June 21st, 2016
Michelle Morgenthal (in the middle) and Lauren Simons (on the right) with locals in El Campuzano, Nicaragua (February 2016)
My name is Michelle Morgenthal and I am a 16 year-old rising senior at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, NY. I do a lot of theater, work with special needs children, am taking the post-confirmation class at my temple, and engage in a lot of other activities in and outside of school. Bridges only entered my life in the middle of this past year, but it’s impact on my life has been huge. I wanted to intern with Bridges because of their amazing mission and my overwhelmingly positive experience on one of their service trips. I traveled to Nicaragua with my temple, Temple Shaaray Tefila, alongside the Bedford Presbyterian Church in one of their annual trips. In my sophomore year, I was in the confirmation class at my temple. All I kept hearing about was how amazing the Nicaragua trips were, so I figured I’d go and see what all the excitement was about.
My trip was over February break. After our day of sight seeing and night at the Nicaraguan-style hotel, we split up into our three communities and headed off to start building. When my group arrived in El Campuzano, it felt like I entered a different world, definitely different than I was expecting. The sense of community in Nicaragua was overwhelming and admirable. In this place where people have the least, they seemed the happiest. You couldn’t tell whose children were whose because the Nicaraguans are all so close and together, taking care of each other in whatever way possible. At the work site, everyone who stopped by would lend a hand and be completely selfless. I came into the trip thinking that I would feel bad about the amount of poverty that exists in the communities. I came out learning that poverty does not only refer to money. Nicaragua made me appreciate the amount opportunities that I have more, but also see that there is great poverty where I live in Westchester in terms of community. In Westchester, materialism seems to override the hardworking spirit and selflessness that exists in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, nobody is a stranger and people are thankful for the little things, as well as each other.
Although the trip was filled with demanding physical labor, when looking back, all I see is the time spent getting to know the locals, the millions of card games with the Nicaraguans and our nightly reflections where lifelong friends were made. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, language wasn’t a barrier when all you needed was a smile to communicate. It made me see that when there is a good reason inspiring you to work at something, it doesn’t seem so much like work. We focused on the impact we were making and what we wanted to leave behind.
Being in Nicaragua helped me come out of the “bubble” of Westchester life. I was amazed at how much we accomplished with Bridges. My small group built six houses in less than a week for families in desperate need. After my trip, I was inspired at the goal of Bridges and wanted to be more involved to see how everything works behind the scenes in organizing these life-changing trips. I look forward to my trip next year to Nicaragua and seeing how Bridges works to make such a difference.
June 1st, 2016
by Alicia Bracco
#6: LAGO DE NICARAGUA
This is a freshwater lake that is known for being the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest lake in the world. On my second trip, we took a boat tour of this lake, and we were even able to take a break to swim in the water. The boat tour left from a restaurant that also had a pool, as well as beautiful scenery, and we ate lunch while admiring the breathtaking nature- as well as the monkeys- around us.
There are several species of monkeys in Nicaragua, and it’s very likely that you’ll be able to interact with a few of them at some point during your trip. After our boat tour, we arrived back at the restaurant and found a monkey waiting patiently in a tree. Our tour guide laughed and put out his arm, and the monkey immediately came climbing down to greet him. He had been waiting for him to come back and give him some of his soda, and we all watched with delight as the monkey drank some up, then scampered back up into the tree.
Spencer with a parrot in Siuna
Nicaragua’s rainforests provide safe places for migrating birds to stop on the way up to North America, and these can be easy to spot, especially in the part of Nicaragua where we were. Over 152 species of birds have been identified in the country. We were lucky to spot several beautiful green parrots, with animated mannerisms and vibrant colored feathers. We even managed to get one to perch on a stick so we could really see him. But most of all, we all wanted to see the national bird–the Turquoise-browed Motmot or Guardabarranco, as it’s called in Nicaragua–a truly magnificent and unique bird. We finally spotted a bunch of them while visiting the laguna.
#3: LAGUNA DE APOYO
This huge lagoon spans over 21 square kilometers, with a depth of 175 meters. It was declared to be a nature reserve in 1991, and is now a protected area, which means the water is beautiful as a result. The area surrounding the lagoon possesses over 500 types of plants and trees, and a wide variety of fish, mammals, reptiles, and birds. Bordering it are 12 hotels and restaurants with beautiful beaches which contain opportunities for swimming, hiking, boating, scuba diving, kayaking, and bird watching. On both of my trips, we spent our last day here, swimming, eating, lounging in beach chairs and hammocks, and soaking up the sun.
