Pam Michels and Steven Rosenblatt, Bridges Trip Class of 2014, have been on 4 and 5 Bridges trips, respectively. After their first Bridges trip, both were hooked.
When Pam went on her first Bridges trip, it was “a personal transition year” for her. She was preparing to leave work after getting a buyout from her company and was in the process of selling her house. Pam says, “We went to the Dominican Republic that year with Bridges, and it was so incredible and helpful for me personally. Spending that week with the difficult conditions and hard work on the construction project- we were building the Youth Center in Derrumbadero- was so personally restorative and affirming. I saw that I could work hard and do what needed to be done in community, and, when I left, I knew that I could do what I had to do in my life back home [in the US] as well.
The trip itself was so lovely. It was such a sweet place, and everyone was so nice and happy. The masons were so confident and sweet to us throughout the construction process. It was hard but good work. It gave me a new respect for the people who live there and have such loving relationships.”
Steve concurs. He says, “The people are extraordinary: the local construction team, the community members. They all work so hard, and it is such a warm and spiritual kind of experience to share with them. It’s not an experience that’s easy to have in your normal life; it’s so from the heart. I like everything about the Bridges trip…. I like the idea of traveling to a place I had never been to before, meeting the community members, getting to know my fellow volunteers…spending time together with friends. I like the hands-on experience.” Pam agrees. She says, “Doing hands-on work is important, and it’s a chance to be an active participant.”
The following year, they returned to the Dominican Republic and, as it was a massive, two-year project, the group worked on the Youth Center in Derrumbadero again. Pam loved the opportunity to return and see the progress made, and especially to see the community engagement and ownership over the process. She says, “The community was so heavily engaged. Community members were hard at work on the project. All ages came out to work on the plastic bottles. I remember that one of the young boys would supervise you on the bottles. If you weren’t doing it right, he would come over and help you. It was incredible how everyone came together.”
Both Pam and Steve agree their Bridges trips have heavily impacted them. Steve says, “I worked for 34 years as a Business Executive at IBM and traveled all over the world for work, but that experience is so different from the Bridges experience…On my first trip, it surprised me how basic the living situation was: the bucket showers outdoors, how very rural the countryside is. Despite having traveled so much in my life, I had never been to a community that rural, poor or isolated. It made quite an impression. For me, it became an adventure because when you only have to live there for five days, it’s easy to adapt, but it opened my eyes to the contrast between the way I live in the US and the way that people in the DR or Nicaragua live. You can read about it in the newspaper, but going there, living in that environment with minimal resources, basic conditions, and food, it’s a very personal experience. It opened my eyes to how much I have.
I unquestionably bring back this new perspective to my life in the US, and this understanding of how many lovely, wonderful people scrape by but live in poverty and are still able to keep a sense of joy, love, and community. When I get down on anything, I always think about the Bridges experience and remember how many people in this world live, and it sobers me up a bit and gives me perspective.” Pam adds, “It’s the most worthwhile thing to do. That week on a Bridges trip generally grounds me. When I return, I worry less about the silly stuff.”
Each year, Pam and Steve look forward to the Bridges trip and to seeing their fellow volunteers. Steve says, “You get to know these other people as you are doing the hard work with the cement and the bricks. You form friendships and share a lot of laughs. We still keep in touch with everyone from the trips and each year we look forward to going there and spending time with our friends and meeting more new friends…The people who volunteer with Bridges are such high-quality people. It is a pleasure and joy to work with them and try to add a little bit on an individual level to the work and purpose of Bridges. It’s a wonderful organization filled with good people doing good things. We hope to continue to do this for years to come.”
They are looking forward to attending the 2019 Leadership Dinner Reunion Celebration and sharing with friends and fellow volunteers who have been impacted by the Bridges experience.