Community Dinners Pay it Forward

“A lot of people have helped me in my life so I like to pay it forward when I can.” In her first semester at Plymouth State as a recent transfer student, Rachel Caliguiri ’23 is finding fulfillment in helping the residents of Bridge House, a homeless shelter and veterans support center located a mile from the University campus. Caliguiri is a psychology major who is going to college to become a counselor therapist, and she is among those cooking and serving a series of Bridge House dinners this fall.

The Bridge House provides information and referral, emergency shelter, food, job training, transitional living support, and aftercare to over 175 individuals and families each year. Services are statewide and beyond, with the strongest concentration in the North Country, Grafton County, and the Lakes Region. 

Military veterans, both male and female, are prioritized, along with their families, and Bridge House staff coordinates with local schools to arrange pick-up and drop-off if needed. Four-legged friends are also allowed. The facility’s operations are supported in part through proceeds from local businesses, including Ladders, Step Ladders, and Flip ’n Furniture.

“Our intention is to support the great work of the Bridge House, and it really is about the relationships that unfold between our students and their residents,” says Director of Community Impact and Student Life Jessica Dutille. Her office runs the community dinners program twice monthly. “It’s pretty cool how our students get to know our neighbors here.”

Kelly Evarts was a resident herself in 2016 and has continued on as both a Bridge House staff member and volunteer. She covers the night shift and her regular responsibilities include getting dinner ready, answering the phone, and helping with laundry, but most important is just being available to help when interpersonal issues arise or if a resident needs to talk.

“Homelessness is a significant issue everywhere, and we’re the only shelter in Grafton County,” says Evarts. The number of phone calls she fields provides an anecdotal measurement of the current trend, and by that gauge, she thinks the situation may have improved a bit recently.

Student volunteers recently prepared a Mexican meal for residents. “I’m not a cook,” laughed Puspa Rai ’23 as she chopped tomatoes. Rai, a business administration major, grew up in Nepal before her family moved to Manchester, NH. “I like to get involved in the community and like to help people. When I found out about this I thought I’d give it a chance and now I love it.” Desteny Jones ’23, a psychology major, volunteered frequently in high school to call attention to substance abuse and homelessness, and she served as the student advocate for the city of Laconia, NH. “I went to Plymouth because of the volunteering,” she says. “I was looking forward to a college where volunteering was really emphasized, and that’s what really got me into Plymouth. For me, it’s really fun.”