#2: CITY OF GRANADA
Located about 40 kilometers away from the capital city of Managua, Granada is Nicaragua’s 6th most populous city. A Spanish colonial city with a brilliantly yellow cathedral, it is a popular destination for tourists drawn to its history, busy cobblestone streets and many shops, markets, and restaurants. However, Granada still maintains its traditional culture, with museums, folkloric dance groups, and an abundance of local foods being sold on the street. We spent a morning here during my second trip, and it was a lot of fun to be able to see this amazing colonial city with its dynamic colors and many shops and points of interest.
#1: THE PEOPLE
Without a doubt, the most beautiful thing about Nicaragua is all of the incredible people that live there. They have so much to share, so much to teach us. They are strong, friendly, caring, and open. One of the best things about Bridges trips is how much time you get to interact with people–from children to adults. To play, listen, share, work, eat, and become friends with so many people is really the most beautiful thing there is.
May 23rd, 2016
by Alicia Bracco
If you’re interested in going on a Bridges trip but are concerned that it’s going to be all work and no play, don’t worry! Here is a list of the top ten fun things I’ve done on my two service trips.
1. Spending time with the kids
Annabelle with some of the kids from Las Conchitas
If you talk to anyone who has ever been on a Bridges trip, they will tell you that one of the best parts is being able to get to know all of the amazing children. On my two trips to Nicaragua, I met kids like Raul, Tatiana, Jose, Noami, Milargo, Valeria, Marisol, Fernando, and David (a.k.a. Davicito), all of whom never failed to make me smile. We spent time coloring, playing games, knocking mangoes down from trees, and working together at the work site. It’s amazing to see how determined the children are. They will spend hours on the work site, working as hard as you allow them to, intent on helping as much as they possibly can. Many of the tears on our trip were because of those kids- leaving them behind was so difficult, especially after forming such strong connections with them.
2. Playing games
Griffin, Lili, Nick, and Kate during a heated round of Kemps
On Bridges trips, you won’t have your phone with you, and even if you do, you won’t be using it. All free time is spent playing card games, hand games, word games, and any other type of game you can think of. On my second trip, it became a ritual that we had a Kemps tournament after dinner every night. Kemps is an intense game that involves cards, partners, secret signals, and lots of screaming. Everyone had the same partner every night, so we quickly developed many alliances and rivalries. One of our trip leaders, Mr. Albano, became involved as well, developing a tournament bracket complete with seeded teams and double elimination.
3. Eating the delicious food
Emily and Gaby during lunch
Many people go into a Bridges trip not knowing what to expect in terms of food. We discovered right away that we had nothing to worry about. Groups are treated to three flavorful meals a day, and it is the freshest, most satisfying food I have ever eaten. Delicious and plentiful plates of rice and beans, juicy mangoes and pineapples, and crisp plantain chips were always waiting for us after a long day at the work site. At every meal, there was a new type of fresh fruit juice, whether it was watermelon, coconut, papaya, guava, cantaloupe, or some mixture of them all. There is an amazing group of women who are the chefs for the group, and they work very hard to make sure that nobody on the trip goes hungry.
4. Relaxing on hammocks
Cam taking a lunchtime nap in a hammock
In between the morning work session and the afternoon work session, there is typically a “siesta” period that’s about an hour and a half of free time. During this time after lunch, we usually either played with the kids or took short naps in the hammocks. On my first trip, we had four full-length hammocks, and the feeling of stretching out on one of those after a tiring morning is indescribable. On my second trip, the school we stayed at in Las Conchitas had nine hammock seats, and we had a lot of fun lounging in these while talking, laughing, and playing games with the kids during our breaks.
5. Nature walks
Mrs. Sarna and Mr. Albano leading us on a nature walk in the early morning
My trip leaders, Mr. Albano and Mrs. Sarna, would wake up at dawn every day and go for a bird-watching walk. By the third day of our trip, a group of us students decided to join them, and enjoyed it so much that we continued every day. These walks were an extraordinary experience. Being able to see the still beauty of Nicaragua in the early morning hours was breathtaking. Though our large group scared away most of the birds we might have seen, we had so much fun seeing the local community from a different point of view. We even got a glimpse of the Masaya volcano through the early morning fog, and the beauty of the landscape was stunning.
6. Truck rides
On my recent trip, the work site was a drive away from where my group was living. To get there, we would all pile into the back of a pickup truck and ride the short distance to the site. The truck has a metal guardrail around it and the driver goes very slowly, so the rides are completely safe. This quickly became one of the most fun parts of the work day. You get to see the local area, all while feeling the wind blowing through your hair and standing beside your friends, who have quickly become your family. My group would bring speakers with us on the trucks and play country music while we rode through the scenery. One thing that’s very pleasant about Nicaragua is that every stranger you meet is genuinely happy to see you. People passing by on the street would smile and wave at us as we rode by, and many little children would run along behind us, laughing and shouting hello.
