Our Story

We build, convene, and innovate in partnership with communities East of the Anacostia River.

Building Bridges Across The River | Our Story - cover photo

Our Story

Building Bridges Across the River embarked on its transformative journey in 1997, laying down the foundation for a future where communities east of the Anacostia River could access opportunities that spur social and economic mobility. Chris Smith’s vision materialized through the establishment of the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), a beacon for arts, learning, and wellness, reflecting a deep commitment to bridging communities and fostering collective uplift.

THEARC blossomed into a 203,000-square-foot sanctuary, where over 85,000 individuals annually find solace and inspiration. It’s a place where children and adults alike can explore dance, engage with music, create art, and receive mentoring, academic support, and medical care. These services, valued at $30 million annually, are often provided at no cost, ensuring they are accessible to all.​

The story of Building Bridges began with a single, powerful idea: to bridge the divides—be they cultural, economic, or educational—that separated communities east of the Anacostia River from greater opportunities. With the establishment of THEARC, this vision started to take shape, laying the groundwork for what would become a multifaceted mission to connect, empower, and enrich the lives of residents. THEARC Theater emerged as the first signature project under this ambitious initiative, establishing arts and cultural bridges that brought diverse expressions and voices to the forefront. This 365-seat community theater and accompanying black box theater became hubs for artistic exploration, offering a stage for performances that reflect the community’s vibrancy and resilience.

Our story is etched in the multitude of services offered at THEARC. With a vibrant urban farm, full-size gymnasium, libraries, computer labs, and studios for dance and music, Building Bridges has created an ecosystem where education and recreation converge in harmony. The sprawling urban campus is a testament to what can be achieved when nonprofit partners work hand-in-hand with the community, offering office, rehearsal, and program spaces that empower and enable. And we’ve been building bridges ever since.

Following the success of THEARC Theater, Building Bridges expanded its horizons to address another critical need in the community: food access. Building Bridges Farms was born out of a commitment to sustainability and health, establishing food access bridges that connect residents to fresh, nutritious produce. This initiative not only provides vital resources to the community but also educates and engages residents in sustainable agricultural practices, reinforcing the connection between environmental stewardship and well-being.

In an ambitious stride towards reconnecting the urban fabric of Washington, D.C., Building Bridges introduced the 11th Street Bridge Park project. This endeavor embodies the literal and figurative building of bridges, transforming a former freeway bridge into a vibrant, elevated park that serves as a new venue for recreation, environmental education, and public art. The 11th Street Bridge Park is more than just a physical space—it is a symbol of unity, bringing together diverse communities in a shared vision for a greener, more inclusive future.

As Building Bridges continues to grow, our initiatives like THEARC Theater, Building Bridges Farms, Skyland Workforce Center, and the 11th Street Bridge Park stand as milestones of our dedication to revitalizing and enriching the community. President and CEO Rahsaan Bernard’s words echo our ethos, “THEARC is the largest social service multi-sector nonprofit collaboration in the country.”

Our narrative weaves through the tapestry of programs and partnerships that have revitalized southeast Washington, D.C., painting a picture of an organization that not only builds facilities but also nurtures the human spirit, cultivates talent, and sows the seeds for a more equitable society. Through every initiative, every program, and every life touched, we are not just building bridges—we are nurturing a vibrant, thriving community that stands as a model of social transformation.

Who We Are

Our work bridges communities and creates intentional and sustainable pathways to equitable opportunities.

We build, convene, and innovate in partnership with communities East of the Anacostia River.

Fiddle | Building Bridges

Building opportunities.

Bridging communities.

OUR Mission

Building Bridges Across the River provides residents East of the Anacostia River access to the best-in-class facilities, programs and partnerships in arts and culture, economic opportunity, education, recreation, health and well-being.  

Planting seedlings | Building Bridges

At Building Bridges, we think of ourselves as a family, working together, and in support of each other.

Our Vision

Bridge from Sky | Building Bridges


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Our work is centered around three core program areas:



Arts &


Health &


Our Five Signature Projects

11th Street Bridge Park

Washington D.C.’s first elevated park will span the Anacostia River and serve as a new venue for healthy recreation, environmental education, and the arts.

Building Bridges Farms

Providing Southeast communities with greater access to healthy, affordable food, urban agriculture education and career opportunities.


Comprised of three buildings, farm, and playground that sits on 16.5 acres, this humanitarian mall provides world-class services to the east of the Anacostia River community in Washington, DC.

THEARC Theater

Created to provide DC residents living east of the Anacostia River entertaining and enlightening experiences that can impact their lives and brighten their futures.

Skyland Workforce Center

Provides high-quality workforce development programs in one location, leading to work-ready candidates, career-focused job placement, economic self-sufficiency, & improved quality of life.

Digging up dirt with group | Building Bridges


Building Bridges Across the River relies on charitable gifts from individuals, corporations, foundations and government agencies to make our work possible.

Staff | Building Bridges


We welcome volunteers weekly at our participating Bridge Park Plots, spring through November. All volunteers must register in advance.