four years later with a degree in health sciences. He spent two years as a case worker in the foster care unit of Greenville County's Department of Social Services before returning to the Bridges program in January as assistant director for high school success.

The Bridges to a Brighter Future program selects approximately 30 freshmen each year from Greenville County Schools and works with them throughout their high school years. The program has transformed lives. Since it was founded, 100 percent of the more than 350 Bridges graduates have earned high school diplomas and 95 percent have gone on to college. It will be Bailey's job to help that kind of success continue.

Two of his best friends from Greenville High School—Damaris Taylor and Luis Gonzales—were also members of his Bridges class. Taylor graduated from Harvard University, while Gonzales got his degree from Furman. Gonzales is now working with low income families in Chicago, and Taylor is a youth pastor in Texas. Bailey said it's no coincidence that the three of them are now in the business of helping others.

"Many of the Bridges graduates go into case work and social work, which says a lot about the program," Bailey said. "In order to succeed, you have to be in an environment that promotes success, and that is what Bridges provided to all of us. It makes you want to give back."

Learn more about the Bridges to a Brighter Future program​.

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