7. Playing sports
When your group goes to Nicaragua, I highly recommend that you bring whatever sports equipment you can. I’ve participated in pickup baseball, soccer, frisbee, and basketball games with my groups, and we were always quickly joined by men, women, and children of the community who wanted to play, too. I’ll never forget how in a baseball game on my first trip, my friend Julian spent hours pitching to the kids, who couldn’t get enough of the practice with a real varsity baseball player. These games were a great way for me and my fellow volunteers to spend time with community members, despite the fact that there was often a language barrier holding back our conversations. With sports games, we didn’t need to be able to speak the same language- we just needed to be able to have fun playing together.
8. Eskimo ice cream
Daniela, Kerry, Rachael and I with the ice cream man in Siuna
At the end of every day at the work site in Masaya, an Eskimo ice cream man would come to our site, and Bonnie, the site coordinator for Masaya, would treat all of the volunteers and children to ice cream. The kids were delighted at the chocolate and vanilla cones they could buy, while we volunteers were excited for relief from the hot sun, and we would all have dance parties while we waited on line for our ice cream.
9. Being tourists
Kathryn, Lili, Liz, Kate, and Tallulah sightseeing in Granada
If your group completes its project on schedule, there will be a day or two at the end of the week for relaxation. Activities that I’ve experienced on these days off include visiting local markets, going for boat rides, swimming in lakes, and sightseeing in the cities. Granada is an amazing Spanish colonial city, and it was very fun for us to be able to have some free time to walk around, purchase souvenirs, and see the beauty of the city. In addition, on my first trip, we spent an afternoon at the Laguna de Apoyo nature reserve, and had a great time swimming and relaxing as a final goodbye to Nicaragua.
10. Celebrating the new house that you built!
My work site group and me with Walter and Berta’s family at the house celebration
At the end of the week, regardless of the type of project your group was working on, there will be a celebration of the community to celebrate what you accomplished together. The beneficiary families attend, as do many members of the community. There will be music, dancing, a piñata, food, and speeches given as you and your group say your final goodbyes to the families that have become your own throughout the week. This day is very bittersweet. It’s amazing to see how grateful the family is for what you have helped them to do, but it is also very sad to have to say goodbye to all of your new friends. Many of us spent this entire day crying as we repeatedly hugged each of the children we had befriended throughout the week. It’s difficult to explain the impact that these families will have on you during your trip, and the only true way to understand is to go and see for yourself.
May 10th, 2016
My name is Alicia Bracco, and I am a senior at Fox Lane High School. I live in Mount Kisco with my parents and older brother, who is a student at George Washington University. I was introduced to Bridges during my sophomore year when I went on a week-long volunteer trip to Nicaragua. At the time, I had no idea what to expect, and was excited to be trying something so foreign to me. My group traveled to Siuna, where we worked alongside community members to complete a maternity hospital. This was my first service trip experience, and it completely changed my life. Seeing the intense poverty in Nicaragua was not the only thing that shocked me- experiencing the compassion, determination, and hardworking spirit of the people there was what made my trip so unforgettable.
After this trip, I became very involved with my school’s Bridges to Community Club. Our club organizes fundraisers, car washes, and silent auctions throughout the year to raise money for the trip, and each spring break we send around twenty students to Nicaragua. I was selected to be an officer of the club for my senior year, and went on my second service trip, this time to Masaya, this past March. This trip was very different from my previous one because now we were working to build houses instead of a hospital. Our group of eighteen was divided in half, and we completed two houses alongside the people of La Ceibita, a small, welcoming community in Masaya.
In addition to my work with Bridges to Community, I am also a tennis player and a runner. I have played varsity tennis for my school since my sophomore year, and joined the track team for the first time this spring. This fall, I’ll be going to college, and am planning to study International Development in order to continue in this field. I am very excited to be interning with Bridges this spring, and can’t wait to learn more about the amazing work done by this organization.
August 25th, 2015
As a college student, there is always an endless list of decisions that need to be made: what classes will I be taking this semester? How can I make sure none of them are earlier than 8am? What organizations do I want to be a part of? What do I want to be when I grow up?, etc. etc.
One decision, however, should be a no-brainer: What to do during your semester breaks. It’s a no-brainer because unlike the more typical spring break choices–mostly that include beaches, lounging, parties and not always the best decisions–alternative breaks have only positive outcomes. Plus, they allow you to step out of your comfort zone, experience something new, and make a real difference in the lives of those in need. That’s why we’re giving you our 10 Most Compelling Reasons for making a decision that will change your life.
