Bermuda may be a small Island, but it is full of unsung heroes — inspirational residents who are making a real difference in their communities and improving the lives of others, without expecting any recognition or praise. In a new regular feature, we want to celebrate the incredible achievements of the ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things.
Ask LaToya Bridgewater about her children, and she gushes with praise and enthusiasm.
But this proud mother is not talking solely about her three daughters and son, but about the dozens of youngsters in her extended family — the “amazing” students she helps through her work with Family Centre.
“The children are definitely our future,” she said. “If our children are doing well in life, the community is doing well. If they’re not, we’re not.
“Some adolescents are doing some really awesome things once they have support and people who believe in them.
“They really shine and do things we don’t think they are capable of. We underestimate their abilities.”
Mrs Bridgewater, 38, is a community support worker with Family Centre, a charity that helps families affected by problems such as abuse and neglect.
She helps to oversee the Homework Academy programme run by Family Centre and the Bermuda Rugby Football Union.
Their partnership combines sports and academic support at Dellwood Middle School and CedarBridge Academy in an effort to help youngsters, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk of following the wrong path in life.
Mrs Bridgewater said Dellwood’s Homework Academy was for all children who wanted help, not just those with academic, behavioural or social problems.
“We’re able to track their grades, look at their report cards, go to the teachers and contact parents about areas that need improvement,” she said. “We’ve noticed that in general, grades have gone up.
“The teachers appreciate the assistance and the parents appreciate it 100 percent, everyone is on board.
“It’s definitely not just academic, it’s also emotional and we do a lot of social support, too.
“Every adolescent needs some form of guidance and as parents and adults that’s what we’re doing.
“The children know we’re here to assist.”
Going above and beyond the call of duty, Mrs Bridgewater never clocks off — her children are always a priority and she is constantly working on ideas to help them.
“It’s definitely not a nine-to-five job, I’m always thinking about ways to improve what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s not one of those things where you can say, it’s five o’clock, I’m done.
“But it’s a very rewarding job for me. I’ve been able to measure progress and feel fulfilled.
“I’m seeing children’s grades go up and I’m helping them get more structure, or I’m seeing children complete a project or accomplish a goal.
“I’m very proud and I’m amazed at the work my co-workers do, and the passion they have.
“It means the world to me to come into a space and feel like everyone is extremely supportive and positive.”
Mrs Bridgewater, whose husband is Bermudian, was born in Jamaica and raised in Massachussetts. She studied psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts and is “from a family of teachers and social workers — it’s all I’ve seen my entire life”.
“I couldn’t see myself working in any other field, I love it,” she said. “I’ve been with Family Centre since December, before that I worked at a children’s home and a women’s and family shelter.”
The rewards of helping our children may be immeasurable, but the task isn’t always easy.
“With every job you experience some challenges and difficulties,” Mrs Bridgewater said. “A lot of times you get a child you want to help, whom you know needs help, and the child doesn’t have family support, so you need to find creative ways to get the child and the family the support they need to move forward.
“It’s so emotional when you know there’s more that can be done but sometimes you just have to watch from the sidelines until the family is ready to receive support. That’s been the biggest challenge, everything else you can work on.”
Mrs Bridgewater modestly insists she deserves no special praise for her hard work, and instead highlighted the efforts of the Homework Academy’s volunteers.
“They’re so vital, the lifeblood of our community programmes,” she said. “We can’t get enough volunteers — the ideal would be one for every child.
“HSBC has been a vital partner in the Homework Academy programme and instrumental in providing volunteers and significant funding.
“We also get volunteers through the schools and friends of Family Centre who choose to put in some time — it’s just a few hours a week.”
Away from her full-time job, Mrs Bridgewater runs yoga classes for children.
“It’s extremely important for the children to be able to have coping mechanisms to deal with life stresses and the yoga helps,” she said.
“It’s why I decided to become a teacher — to control breathing and emotions. Once you can control that you can make more sane decisions.”
With such a calm, collected and kind mind looking after our children, their future certainly looks bright.
For more information about Family Centre, visit www.tfc.bm or follow them on Facebook, www.facebook.com/familycentrebda. You can also call 232-1116.
Do you know someone who is dedicated to making the Island a better place? Is there a good samaritan who selflessly helps others? A volunteer working tirelessly for charity? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 278-0157.