Our suitcases have long been unpacked, and we’ve had ample time to catch up on sleep, but I don’t think of any of the 2019 April BRIDGE trip team will ever forget our adventure. It was quite the prospect: 15 selfless teens giving up their Spring Break to go with 5 very patient and flexible adults down to rural North Carolina to work on service projects for low-income community members. We saw it all: dusty PVC pipe, splintering wood, BUGS, horses, a cattle drive, a real-live cave, and even the legendary Krispy Kreme! It all started long before April though, with lots of planning and fundraising.
BRIDGE trips have been a St. Stephen’s tradition for 5 years now, and this year teens had the option of a college -tour trip during February break, or a service trip in April. Some teens even did both! In order to raise the money to fund the trip, teens sold boxes and boxes of candy bars, spread the word about a gofundme page, made and sold dog treats, and got up early one Sunday to do a soup fundraiser at a partner church. They worked very hard, making time in their busy schedules to make this trip a reality. We were also very fortunate to get a grant from Quest Adventures! As the fundraising happened, the whole team also met weekly for bonding, planning and researching the area we would be visiting. On the last meeting before the trip, we channeled our creative sides and made some awesome tie-dyed trip shirts!
The time finally came to fly down to North Carolina, and it was quite a journey. From bus, to shuttle, to plane, to rental van, our crew patiently trekked southward. We settled into the rural Air BnB we would be living in and looked out across the amazing landscape. One teen mentioned how amazing it was to see so much of the sky and stars. I was in awe of how far out you could look, viewing the flowers, rolling grassy hills, and even the blue mountains in the distance. While enjoying this bucolic paradise, our team did a lot of hard work for the local community. On the first day, we cleaned and organized a warehouse of second-hand housing materials that would become a discount store. It would soon open for community members to buy materials to repair their houses at an affordable price. We worked so quickly - moving large amounts of wood, organizing PVC pipe, cleaning up dust and throwing out trash - that the site manager started running out of things for us to do. He didn’t expect us to do so much, so quickly! The second day we helped clean out the house of a woman who had been a hoarder for years. I have never been so impressed by teens. The work was downright disgusting, but they worked diligently and selflessly to give the woman there a healthier living space. They did what even many adults wouldn’t be able to do. On the final day of service, we visited the farm of two elderly women and helped with a variety of chores and projects.
In between all the hard work, we made sure to have some fun and learn about where we were. We visited Mars Hill University, the alma mater of one of our staff chaperones, and current home to Dede, an SSYP alum who was inspired to go there after going on the BRIDGE trip herself last year! One day, we visited Glory Ridge, a beautiful camp where past BRIDGE teams have stayed, and had a very exciting water gun battle. Another afternoon, some of our local friends brought us to a secret cave! Throughout the week, we also made sure to keep spirits high with lots of good food and milkshakes, and on our last day we visited Krispy Kreme (after burning a lot of calories at Skyzone.) It was an amazing time, and I think we all grew in strength and confidence. Teens who had confided before the trip that they were nervous about the way we would feel about them after living with them for a week, were able to feel the love by the end. Teens who tried to persuade me they couldn’t cook were seen casually flipping burgers. Challenges and fearful situations were faced daily, from climbing ladders, to being around big dogs. Even I gained skill and confidence doing something I never pictured myself doing - driving a van up narrow, curvy mountain roads (some of which were just made of dirt!) All in all, the trip was a success. There were challenges and things we could learn from for next year, but our main goal was accomplished - our amazing young people saw another part of the country, and grew in maturity, confidence, strength and joy.
By Jennie Bruno, JCIT Coordinator, Massachusetts Promise Fellow