Emily Holtzman became involved with Bridges during her college years at William and Mary. Her sophomore year, she traveled with Bridges for the first time to Nindirí, Nicaragua and it set off her passion for Bridges’ work. She loved the chance to establish connections with the community members and make a sustainable impact as she stepped out of her comfort zone. Emily says, “It’s such a step out of your comfort zone, especially the first time you go on the trip…the community members are the most welcoming people that I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing.
My first trip, the moment that stood out to me was when we were wrapping up and saying goodbye at the dedication ceremony. I just looked around and realized the substantial impact that our work had on the lives of so many people. With Bridges, it’s all about creating sustainable impact, from the housing project to the scholarship students to the community fund. And we got to spend days getting to know these people and making personal connections. It was so emotional and such a mutually beneficial experience. Everyone at that goodbye ceremony took something from the experience, whether a volunteer impacted by the week or a community member [benefitting from Bridges’ programs].”
Upon returning from that first trip, Emily immediately involved herself further in Bridges’ work. She took over the role of organizing and leading the trip with Bridges, interviewing and creating teams of students to travel with Bridges at her university for the next two years. On her next trips to Nicaragua with Bridges, Emily had the chance to visit the previous year’s beneficiary family and was delighted to see the progress made in the communities. She says, “Going back to visit the families from previous years and…seeing the community members we connected with, it’s amazing because you can see the progress the community has made. Bridges’ model is incredible: it’s not just going in, choosing a family, building a house, and leaving. The scholarships, community fund [and other projects create progress]…In my 3 years of trips, I saw the tangible effects in the community. And the work is empowering because it’s a cooperative effort [with the community]…which makes for sustainable and impactful development.”
Emily graduated from William and Mary in 2018 and is currently working in public relations in Washington D.C. To this day, she continues to reflect on the impact that Bridges has had on her life. She says, “I see the impact that Bridges has had a humongous impact on both myself and others. It has changed the way I think. I think I have a greater understanding now of other cultures and specifically of development work. I have had opportunities to do work that I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t traveled with Bridges. The experience sparked my passion for international development and an understanding of other cultures. That has stuck with me and will always stick with me.”
As Emily plans her future, she credits her interests and tentative plans to Bridges. She says, “I would like to do international work, and Bridges inspired that. Bridges also particularly piqued my interest in international education because of the scholarship program.”
Happy International Women’s Day!