Sam Barnett: 2020 Leadership Dinner Honoree Highlight

On April 23rd, Bridges to Community will honor a group of seven young people who are stellar examples of passionate, service-oriented future leaders at our 2020 Virtual Leadership Event.

From Armonk, NY, Samuel Barnett is one of our incredible honorees. He has been on three Bridges service trips, and his experiences continue to inform his world view as a young adult.

Sam and his family became involved with Bridges through their temple, Temple Shaaray Tefila, and his parents and sister have been on at least two Bridges service trips each. When Sam went on his first trip, he had already heard a great deal about the experience from his father and sister. He says, “I thought I was prepared for what I would experience, but I was actually wildly unprepared. There is not much that can prepare you for entering an environment with an unfamiliar perspective, and being embraced by a community the likes of which I had never experienced before.

The potency was anything but dampened by hearing about the experience from my family. I remember being in awe of everything I saw and was a part of.

We worked on the construction of a school in Las Conchitas, Masaya, Nicaragua. When we pulled up to the school [for the first time], we saw hundreds of people, children, parents, teachers, and students, greeting us. It was heart-warming to be instantly welcomed. The warmth and the embrace from the people were palpable.”

Sam’s second Bridges trip was to Jinotega, Nicaragua, in the heart of the coffee-growing region of the country. Most community members make their living working within the coffee system, and Sam visited a coffee plantation on his trip. He says, “It was very disheartening to see the juxtaposition between the humanity and dignity of the pure, wonderful, loving people we were working with and the structural flaws of the unfair coffee system they work in.”

For Sam, the relationships he built while on his service trips were integral to his experience. He says, “The Bridges projects are a vehicle to building relationships. It wasn’t so much about the work we were doing, but the relationships that we created that [were important]. Bridges is unique because it builds dignity, kindness, and bridges among people. Those connections, relating to people and connecting on a very personal level, drive you to continue volunteering.

For families [like mine] and communities like my temple, the Bridges experience builds rapport and mutual understanding. It has brought us together and established a common purpose. The experience provides a way for communities to think about their place in the world, how they act, and how they should treat each other.”

Sam has grown immensely through his Bridges experiences. He says, “The goal is to help other people, but the rewards I reaped were tremendous: the warmth of heart, insight, and perspective. I believe we have an obligation to come home and take what we have learned and apply it to our daily lives. In that way, the Bridges experience can have an enormous impact on how we relate to other people and think about global challenges.”

Sam has undoubtedly taken his Bridges experience to heart and applied it to his life in the United States. Adam and Liz Barnett, Sam’s parents, say, “Bridges had a tremendous impact on Sam’s appreciation for people from different life circumstances, something that has stayed with him over the years.”

Sam explains, “In the short-term, when I returned to the U.S. and went back to school after a Bridges trip, I was shell-shocked. While the world moved on, and I still had homework to do, I realized there are people beyond my immediate horizon with families and livelihoods who face issues like poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity. I had to reconcile those things.

I always knew that I wanted to work on international foreign policy and security issues. The Bridges trips gave me the most significant perspective on the people who are on the receiving end of U.S. foreign policy. I am currently a Research Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign policy think tank. I work on U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy. Bridges has provided me with a frame of reference in my work so that I have real people in the back of my mind, not just statistics or data points. It’s hard to think that my perspective would be as informed or considerate to other non-Americans if I hadn’t had the Bridges experience. The trips are a critical dissidence against apathy and ignorance, against not caring or not being considerate about how what you do impacts the bigger picture.”

Sam wants to pursue a career in public service, working on foreign policy and security challenges for the U.S. government.

Rabbi Jason Nevarez, one of Sam’s trip leaders, says, “I have always known Sam as a leader – he walks the talk. Through his intellect, his humor, and his kind soul, he models being a change agent by interacting with those around him in deep and meaningful ways. On our trips, he demonstrated kindness, compassion, and integrity while working alongside peers and community members. He was, and remains, a leader in so many ways.”