1 Increase Understanding: There is no substitute in terms of understanding another person or group of people than actually going and living right alongside them. And studies support that, showing that service-learning alternative break programs “put human faces on previously abstract ideas, such as poverty,” which is something that could never happen in a classroom, no matter how good the professor is. A former Bridges to Community volunteer, Jack Chase, now a doctor, says of his experience: “I was impressed by the transforming power of going to Nicaragua. It opened me up to working with the international community. The experience truly shapes and changes you.”
2. Learn New Skills: You will learn a ton of new things–from how to mix cement to problem solving, critical thinking, and teamwork–the things that will really help you get ahead. Working on a team, challenging yourself, reflecting on your new experience–all of those things help you to grow as a person, and will be skills you can use back home, probably without even realizing you’re doing it!
3. Live Longer: Yes, it’s true. Volunteering in any form is good for your health. The Corporation for National and Community Service have done many reports on it, although you don’t really need a report to see the correlation. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to interact with different people, for a variety of backgrounds. It sharpens your social skills, places you in an environment where you’re helping others but also learning from them. The positive vibes that come from those types of experiences can only make you healthier–mentally and physically.
4. Change Someone’s Life Forever: This sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic are two of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Many of those living in rural areas, where Bridges to Community works, do not have access still to electricity or running water. Families struggle through the day with only $1-2 dollars to spend. Homes are frequently made of plastic, tin, and rotting wood. While these families maintain a positive outlook and work toward a better future, the projects that you will work on with them–building a new, sturdy home, repairing a school, reforesting the community, and more–will impact the community for generations.
5. Give Yourself a Sense of Direction: Many of the volunteers that have had an Alternative Break experience report that their career path became more clear, or changed, after the experience. As former volunteer Arjun Ponnambalam has said, “I can trace my current interests and professional aspirations to my Bridges to Community trips. They provided me direction over the long term and made a big impact at a very formative time in my life.” This makes a lot of sense. In school, sometimes classes can feel out of touch with real life. But actually diving into something real can make a lot of that stuff become more clear.
6. Your Future Employer Will Love it: There is no universe in which a typical Spring Break partying on a beach, or a winter break spent hanging out with your friends, is going to impress any future employer. It won’t even make it to your resume. But an alternative break trip will, and it is statistically proven that it can help you get a job–27% higher chance, in fact.
7. Develop Cultural Competence:Most professional fields today are globalized in some way–the employees are from different backgrounds and cultures, the clients are from different parts of the world, there are offices in various international cities, etc. Students who have done alternative breaks already have the international experience needed to excel in those environments. Spending a week living in a rural Dominican or Nicaraguan community will allow you the opportunity to engage with lots of different people, overcoming both language and cultural barriers.
8. Language Practice: Learning a different is not only a requirement for graduation at most colleges and universities, it’s also a really good idea. And even if the language you’re studying is not Spanish, just interacting with people outside of the comforts of speaking the same language, can be helpful in your language development and acquisition. Added bonus if you do take Spanish, because a week living in a spanish-speaking community can really help!
9. Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic are Beautiful: Do you like mountains? Do you like swimming in lakes? Do you like beaches? Are you intrigued by the idea of peering into an active volcano? Fan of chocolate? All of those things are possible in either Nicaragua or the DR. And all of Bridges to Community’s Alternative Break trips include a couple of days of exploring the country you’re in, being able to take in the sights and the natural beauty of a tropical country.
10. Take Advantage of the Opportunity Now: Here’s the thing: you are in the last few years of your life where the concept of “break” is even going to exist. Why not make the most of it? Yeah, it can be a scary thought to just step out of what you’re used to and do something totally unique, but that’s why it’s so fun and so rewarding and so transformative in the end. And you know how it is–it’s harder to do that kind of thing later. That’s why study abroad and alternative break programs exist–so that you can take advantage of them now, and have those experiences with you for a lifetime.
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August 17th, 2015
What makes service learning so great?
by Emily Fagan
You may have noticed this term popping up a lot recently. Do a Google search and you’ll find thousands of schools that now have some kind of service learning program. Search in News and you’ll see a plethora of articles about service learning trips both local and global. And don’t think this is just something happening on college campuses! Now, even elementary and middle schools, like the Public Purpose program at Rye Country Day School, have service learning incorporated into their curricula. The concept has also caught on with many adults, and recent research is showing that service learning can be highly beneficial for people of all ages. So, what is it about service learning that’s so great? And why has Bridges to Community been offering it to volunteers of all ages for over 20 years? Go no further in your search! I have done the research for you–I did some exploring, went on my own service learning trip, and have come up with a succinct list (just 10!–it was tough!) of the Top 10 Reasons that Service Learning is so (darn) great! Read on!
