Bridget Walde’s first interaction with NPH came well before she ever decided to become a volunteer.
The St. Paul, Minnesota native had the opportunity to visit the NPH Nicaragua home on two occasions while in high school and college, an experience that “opened up my eyes to global thinking,” as she recounts. Years later, after graduating from St. Louis University with a master’s degree in public health —she was a triple major as an undergraduate student at the same school, where she studied public health, international studies, and Spanish—Bridget, now 24, applied to come back to NPH.
This time, however, she would end up at Casa San Andrés at NPH Guatemala, where she currently serves as the Vocational Trainer. For Bridget, the prospect of working with children was initially what compelled her to volunteer with NPH. Her concentration during her graduate studies was maternal and childhood health, she says, so it made sense to continue pursuing these interests in a practical application.
“As I was thinking about my next steps after my graduate studies, NPH was always in the back of my mind. I remembered my experiences visiting the NPH Nicaragua home, and I knew I wanted to give back and be part of the NPH family,” Bridget says.
Bridget arrived in the summer of 2018 and initially served as the Special Needs House Volunteer before transitioning to her new role as Vocational Trainer. In this role, she supports teens and adults with disabilities in their areas of work and helps them improve their job-related skills. Her recent decision to extend her volunteer contract by six months was partially motivated by a desire to spend at least one year in the Vocational Trainer role.
“I felt that if I didn’t stay for at least a year in the role, I wouldn’t be able to do all that I want to accomplish with my time here. The teens and adults I work with have really captured my heart, and I knew that I wanted to give them the best support I could. I could do that by staying in the role for a full year,” she says.
She admits there are challenging aspects to her work, including what she describes as a misconception regarding the role of individuals with disabilities in the workplace and elsewhere—a reality that has led her to advocate for a better understanding of differently abled people and the contributions they make.
“The thing I love most about my job is fighting for and seeing the inclusion of people with disabilities in the everyday life of NPH,” Bridget says. “Helping my cases reach their goals and be more independent is the most fulfilling and uplifting part of the job. There is something so special about the smiles you get from someone who is making progress or reaching their goal.”
“Whether it is a girl helping out with cleaning in our cafeteria, or a boy greeting the employees of NPH every morning as part of our Welcoming Committee, these types of inclusion help break down misconceptions about people with disabilities in the workforce. Just like anyone else, these people want to be included, and they have so much to offer. It makes me happy that I can work on this within NPH Guatemala.”
Bridget has also accepted the responsibility of Volunteer Coordinator while that employee is away on maternity leave. Bridget is not fazed by her new responsibility, however, saying her experience and tenure as a volunteer lends her “perspective on the volunteer community” that will aid her in the role. She is excited to take on the additional responsibility.
As for the future, Bridget is undecided about what kind of job she will look for. One thing she is sure of is the location: she says she wants to return home to Minnesota to be close to her family.
“Technology has helped us stay in touch during my volunteer year,” she says. “But after spending a year and a half abroad, I’d like to be near my family and friends when I go back.”