Building bridges…changing lives

Sheila Wray and Timiann Smith
Sheila Wray instructs Timiann Smith in jewelry making at a B.R.I.D.G.E. meeting in the Fred Oldfield Heritage Center. Photo by Joan Cronk

Joan Cronk
Senior Scene

A couple years ago Darcie Pacholl came up with an idea to build interactions between the youth and the American Indian/Alaskan Native Elders.

An acronym for Building Respectful Interactions to Develop Goals for American Indian Elders and Youth, B.R.I.D.G.E. is now up and running smoothly, thanks to the love and attention of Pacholl.

“We meet once a month for cultural gathering and to share food and practice our culture and language at these gatherings,” said Pacholl.

Geared to increase the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional well being of elders and youth, the cultural exchanges are something everyone looks forward to.

As the younger generation works alongside an elder making a necklace, conversation moves naturally to incorporate important topics such as the internet, sex, bullying, dating or anything else that the youngsters have on their mind.  In this safe and protected environment, young people are able to ask questions and learn about their culture from elders, while learning useful skills they can use in today’s world.

The group meets monthly at the Spirit House at the Puyallup Nation on Portland Avenue or, when that venue is not available, they meet at the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center at the Puyallup Fairgrounds.
Oldfield has been extremely generous to the group, opening up the Heritage Center whenever they need a place to meet.  The Heritage Center is filled with over 215 artifacts and baskets.

B.R.I.D.G.E. is Pacholl’s baby.  She personally funded the group until they obtained their 501(C)(3) and outside financing and donations became available.

“There are tons of programs for elders, and lots of things for young people, but not together,” said Pacholl.  “Who do we look at to keep the traditions alive?”

Twelve-year-old Timiann Smith is grateful for the program.  When asked for her definition of an elder she replied, “Somebody who is a role model and helps and cares about us.”  Smith works hand in hand with elders on crafts and thrives on the new friendships she’s formed at B.R.I.D.G.E.

Sheila Wray, who weaves with cedar, said she became involved with B.R.I.D.G.E. when she worked with Pacholl at the Northwest Basketry Guild.  She now works with youth and elders. “Cedar is central to life,” said Wray.  “Our goal is to help people learn about the culture.”  She said B.R.I.D.G.E. inspires her to be a better person.

Pacholl said the younger generation learns patience while working alongside the elders.  “If you tell me, I’ll forget it but if you show me, I’ll remember,” she stressed.

Pacholl’s mother, Maggie Fennell is a strong supporter of the program.  Raising several grandchildren, Fennell is an active participant in B.R.I.D.G.E.

“I tell Darcie the ways I grew up in Alaska.  I learned useful skills and went to school.  I didn’t want to be on this earth and not leave something,” said Fennell, the youngest of ten children.  Pacholl said her mom is her greatest teacher.

Jared Fennell, a senior at Gig Harbor high school, is the youth director for B.R.I.D.G.E.  He said his job is to “include youth and make them feel confident.  It is fun and everyone has a good time.”

B.R.I.D.G.E. offers programs on healthy eating, traditional exercise, diabetes prevention and drug and alcohol awareness, just to name a few.  They also help students navigate the confusing waters of preparing for college and applying for scholarships and grants.
They participate in beach clean up projects and take part in activities designed to take them back to their ancestral roots of caring for Mother Earth.

B.R.I.D.G.E. meetings are open and free to all American Indians/Alaskan Natives and those who have their best interests in mind.
For more information about B.R.I.D.G.E. contact Pacholl at (253) 884-6748 or visit their website at  Volunteers and donations are always welcome.
B.R.I.D.G.E. works hard to build relationships between youth and elders.  Valuing their elder population, B.R.I.D.G.E. offers assistance to elders to help them offset boredom and develop feelings of usefulness, while making that important connection with the youth of their culture.