Let’s start with the best reason first: everybody wins. Not only is it a positive experience for volunteers, but it is positive for community members, too. Volunteers learn valuable life lessons, experience a new culture, explore a new place and meet new people. Community members benefit from the projects that they’ve chosen for their community that volunteers help with, they get to share their culture and traditions with volunteers, and they also get to learn from the experiences of people from a variety of different places and backgrounds.
#2 LEARN ABOUT ANOTHER CULTURE
Service learning is heavy on the exchange idea. It promotes cultural exchanges, not cultural sightseeing. Experience of culture is not limited to just the volunteers; it is not one sided. That is to say, people are interacting through song and dance, conversations, or a game of baseball. Cultures are being shared and mutually experienced. On Bridges trips, for example, volunteers participate in welcome ceremonies where local community members often perform for the volunteers and then invite them to join in the fun. On the flip side, volunteers present representations of their varied cultures that community members partake in. This type of exchange can be seen through a video of volunteers performing a Nicaraguan unofficial national anthem that they learned, and, on a lighter side, in a video of volunteers performing for Nicaraguans a representation of their culture–through the Backstreet Boys.
#3 WORK & PLAY
It is a great balance of work and play. There are plenty of hard work days, but volunteers also have the opportunity to explore their surroundings, learn about some of the history of the country by visiting various cities and towns and hearing from people who live there why those areas are important and special. Volunteers work in the mornings and afternoons in the beginning of the week and have a bit more free time towards the end of their stay. Depending on the community where the project takes place, Bridges volunteers have the opportunity to explore a variety of great places, like the Spanish colonial city of Granada, a fair trade coffee plantation in the mountainous north, the historical icons of the capital city, an active volcano, or a swim in a crater lake. With service learning, seeing these places is so much more meaningful because it has context–and not just tour book history context, but real let-me-tell-you-what-this-place-means-to-me context. Seeing places through the eyes of someone who has always cherished them and who understands their true value and history, is always better!
#4 POSITIVE–BUT SMALL–IMPACT
Volunteers keep their footprints tiny. You don’t want to be trudging into a community, using up all its resources, and then leaving it with nothing–or worse, leaving it with something that later amounts to nothing. Instead, volunteers live alongside the community members, eat the same food that they do, and don’t bring a lot of belongings in or out. Volunteers’ ecological footprints are small; everyone is respectful of the community–their traditions, their ways of doing things. It’s a learning experience, after all. Further, volunteers work on a project that the community actually wants and needs. Then, Bridges to Community works with the community to ensure that the projects meet their sustainability requirements and provide prolonged economic development. Just writing that out made me feel good! Actually doing it is even more magical.
#5 LIFE LESSONS
Volunteers learn valuable life lessons that cannot be taught in the walls of a classroom, but through experience. You can read all you would like to about the rewarding feelings you get when the beneficiary families step foot into their new home for the first time together with you, but until you experience it and see their lit-up faces, you’ll never truly understand the impact. You can read all you want about the sparkling water of Lake Nicaragua and the lush greenery of the mountains of Jinotega, but until you see it for yourself, you’d never understand the natural beauty. The value of teamwork, communication and hard work have been emphasized to me throughout schooling and sports teams growing up. But, I hadn’t felt the true importance and need for teamwork until working in Nicaragua. We’ve all heard the saying that there is no ‘I’ in TEAM, but in Nicaragua I truly felt like I was a part of a machine and that my part mattered.
#6 GOOD CHALLENGES – WORK
Volunteers are often challenged in new ways that allow for positive growth; the work is not always easy, but it is always fun! Volunteers are usually pushed out of their comfort zone and are challenged physically and mentally, having to approach situations and use tools they may have never seen before. Never before had I made and mixed cement from rocks, cement powder bags, water, and sand – until I went to Nicaragua. It was all so new to me: the “volcano” of dry mix that water is then poured into the center of and mixed around from the outside, in. The best approach is to jump right in – literally! Jump right into the 10′ x 10′ metal mixing pan and grab a shovel – and start helping. Mixing cement, laying cinderblocks, creating the rebar structures for the door and window frames, and using a trowel can all be so new (and perhaps intimidating). But, if you dive right in, embrace the challenges and view them as opportunities to learn and have fun, you will. At the end of the day, the work will still be so fun and rewarding!
#7 LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Each day can be seen as a new challenge and opportunity. You may face language challenges, communication challenges and more. Chances are you may not be fluent in Spanish (or even remotely proficient in my case), but I promise, you will survive! Prior to my trip to Nicaragua, I thought that my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language would be more of a barrier, but I quickly learned that there are so many ways to express what you are trying to say! It was a challenge, but hand gestures, motions and pictures can say so much. Yakov Smirnoff put it best: “Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection.” There is always someone who can help translate for you if need be, but embracing the opportunity to communicate in ways you might not normally is a fun way to leave your comfort zone and grow.
