Kathleen Stewart: “Empowering People to Help Themselves is so Important”

Our most recently built house in Nindirí, Nicaragua in October 2018.

Kathleen Stewart and her family are believers in Bridges’ programs. As loyal donors, she and her husband Ian first became involved with Bridges through their children. Kathleen’s oldest son was a junior when he went on a Bridges trip with Fox Lane High School in 2005. He had a wonderful experience, so Kathleen decided to go. She traveled twice with Bridges, once with just her son in 2007, and later with the whole family in 2009. Her experiences on those trips have motivated her and her family to support Bridges’ projects.

Kathleen’s impressions of her first trip many years ago have left her impacted to this day. She says, “It surprised me when we got off the plane and started driving in Managua…the real poverty that exists just really hit me. However, the people for whom we were building and the community itself was so happy. We come from such a consumerist society, but on the trips, it is easy to see you don’t need a lot of stuff to have a happy life. Nicaraguans were the kindest, most welcoming people and we felt like part of a team working with them. I really liked that Bridges stressed that we are working together, not just doing this for them. The communities are responsible for themselves and have to participate in the process.”

Kathleen returned for a second trip with her husband, sons Connor and Ian, and daughter Mackenzie. Kathleen says, “it was a bonding experience we will never forget…that experience was life-changing.” Service to others has always been a part of Kathleen’s upbringing and family culture; she has always impressed upon her children the value of doing for others and respecting others. However, the Bridges trip exemplified that for her children. Kathleen says, “The trips impacted my children in terms of how they treat people. It solidified the idea that all people work hard, and confirmed what we had taught them: to respect all people no matter their socioeconomic background, and to appreciate the hard work that people do… My kids enjoyed the physical labor and learned the lesson of being able to work with the community members and all kinds of people, appreciating what each person has to offer. My children also learned that they have a duty to help other people. My daughter is a great example of this. She is a nurse in Pittsburgh and has volunteered at many clinics.”

Kathleen and Ian continue to financially support the organization because of the demonstrated importance and need in each program area, as well as the Bridges philosophy. Kathleen says, “The idea of not giving a handout, of empowering people to be in charge of themselves, of helping them to be independent, is so important. It’s a lot like a parent’s philosophy with their children. I like the approach of ‘We are here to help, but we will work with you’ because people are up to the challenge and they take pride in it. It’s the overall concept of helping people to help themselves that Bridges incorporates so well.”

Like Kathleen and Ian, you can make an impact on more than 5000 Dominicans and Nicaraguans this year. Please consider us in your year-end giving and bring true joy and happiness this holiday season.