Roger Sitkins first traveled to Masaya, Nicaragua with Bridges 13 years ago. He became involved through Mark Rollins, a colleague and current Bridges to Community Board Member. Mark delivered a presentation on the Bridges trip at one of Roger’s client events. There was not a dry eye in the audience when he finished, and Roger said, “That’s it. We have to go. So we put together a group and invited a bunch of clients.”
Roger’s first trip was incredibly impactful. He says, “I had seen the pictures, so I thought I knew what to expect. However, the pictures are just a snapshot, and when you are there and see it as the reality that the people live every day. We went into the village and met with the community leaders. It was incredible the pride and excitement they had about what they were doing.
We pulled up into the school area at Las Conchitas and kids were running around. One of them was wearing rubber gloves for shoes. We couldn’t believe it. I also remember there was a moment where we asked the masons about their future, and they didn’t understand the question. It was a wake-up call; they live day-to-day, not having a concept of the future. In spite of this, there were so many unbelievably happy, smiling faces and absolute pride of the people as they served us soda and cake and shared their work in the community.
Emotionally I was totally destroyed when I went back to the U.S. after that first trip. I couldn’t process what I had seen and experienced. It was a whole new chapter of my life. When I got home to Fort Myers, I was talking to my wife about what I had experienced, and I couldn’t finish a sentence without starting to cry; it was so emotional. The whole trip changed my perspective on everything.”
Roger has been on so many Bridges trips since then that he has lost count. On one of his most recent trips, he was building in a community where the majority of families were single-mother households. At the house dedication, Roger was affected deeply. Roger explains, “A family showed up with a young boy in a wheelchair. My father became a quadriplegic when I was in high school, and I went over to talk to the family. We found out the boy was left barely functioning after he contracted meningitis and that the family couldn’t afford his medication. In spite of it all, the boy was smiling and shook my hand. Then we found out that his family’s home was the next house identified by community leaders to be built. I tear up every time I think about this. The boy’s name was Alexander, which was my father’s middle name.” Roger generously donated to sponsor a house when he returned to the U.S. and Alexander’s received a safe and sturdy home.
Roger feels personally changed by his experiences with Bridges. He says, “Bridges made me a much better person, and I don’t take as many things for granted. I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for how blessed I am…No matter how tough things are in my life, I always remember that I still have it better than most people. I just happened to be lucky that I was born here, and the community members were born there…I don’t take for granted all of those things that we as Americans take for granted on a day-to-day basis.”
Perhaps one of Roger’s most thought-provoking moments on a Bridges trip occurred during a discussion of a mini-essay on what it is like to be poor. Roger says, “It was so deep, and I had never thought that deep before. I asked, ‘How can we impact the world? How can we make this poverty go away? And the answer was you alone can’t change the world…80% of the world lives in poverty like this or worse. It’s overwhelming. However, if you change one person, you change the world. We knew we were helping one family at a time. Though we can’t change them all, family by family Bridges is changing the world.”
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