It’s so fun!!!!!!! Not only do service learning trips feel incredibly rewarding, but they’re so fun too. You’ll find humor in the little things day-to-day and will learn to soak up every bit that you can. Classroom learning and volunteer work can be serious, but service learning figures out how to make it fun and funny. Jokes will undoubtedly develop within your group, and I can guarantee something funny will happen every day – whether it’s the look on someone’s face when they’re covered in cement, someone’s reaction when they empty their boots of rocks at the end of the day, or someone falling into the cement pile. It’s bound to happen!
On my trip, we joked every day (perhaps it was overkill) about the mill shute of run-off water being a slide on the finca (farm) where we were staying in Jinotega. One afternoon, we returned to the finca to see some workers sliding down the shute and we bursted out laughing and smiled so wide. It was such a small thing that I can still laugh about today! Life doesn’t always have to be taken so seriously.
#9 BONUS: NEW AND CLOSER FRIENDS
Volunteers experience a sense of community with locals and fellow volunteers, alike. If you weren’t close with your fellow volunteers when embarking on a service learning trip, I can bet you will be close with them when it comes time to head home. You think you’re just going down to help a community and meet new community members, but in the end, you come back closer to those you went down with! There is a strong sense of pride, achievement, happiness, and closeness felt among fellow volunteers who have experienced the same amazing things with each other through service learning. Volunteers also experience community with the local community members who house them, work along side them, or just come by to say hi and play (the little kids). Everyone smiles and waves as you drive or walk by, and you feel welcome.
Everyone’s experience is different; no two trips are alike, which is a big reason why volunteers want to return again and again – I know I do! You can read more about my personal experience in Nicaragua through my blog posts . My experience was unique to me and my trip, and yours will be too! But all trips have one thing in common: they are all absolutely incredible. So, join us for a trip and see what I’m talking about! And that, my friends, is why service learning is so darn great!
July 14th, 2015
I had a great time on my service trip–now what???
After returning from a trip to Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic, it’s normal to feel lost. Your smile is forever wide as images and memories flood into your head, and perhaps no part of you wants to return to your normal daily life back at home. But what’s next? What can be done to not only preserve your memories, but keep the relationship with this incredible experience alive? The answer: a lot.
1. Make the change you want to see in this world. This may take some reflection; there was so much that you saw on your trip – so much to take in. But think about what really struck you, and what you would really want to see changed. Then, start taking small steps toward changing it. For example, you may have been appalled to learn that a country as biodiverse as Nicaragua is suffering from climate change. How can you change that? Well, you can start by planting trees – planting them anywhere, really! You can start a garden in your home so you’re not reliant on the chemically treated vegetables at the supermarket. You can write a letter to companies that you see are contributing to climate change and tell them to cut it out. You can make sure you only purchase products that meet your standards for alleviating climate change. See!? There’s so much you can do – and that’s just one issue!
2. Don’t lose touch! Being back at home does not mean in any way that Bridges is no longer an important part of your life! Keep in touch with fellow volunteers, community members, and Bridges staff members through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and keep tabs on current events and trips happening in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It’s an amazing feeling seeing a picture, or piece of writing that jogs a once-forgotten memory from your own experience.
3. Go again and again! Go as many times as you can; go with as many new and old faces as you can! Each time you embark on this journey you will gain something different that is valuable in its own unique way. Many volunteers have gone back and visited the same community for years while other ‘veteran’ volunteers opt to explore more of the country, spending time in many different communities that Bridges works with! There are now even different types of trips to explore, like Bricks and Birds, Fair Trade Trips, and Alternative Break!
4. Share your story with us…and everyone! Tell anyone and everyone about it. Write about your experiences, write about what you learned and what you gained. Talk about it, and share pictures from your journey. If people see how passionate and impacted you were by the places you went, the people you saw, and the work you did, others will be inspired to do the same. We can even help you – you can share your story on our website and we will share it with anyone interested in volunteering with Bridges! One voice can really make a movement
5. Volunteer locally – change can start in your own backyard! Working to make your own community a healthy, helpful, sustainable place to live is really the first step in making the whole world a better place. So, think locally!
6. Spread the Love! You can take the valuable life lessons you learned through service learning and apply them to life at home. The possibilities are endless if you set your mind to helping to change our world! Even having more patience with someone, lending a hand even when you’re busy, or taking the time to really listen, can go a long way in making the world a better place.
7. Fundraise for future projects! There’s always more work to be done–more projects to be funded! You can always be thinking ahead to the next adventure; planning local fundraising events is a great way to keep Bridges alive in your own life, make a difference in the lives of the community members you met, and get you thinking about the possibility of returning for another incredible experience or helping others to have a similar experience. You can even contact us for a list of items that you could help fundraise for that the community you stayed in might need!
