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Through the Bridges program, Riverdale students help people in India

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: TAL VOLK - Riverdale Principal Paula Robinson stands by this years Bridges to India travelers who are, from left: Tal Volk, Holly Scrugham, Spencer Singer, Madeline Hauenstine, Nate Klein, Madeline Chew, Madeline Whitlock, Caroline Edwards and Isabelle Gilges.Nine Riverdale High School students are heading to India this fall to give of their time, supporting a nonprofit clinic.

Riverdale’s Bridges to India program is all about aiding Hope Charities Inc. Bridges raises a significant portion of the donations to the clinic, which offers medical, psychosocial and financial aid to the needy and working poor in two small Kerala villages in southwestern India. The clinic serves about 1,800 people with physician visits.

When the students visit, they cannot help out in the clinic because they lack medical training. But, there will be plenty for them to do during the three-week trip, which begins Nov. 23.

The students will bring supplies for the clinic and a women’s sewing center. This year, the group will deliver an electrocardiogram machine, which creates a graphic rendering of the electrical currents that pump the heart. The EKG machine is a gift from Lisa Whitlock, Sellwood Medical Clinic administrator, whose daughter is going on the Bridges trip. The donation honors the clinic’s previous owner, Whitlock’s father, Michael Brodeur, a cardiologist. Brodeur died last April.

The Bridges team will paint a widow’s home and provide an elementary school with a water purification system. They’ll also continue the English as a second language program last year’s group tested out. The teens will provide more books for an English as a second language library.

Whitlock said the Bridges team’s efforts align with the Riverdale experience in which students are leaders.

“It doesn’t matter what they’re doing; they tend to be a pretty passionate group of kids,” Whitlock said.

Students apply to go on the trip each year, and about 70 percent of the applicants make the cut. Students submit forms similar to a college application. A volunteer selection team interviews students and their parents. Academic standing and whether a student seems capable of keeping up on homework from half a world away are factors in choosing who takes the India trip.

“I’m actually very excited to go (for) the experience that I can bring back of traveling halfway across the world,” said Riverdale junior Madeline Whitlock, Lisa Whitlock’s daughter.

To prepare, students must read at least two books about India and are afforded the chance to speak with students who have taken the trip.

“I think my kids being with and living with and serving other kids who have such a different lifestyle and are a different color than themselves, and have a different belief system than my kids, it’s just an incredible opportunity for them to grow,” said Riverdale Principal Paula Robinson.

Daisy Kuchinad, a physician, opened Hope Charities in 2002, when her son was attending Riverdale High. After Kuchinad finished her residency in 1990, she frequently visited India, where her family is from. Every time she went, 30 or 40 people would be waiting for her to help them. She bought some land in Kerala and built a house so she’d have a place to stay while she was supporting her patients.

In 1998, her uncle brought a poor, young couple to her who thought their 2-year-old had asthma, but he wasn’t getting any better. Kuchinad suspected that he might have a foreign object lodged in his lung. She told them to take him to a hospital. Turns out, there was an obstruction, a plastic bead, and when she saw him a couple of years later, he could breathe without trouble.

“Just this little act had changed this family’s life,” she said.

She wanted to do more to help and began working on a project: Hope Charities, said Kuchinad, who now lives in Los Angeles.

Word spread, and shortly after her group was featured in a 2005 newspaper article, two Riverdale parents told Kuchinad they wanted to help, and Bridges was born.

One parent, Karl Schulz, has been chaperoning trips and leading Bridges since then, although his sons have graduated from high school.

“The students really benefit most when they attend classes with (Indian) students their age, when they help tutor younger children and when they really start being part of the (Indian) families, helping the families,” Schulz said.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.

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