One of the most important resources for Work Travel students living in Door County is BRIDGES of Friendship to International Students. Founded 17 years ago, BRIDGES connects students with community members and with other students through events like kayaking, an Independence Day celebration and a talent show.
“(The students) just love it,” said Joyce Detert, one of the BRIDGES coordinators. “If we do anything at all, they come.”
Detert estimated there are 300 students in Door County; she said approximately 170 of these students are signed up for BRIDGES, although event attendance varies because students tend to get second or third jobs as the summer progresses. At each event, volunteers from one of the six Door County churches that sponsor the program serve the students a meal, talk with them about their jobs and their home countries and encourage them to participate in the day’s activity.
“These are like surrogate grandchildren to us,” said David Detert, Joyce Detert’s husband and another program coordinator. Most of the program’s volunteers are retirees; the Deterts said some students and volunteers develop such close relationships that, years after leaving Door County, the students invite volunteers to visit them in their home countries or to attend their weddings.
BRIDGES also runs the American Connection program, which puts students in contact with Door County families who act as hosts for the students during the students’ stay. Students don’t live with the families, but families often take them out to dinner or on shopping or sightseeing trips.
“We see Door County as a very welcoming host community for our participants,” Haldis Toppen, the Work and Travel Cultural Outreach Coordinator at CCI Greenheart, a sponsor organization, said via e-mail.
“We are very fortunate to have community outreach organizations like BRIDGES … to help make sure students feel supported while in the USA.”
Another important service BRIDGES provides is bike rentals. For $10, students receive a bicycle, helmet and free repairs for the summer. Students rely on BRIDGES’ 200 bikes for transportation to and from work, and for transportation during their free time, often to stores or to libraries, where they can access the Internet.
BRIDGES volunteers also offer a prayer group, free transportation to and from BRIDGES events, and English as a Second Language classes.
“I really want to thank these people,” said Nadiia Bondarieva, a 19-year-old Ukrainian student who works at three Door County businesses. “They treated us like family.”
Despite the challenges of working three jobs and living in crowded conditions, Bondarieva said she’s sad to see her time in Door County coming to an end.
The Work Travel program has been “the most happy experience in my life,” she said.