8. Work your networks! Okay, we know you hear this all the time when looking for a job, or trying to fundraise for something, but you can also work your networks to make positive change. Think of the different groups, clubs, and organizations to which you belong that could be utilized to make change. For example, are you in the Girl Scouts, sit on the Chamber of Commerce, part of a country club or a fitness center, play on a sports team, part of a fraternity, a book club, a church or temple? All of those networks are made up of potential people to motivate and inspire with your experience and the changes you want to see happen! Talk to them, present your experience to them, start a group with them, join a cause with them, and get change happening!
9. Be a trailblazer! Don’t let graduating from school or moving to a new town discourage you. Organize your own Bridges trip! It’s easy and so many volunteers – from high schoolers to senior citizens – have made the leap! Check out how volunteer Marcus Cohn brought his love for Bridges with him from trips with his church to his school at Cornell!
10. Keep Exploring! Going to new places, meeting new people, and hearing new stories all help us understand each other and the world better. There’s always more to know, learn, and see! So, travel if you can, listen to people’s stories, experience different cultures, try new foods, and gain new perspective. And it doesn’t have to be far–you can learn so much just from the next city or state over. And remember, there’s no better time than now.
June 30th, 2015
Starting this May, we will be welcoming a group of fabulous interns! Among many other things, they will be bringing you their insights and reflections and keeping you updated on all things Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. They’ll be here during both spring and summer, so enjoy and stay tuned!
I’m Allison Herskovitz, a seventeen year old and incoming senior at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, NY. I’m excited to be interning at Bridges to Community because I’ve had such incredible experiences on their service trips, and hope that I can share that excitement with others.
I first learned about Bridges to Community in November of 2013 from a member of the Bedford Presbyterian Church. I was then invited to take the annual joint trip with the church and Temple Shaaray Tefila, for February of 2014. I came into the program not knowing anyone, or what to really expect from visiting an impoverished country for a week. I’ve now gone twice to Nicaragua and each time there was a group of around sixty of us, split into three different communities of about twenty, which were then cut in half so each team of ten could build a house. So if you do the math, a group of unskilled 14-18 year olds, were supposed to build six houses in a matter of 5 days. This of course sounded crazy to me, but sure enough, my trips to Jinotega and Las Conchitas were successful.
Outside of service trips with Bridges to Community, I’d like to consider myself a persistent athlete and artist. I’ve played soccer since I was four years old and was on my schools’ Varsity soccer team my freshman and sophomore year. I then decided I wanted to do something different, and became a cheerleader due to my background of gymnastics. In Nicaragua I had a chance to both play soccer and use some aspects of cheerleading with the kids. I’ve never seen such young kids be so good at soccer or be so willing to jump around and shout cheers. I also enjoy drawing, painting and photographing. This past February I was able to help paint a storage room for a school in Comejen. Many of the kids were helping to outline the design, and I was so amazed by the young artistic talent that may go unnoticed by the world. All the kids in Nicaragua had some astonishing talent, and I wish I could’ve shown them all off.
Each trip I took made me understand many life lessons, and allowed me to learn a lot about some cultures I would otherwise know nothing about. By volunteering this summer at BTC, I plan to use my skills to make people more aware of the program and inform them on what they may get out of such a wonderful experience. I will hopefully be able to assist and get information to all those who have a desire to support the communities and learn their struggles.
June 30th, 2015
Starting this May, we will be welcoming a group of fabulous interns! Among many other things, they will be bringing you their insights and reflections and keeping you updated on all things Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. They’ll be here during both spring and summer, so enjoy and stay tuned!
Andrea on a service trip to India in 2013.
Hello! My name is Andrea Zhinin and I’m currently a college student at Concordia College, NY. I’ll be graduating in May 2016 with a bachelors in Sociology. But before I go on about my future plans and goals in life…. let me tell you a little bit about myself. I was born on April 4, 1994 to Manuel and Maria Zhinin and raised in Peeksill, NY. I have three brothers, two sisters, two dogs, two cats, and two birds, so, yeah, you could say I live in a FULL HOUSE! But I wouldn’t have it any other way… I absolutely love my parents and family. My parents are my rocks and the most important people in my life. Even though my parents have been through so much in the last 20 years, I will continue to love, pray, and honor them.
My parents have taught us so much over the past 20 years. They have taught us the value of family, hard-work, honesty, determination and staying in touch with our Ecuadorian roots. Most importantly, they have and continue to teach us to become well-rounded and compassionate individuals. They always encourage us to have faith and follow our dreams. My parents also continue to teach us biblical principles such as helping the poor, always giving back to the communities, treating people with respect, and the list goes on and on. I’m really grateful and blessed to have such incredible parents.
