Bridges to the Dominican Republic: May, 2011

Participant Reflections 

This trip was not a vacation, but at the same time it was the most amazing vacation I have ever had the privilege to go on. It has been a life altering experience, where I can say, with confidence; I am now a better person because of the two weeks spent at La Cuchila. I did not realize a community can be so wealthy in love and loyalty to the point where money doesn’t matter. They have so much to give and I cherish them because of it. They are in my heart and mind forever and I am truly blessed just to have met them.

Janine Varela


I have fallen so much in love with this community. They are more than I could have ever expected and forever have changed what I am. I can’t imagine myself without the lessons in love they have taught me. They taught me to be more grateful, more compassionate, more affectionate and to give of myself fully in love because each one of us is deserving of this kind of love; one that is whole hearted and pure. I am so grateful to them.

Melissa Pierre-Saint


Although I have traveled to many foreign countries, I have never had an experience quite like my trip to La Cuchilla. Through this trip I have learned so much about myself with the help of my family in La Cuchilla. I’ve learned the value of family, love and appreciation. I hope to carry back the lessons I’ve learned so I can share them with my family in the U.S.

Susannah Parish  

This trip was eye opening for me in many ways. The families in La Cuchilla showed me an entire different way of living that is based solely on love, appreciation and community. This trip allowed me to realize that I am blessed with having many of the same opportunities as the community. However, I have learned to take advantage of the blessings that God has given me by expressing the same love, appreciation and community that these families share. In two weeks I was able to see that it is possible to make a difference in a person’s life. My main goal at the beginning of this trip was to try and make a difference in their lives, however my new family opened and changed my heart forever. Thank you to all the families in La Cuchilla who have treated me as family and you will always remain in my heart. I miss you all.

Cristina Catarucci


La Cuchilla… two small words that mean the world to me. La Cuchilla is not just a town way up in the mountains; it is my home. My heart is La Cuchilla. This was my first service trip, and to say the least, it will not be my last at La Cuchilla. I now have an even bigger family than I did before. I did not think I would be sitting here saying I love my mom, dad, brothers and sisters, and not just mean in New York , but the Dominican Republic.  But here I am, and its been less than twelve hours, and I miss my family in La Cuchilla. I love them dearly, and will be praying everyday that God brings me back to them.  They have deeply touched my heart and I will show my family and friends the love and joy they showed me. The countdown has already begun that in less than 365 days, I’ll be back with my family again!

Danielle Tutelian

Where do I begin? Well for starters, I did not expect what I’ve been though. I honestly thought that I was going to help children and the needy. What really happened was that I was the one who received the help. The love and support that my family gave to me was not only unexpected but also purely genuine. I though that kind of love was only showed between mother and child. As I am reflecting upon this, I just want to be a better person, not only for me but the people that surround me. I have most definitely become a better person and La Cuchilla has not seen the last of me. I love my new found family with all my heart and it took them two days to get that response from me, which still boggles my mind. My hope is that everyone gets an opportunity like this, to see what it really means to be wealthy.

Vaughna Jarvis


I am truly thankful for having the opportunity to travel to La Cuchilla for a second time. The community of La Cuchilla has taught me in two weeks to value my opportunities and blessings in life. I was so amazed that my family had remembered me after three years and welcomed me back into their home. I want to bring back home the awareness of how most of the population in the world lives in poverty and to educate those who do not have that knowledge.

Blair Larsen-Holtz


I am very grateful for being able to visit the community of La Cuchilla once again. I was very happy to see that everyone in the town remembered me after so long. I felt like I was able to somewhat make a difference in their lives.

As soon as I got to La Cuchilla, I felt that I was at home once again. The people in La Cuchilla once again opened their hearts and homes to me. The treated me like their own families. I am grateful to have met them and they will forever hold a place in my heart. I have a second family in those mountains that help to remind me of the things that matter most in life. I am blessed and thankful for that.

Patricia Pauyo


It’s been four years and a total of five times that I have been to La Cuchilla. Every year my heart melts. I was so glad to see my family in La Cuchilla once more before I begin my journey in becoming a doctor. This trip has given me the strength I need to engage this journey. I love the community of La Cuchilla and this is truly my second home. I will never forget them and hope I see them soon after I become a doctor and improve the town even more, as Father Ron did. I’m thankful for this experience for the past four years.

