Bridges to Community’s 2020 Virtual Leadership Event will honor a group of seven young people who are stellar examples of passionate, service-oriented future leaders.
From Bronxville, NY, Katie Toal is one of our incredible honorees. She has been on three Bridges service trips and has been immensely impacted by the experience.
Katie became involved with Bridges through her high school in Bronxville. She says, “Jim Agnello, one of the guidance counselors, had started a club at the school where we raised funds to travel to Nicaragua with Bridges to Community. I joined the club my freshman year and helped raise funds even though I couldn’t go on the trip that year. In my sophomore year, I became co-president of the club and traveled to Nicaragua with Bridges for the first time.
That first trip surprised me. I had never before seen the level of poverty I saw in the community. All the [community members] made an effort to get to know us and to communicate in any way they could. Whether it was blowing bubbles with the kids, playing soccer with the older children, or just hanging out with the cooks, everybody made an effort to get to know each other, even though we didn’t speak the same language.
The people that I met and bonded with were what made me want to keep volunteering with Bridges. I even started taking Spanish classes in high school to be able to connect with the community members in a more meaningful way.
Because all of my [Bridges trips] were to the community of El Portillo, Nindirí, I was able to see the long-term impact that Bridges has in a community. I saw the impact of the school that Bridges built and how it became the social center of the community. I saw how a family’s life could change so completely having a stable home. When I returned my second year, I visited the family we had built a home for on my first trip. They built up the house, added their own touches, and took so much pride in the house.”
Her experiences in Nicaragua inspired Katie to continue her leadership with her high school Bridges club. Beth Agarabi, Bronxville High School teacher and Bridges trip chaperone, says, “Katie Toal is an incredible human being. She single-handedly organized our club, ensuring that we had attendees for our fundraisers. In Nicaragua, she tirelessly devoted her time, energy, and soul to help everybody. It was an inspiration then and now to see someone so young with so much promise donate her heart so willingly. ”
Katie carries her Bridges experiences with her throughout her life. She says, “Growing up in Bronxville, NY, a relatively homogenous and well-off community, it was important me to see a different community and a different way of life. I wasn’t even aware of the level of difference that is out there in the world. It was essential to gain perspective and to help to improve others’ lives, if even in a small way.
Traveling to Nicaragua with Bridges transformed my outlook on life and how lucky I am. There have been moments in my life where it seemed really bad, and I have literally paused and thought, I’m so lucky to be where I am. During my senior year of high school, I lost vision in one of my eyes. I remember turning to my mom and saying that I was thinking about all of the people I had met in Nicaragua, and, no matter what happened, I was going to be okay. Thankfully, my vision came back, but due to my experiences with Bridges, I don’t lose perspective in tough and scary situations like that. I was also an EMT in college, and my experience helped me to remain calm. It all started with the perspective I gained from going on Bridges trips.”
Lauren Toal, Katie’s mother, says, “Bridges to Community had a profound effect on Katie’s life. Katie gained tremendous perspective, and even though the people she met in Nicaragua seemed poor by our standards, she was inspired by the richness of their relationships and connection to community. Bridges to Community runs an excellent program that changes lives, inspires volunteers, and expands perspective to kindness and global thinking. ”
After high school, Katie attended Dartmouth College and graduated with a major in Neuroscience and a minor in Film and Media Studies. She is currently working in New York City as a Healthcare Consultant and studying for medical school. She hopes to go into pediatrics, endocrinology, or oncology.