After witnessing striking poverty in Ecuador, I felt like I had a major task in my life, which was to get involved and do something about it. That’s exactly what I did. In January of 2014, I decided to join forces with my local Catholic Church and begin a service project in Quito, Ecuador. We worked alongside Catholic pastors and locals to build a church and community center for the people. After experiencing this trip, I felt overjoyed and ecstatic to see families and children use this community center.
Moving forward, I decided to intern at Bridges to Community because this organization does a wonderful job in providing assistance, love, and support to vulnerable children and families living in poverty and hunger. This organization also gives them hope and an incentive that they matter and that they are relevant to society. I hope to make a lasting impact on everyone! One of my future goals is to start my own organization/foundation perhaps in Ecuador or other developing country because I believe that everyone, regardless of their social status,disability, gender, sex, religion, etc., deserves to live a happy and meaningful life!
June 22nd, 2015
By Scott Adelberg
Wow. My internship is coming to a close. I feel like it was just yesterday that I came to this organization, optimistic regarding what I would be able to accomplish and how I would be able to help. I have learned so much during this time period about the world of non-profits, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and myself. I have made memories and learned lessons that I will cherish.
A desk that I sat at to write my blog posts from. Click on the picture to check out all of the blog posts Emily and I wrote in The Intern Corner.
You may ask, “What really can a high school student learn in such a short time?”. The answer to that is easy. Working in an office is a start. For thirteen years I was in a classroom moving around each period and all of my work pretty much just impacted me. Now, I have had the opportunity to sit at a desk and produce materials that not only impact the people I am working for, but also all of my readers and the people that view my work on social media. Plus, with a little luck, some of my work will also inspire those who followed it to take action and continue the chain by impacting the lives of Dominicans and Nicaraguans. Then there is the non-profit factor, especially a smaller one. A non-profit does not always have the luxury of having full departments that handle each task, and so everybody has to do a little bit of everything in order for the whole organization to function efficiently and smoothly. It is so amazing watching everyone who works here because everyone is so dedicated to what they are doing. Everyone works hard on their own work and is always willing to help someone else out. It is clear that every individual in this office is truly amazing.
This is the cover image used for my blog post about the Nicaraguan Canal being constructed. Click on it to learn more!
You may also wonder, “If he worked in Ossining, how is he saying that he learned about countries like Nicaragua and the DR?”. Also an easy answer. One of the things that has been most rewarding for me is being able to pick the brains of everyone who works at the Bridges office. Each and every individual is so knowledgable about a myriad of topics, and we get to discuss those all of the time. Take Christine Goffredo, for example. She used to be a Site Coordinator in Nindiri, Nicaragua, and now she is the Communications and Volunteer Coordinator here in New York. And my supervisor. I have learned so many random, but fascinating facts about Central America from her. Did you know that Nicaragua used to have a train system, but they sold the tracks to help boost the economy and no longer have one? Or how about that Panama is the first Central American country to have a metro system? And those are only a select few facts that I have learned from others in the office. I have also learned so much just because I am writing these blog posts. No, I did not know anything about a Nicaraguan Canal or Economic Development before I started working here. Every day I receive Google Alerts about the top news in both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. From these, I pick interesting topics to then investigate further and write about.
This is one of the photographs I created that was posted to the Bridges Facebook account. Click the picture to view Bridges on Facebook!
“I would never ask what you learned about yourself. I am sure you discovered that it is harder to do real work and that life is no longer just about yourself!” Sure, those might be things that I learned, but I got so much more personally out of this internship. I had the opportunity to do something things that I did not think I would for years. I listen to all of my friends talk about their internships and how they have done a lot of filing, copying and other ‘intern’ tasks. I consider myself so lucky, because I have been able to do more than that, and really learn from the experience. Whether it be learning about the video making process on a more technical level, or how to better attract readers to a blog post, being able to learn from the experiences of everyone else at Bridges to Community has certainly helped me to grow as a worker and in the fields I hope to one day be a part of. Then there is the goal that I set at the beginning: smiles. I wrote in my first blog post that I really wanted to be able to help out the people of Nicaragua and the DR and put more smiles on more faces. I believe that after having had this opportunity, I have been able to do that by helping Bridges get more attention and helping spread the word about the organization and its goals.
During this time period, Emily and I have been able to do so much for both ourselves and Bridges to Community. Together, we have created more than one hundred images to be used on social media, over twenty blog posts to be published on the website, created a video about economic development, worked on creating an Instagram photo contest, and so much more. I would like to thank everyone here at the office for everything they have done for me and helped me with during my internship, and everyone at home for following my work. If you get anything from what I have done, I hope that it is how meaningful both my trip to Nicaragua and my internship in New York have been, and that you try to keep creating smiles like I have tried to do!