Carlos Garcia


Father asked us to write a short paragraph about our trip to La Cuchilla. The problem is I wouldn’t be able to write about my experience on all the pages of the longest novel you own. No words can express how much these families have touched my life.  I want to give them the world just to show them they deserve it. They have very little of everything but have given me more than I ever expected. My heart is with those families in that small town on top of a mountain. I could say my trip was amazing, but to really understand me you would have to feel it. Their humility, generosity, love and warmth are just the beginning of the things they have shared with me. My mother, father, brothers, and sisters have impacted me in a way that is irreversible and I hope I have given them just an ounce of what they have given me. I may have been born in a different place and time but I am no different than any of the people that live in that tight knit, welcoming amazing town.

Lucia Persichilli


As I sit here at the end of our trip and write down my reflections, I am at a loss of words. We can all try our very best to explain to others what we have experienced, but what we tell cannot compare to what we have just seen, felt and lived.

This trip to La Cuchilla has made me grow as an individual in more ways than imaginable. The love and warmth you feel the second you jump off the track to your house is indescribable.

As the saying goes, “less is more”; these people materialistically have less but more love and compassion than anyone I have ever known. Thank you La Cuchilla for what you have given me, a little hope, a little faith and a lot of love.

Amanda Elgarhi 


Being grateful for everything I have is something my family has tried to instill in me growing up. As I grew I saw myself becoming less and less appreciative of all the opportunities and blessings I had all around me. Going on this trip to La Cuchilla I didn't think it would change me, but it did.  Being in La Cuchilla, I became more aware of the world around me and the many blessings I've had throughout my life. The community of La Cuchilla has opened my eyes and has reminded me to be grateful for my loved ones, opportunities and life itself. This experience was a wakeup call and something I hope I won't forget. 

Monique Lalane


La Cuchilla is a blessing instead of a town in my eyes. The true meaning of family love lingers throughout the entire town and it was an unforgettable experience. Everyone, especially the children, are so happy when we are there, which is amazing that we can somewhat make a difference in a community. They may not be one of the wealthiest towns financially but I guarantee the love and support they give each other and most important the love they gave us since day one is priceless. They are wonderful selfless people who I now and forever will consider my family and I am looking forward to seeing them again.   

Rafaela Alvarez

As a person who is usually viewed as a materialistic person who places more value on the wants in life instead of what I already have, I have learned and showed myself and others that it is not important to want but to embrace the love of family and friends. I was on a service trip before but I felt as if I was just a visitor to the host family. Here you become their family. Your identity and character and identity change. You become La Cuchilla and it becomes you.

Joseph Ghiotti


This was my third trip back with the Bridges program. La Cuchilla is a town rich with love and it showed me things I didn’t know existed. It changed my life and my family here in the US. The families of La Cuchilla share so much in the language of love. I am not fluent in Spanish, but while I was there, I lived in love. I know in my heart that they are my family; they have told me I am Dominican now. You can’t make that up. My family in La Cuchilla doesn’t have a cruel bone in their body and they help to make me stronger every time I go back to them.

Brie Olivo



1. Collected, transported, and distributed over 1,300 pounds of new clothing, bedding, medicines, vitamins, school supplies, etc. to a half dozen mountain communities.

2. Built a secure cinderblock room to store supplies at the new La Cuchilla high school.

3. Built a large, covered cinderblock bench in front of the La Cuchilla high school for students to use, while being protected from the Caribbean sun and rains.

4. Provided $700 of food a month for the 24 students, from various rural communities, who live in La Casa Madre Maria in Juncalito on weekdays, so that they can continue their studies.

5. Brought 30 students and staff from La Casa Madre Maria, and the La Cuchilla high school, down from Juncalito in the central mountains, on a four hour drive across the Ciboa valley and over the northern mountains, for an all day outing at lovely Cofresi Beach on the north coast.

6. Provided scholarships for four rural students to study English in Santiago; and for one to attend dental school, plus purchased school uniforms and supplies for 7 rural students.

7.  Provided special medical assistance for three rural youth.

8. Repaired 3 basketball backboards, and provided 3 new basketballs,  in La Cuchilla and Jagua.

9.  Set in motion plans to provide one rural family with a refrigerator, another with two batteries to provide electricity during the daily blackouts, and a third with a new bathroom.