Bridges to Community’s mission is to build a more just and sustainable world through service learning and community development by engaging volunteers to work in developing countries—building community and changing lives.
Founded in 1992, Bridges to Community (EIN: 13-3731405) develops poverty alleviation strategies with local communities in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Within selected regions of the two countries, Bridges works closely with community leaders to help mitigate poverty in four distinct, but overlapping, program areas: health, education, housing and economic development. All their program areas are driven by volunteer participation that incorporates service learning into the volunteers’ on-the-ground experience.
How Their Partner Communities are Selected
The selection of the communities is determined through an open process that takes into consideration the needs, goals and interests of the community. Three considerations must be met before Bridges can consider moving forward: the community has the highest level of need, its requirements fall within the BTC program areas and it has a clear leadership structure with resident participation and commitment. Once a community is selected, they begin a year-long assessment period that includes leadership training, workshops, community surveys and interviews that help us create a long-term plan with the community. Bridges then assists the community during the program implementation period to ensure that the whole community is informed and involved. Finally, when the long-term plan is near completion, Bridges helps the community plan for, and develop, ways to continue sustainable growth. Community meetings consist of all community members meeting to discuss overall needs. Then they break into men, women and youth, so they can provide forums where it is easier for people to feel they can speak frankly. They then review for contrast and bring the findings back to the whole community for overall buy in.
Once a five year plan has been finalized they incorporate North American volunteers into the execution of it. Volunteers can range from high school aged to senior citizens and can participate projects depending upon the need for skilled or unskilled volunteer labor. When not working directly on the project volunteers are immersed in cultural exchange and group exercises that help them understand what they are experiencing. This service learning component educates and transforms participants to be more aware of the connections they all share and the ways they can all change their lives for the better. The goal being they return to their home communities with the desire to continue their community service as an on-going part of their daily lives.
Not surprisingly, the need far exceeds their current ability to help these communities. The Bridges reputation has grown strongly within both countries and they currently have a waiting list of communities requesting their assistance.