Volunteering with Bridges: A Family Affair

Megan & Harry with nephews Rohan McCarthy & Aidan Mockenhaupt on their most recent Bridges trip to the DR in 2019

Megan McCarthy and her brother-in-law Harry Sober have been on six Bridges trips. They were so impacted by their first experience on a trip to Nicaragua in 2011 that they decided to take all of their nieces and nephews with them when they turn 15. They have traveled with eight of their nieces and nephews since then.

Harry says, “[On our] first trip in 2011, we helped build a school library in the community of Masaya…I liked the hard work and meeting the people in the community. At the dedication [ceremony], we walked about 200 yards down a dirt road to get to the library we had been working on all week. The road was lined with all of the school kids dressed in their blue and white school uniforms and they were waving at us and high fiving us as we approached the [building]. During the ceremony, we were each given a scroll made by one of the children at the school, thanking us for building the library. It was extremely rewarding to see how excited the children were.”

Niece Brennen McCarthy & nephew Colin McCarthy with Harry & Megan in 2015.

Megan says, “The first time I went on a Bridges trip to Nicaragua, I was older in life. It was my first experience doing anything like that and it helped me to [better] understand the situation of community members [in developing countries]. You learn to appreciate how difficult the basics of life are for people [in developing countries]. We take all of those things for granted, they seem so simple to us, but learning how people [in the communities] survive with a lack of water, for example, teaches you about the hardships [they] face.”

Amazed by the resourcefulness of our partner community members and what they learned from them, Megan and Harry wanted to take their nieces and nephews with them on future Bridges trips to educate them too. They have taken at least one niece or nephew on each subsequent trip they have made. 

Megan adds, “We hope the experience expands their minds outside of what they see and experience on a daily basis. [Our nieces and nephews] live in a nice area of Virginia where they receive a good, free education and have lots of opportunities. They haven’t struggled for anything. We wanted to change their perspective.

Kira McCarthy & Hannah Mockenhaupt with Harry and Megan in 2018.

I love the reflections at night [on the Bridges trip] and hearing my nieces and nephews [react] to the experience. On a trip to the DR, my niece Hannah Mockenhaupt was observing out the window as we drove through the towns and countryside to get to the community. In a reflection, she talked about how she was amazed that the children had no “real” toys but made toys out of old tires or whatever materials they could find. She realized that happiness does not necessarily come from wealth but from relationships.”

Harry agrees, saying, “The experience has been very beneficial to our nieces and nephews. What I have found is that they become much more of a leader when they return and have a newfound appreciation for what they have. Each niece and nephew makes a presentation to the entire extended family on the experience after returning, and I have seen that each one has started being more helpful with family and friends. Several have written papers at school on their experience and started volunteering in their communities. 

Harry, niece Keiley McCarthy, & Megan in 2014

The first niece to accompany us on a Bridges trip, Keiley McCarthy, is a great example. Before going on the trip, she was quiet and reserved. Upon return, she became an outgoing leader on her soccer team and started volunteering with her high school with special-needs children. 

On that trip with Keiley, the Nicaraguan family we were building for joined us for dinner and we had the chance to talk to them about their life and how hard they work to support their kids. The biggest realization for Keiley came when the family was asked where they went when they went on vacation. The family said their vacations were getting up early on a Sunday, packing a big lunch for the family, and going to the local park with the kids. Keiley had a moment where she recognized and became aware of what other people don’t have that she has.”

Megan hopes that the Bridges experience will help her nieces and nephews think differently about the conversations taking place about immigration in the U.S. It certainly has changed Megan’s perspective. As a high school math teacher, Megan began teaching an Algebra 1 class for non-English speakers three years ago. Most of her students come from Central and South America and Megan credits the Bridges experience with helping her recognize and support them through some of the obstacles they face. She says, “The Bridges experience has helped to put my mind in the right place to teach that class and help those students who are new to the country. It has affected my perspective and helped me reach out to and support my students in a better way.” 

Riley McCarthy with Harry & Megan in 2017

Harry is continually impressed by the community spirit in the Bridges partner communities. He says, “It is just amazing how the families we build for are right there helping us carry the buckets and mix cement right alongside us. They are so grateful. I also love seeing how the community comes together at the goodbye ceremonies as well. You can tell they have such a good relationship among themselves.”

As a veteran volunteer, Megan has seen the impact that Bridges to Community has in the communities she has visited. She says, “The Bridges model is fascinating because it is set up to feed on itself, to truly grow a community. It’s not just building a house and giving it to someone. It’s cultivating community leadership and families paying a small mortgage into a community fund so that the funds can feed off themselves as the community gives loans or takes care of other needs itself when Bridges leaves the community. It’s brilliant because it’s designed to create growth and leaves a community with the capacity to flourish.”

Megan and Harry are very excited for their next trip this year. They will travel with Bridges to the Dominican Republic and accompany their niece, Grace, and Harry’s grandson, Ashton. Harry says, “I really enjoy being with my nieces and nephews; it is such a bonding experience with my family.” Megan agrees and says, “I love everything about the experience and getting to share that with my nieces and nephews.”