MEALS SERVED
0 K+

ABOUT US

Building Bridges has organically evolved from a single site experiment to gather a handful of veterans, to an organized network of fifteen sites in four New England states, all in pursuit of the same mission: to address veteran social isolation, depression and suicide ideation by building veteran communities of mutual support and healing.
Lunch time camaraderie

Beginnings

Since its inception in 2015, Building Bridges has expanded from a single weekly lunch site of a handful of veterans in Northampton, Massachusetts, to fifteen breakfast, lunch or dinner sites in four New England states. Having served upwards of 90,000 complementary meals, each meal location further serves as a venue for other veteran nonprofits to connect with veterans, make available their services, and remind our veterans that we are in this together. The sites are as different as the veterans who attend and the volunteers who host the meal, but the mission remains the same: to ensure their care as they cared for us.

Evolution

Always in the process of evolving, Building Bridges launched an outdoor “fire initiative” last fall, gathering veterans from four wars to share stories, partake of buffalo stew, and be ceremonially welcomed home as many never were. New meal sites are planned as the demand for expansion continues, and new opportunities await all those who elect to join the initiative. Whether veteran or not, there is a place for you at Building Bridges.

The Bridge Builders

Under the mandate of the Episcopal Bishop of Western Massachusetts, its Founding Director, The Rev. Christopher Carlisle, hired Associate Director and veteran, Chad Wright, to serve as the initiative’s Chief of Operations. Tom Davis, our Communications Director, manages Building Bridges social media and fundraising efforts.

Rounding out the Building Bridges core team are its Elms College social work interns, who spend 400 hours during the year in fulfillment of their fieldwork requirement, working with the team, visiting sites, and engaging the needs of individual veterans.

Preparing a Building Bridges meal

The Team

Bishop Douglas Fisher

Bishop Douglas Fisher​

Bishop Douglas Fisher was elected in 2012 with a mandate for the Diocese to prioritize and address the needs of military veterans.

Before his election, Doug was the Rector of a parish outside the gates of West Point, and served as a West Point chaplain.

"Credentialed mental health professionals like me have no place in center sage. We are stagehands—get the lights on, sweep out the gum wrappers, count the chairs, make sure it’s a safe and warm enough place. So, the Building Bridges core team perceives that its job is to 'get out of the way', freeing those who risked their lives for us all to feel grateful that they served."

Chris Carlisle

Rev. Christopher Carlisle

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The Rev. Christopher Carlisle is founder and Executive Director of the Building Bridges Veterans Initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Having spent thirty-five years working in parishes, on college campuses, and in outdoor worshipping communities, Chris is dedicated to creating a ministry which recognizes the invaluable service rendered by our military veterans, seeking innovative ways to more fully bring them home.

Chad Wright

Chad Wright

Associate Director

Chad Wright Chad Wright serves as Associate Director of Operations for the twelve communities that comprise Building Bridges. A social worker and veteran himself, Chad has a unique passion for community service. Utilizing his diverse skills—from volunteer supervision, to cooking and menu development, to venue acquisition and site-based fundraising, Chad’s expertise, warmth and accessibility have greatly contributed to Building Bridges’ five-year expansion throughout New England.

Ellie Laudone

Ellie Laudone

Associate Communications Director

Ellie Laudone is the Associate Director of Communications for Building Bridges, a full-time social work student at Elms College, and an employee at the Veterans Affairs facility in Leeds. Ellie has been working in Veterans' Primary and Geriatric care for 3 years and is adamant about its impact on clinical care. She plans to obtain her Masters degree in Social work, specializing in clinical and therapeutic care for Veterans.

How it all comes together

The heart of every site is the site “Champion,” who helps Chad to identify best local venues willing to donate their space for a monthly or weekly meal—Elks lodges, churches, senior centers, restaurants, and American Legions.
The Champion engages a volunteer chef, oversees from between three and ten volunteers, assists in local fundraising, gets the word out to the community and local veteran organizations, and infuses the Building Bridges experience with the energy and sense of unqualified welcome that ensures the site’s success.
The initiative employs more than fifty volunteers—some of whom are veterans, some who are not—but who universally testify to their service’s importance in their lives.
Building Bridges - Keene - Lunch is served 01
Building Bridges - A birthday celebration

What happens at a Building Bridges meal?

One of the leading lights in research on veteran PTSD and “moral injury” is Harvard psychologist and author of “Achilles in Vietnam,” Jonathan Shay, who continues to inspire the design and process of the Building Bridges experience: “Peers are the key to recovery—I can’t emphasize that enough.
Credentialed mental health professionals like me have no place in center sage. We are stagehands—get the lights on, sweep out the gum wrappers, count the chairs, make sure it’s a safe and warm enough place.” So, the Building Bridges core team perceives that its job is to “get out of the way,” freeing those who risked their lives for us all to feel grateful that they served.

The Story Behind the Meals

As human beings, we all know the physical necessity of eating. Indeed, studies increasingly show how eating affects both physical and mental health. Yet, according to the USDA, more than one in nine military veterans—who risked their lives to protect the farms that produce the food we all enjoy—suffers food insecurity, while one in six is on the brink of not having enough to eat. Building Bridges’ “meal counter” testifies both to the need to feed our veterans, as well as the poignant tragedy that so many continue to go hungry.

The story behind the hot nutritious meals that bring Building Bridges Veterans together is the story of the challenges that face those who risked their lives for us all. According to the Veterans Administration, many researchers deem social isolation “the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal ideation, (suicide) attempts, and lethal suicidal behavior. In addition to suicide, loneliness and social isolation have been linked to other poor physical and mental health outcomes, and functional difficulties.”

The stated mission of Building Bridges is to address veteran depression, social isolation, and suicide risk. According to a recent survey cited by the VA, over half of U.S. veterans confessed “feeling lonely some of the time or often.” As important as physical nutrition may be in fulfilling Building Bridges’ mission, it is the nourishment of the soul—the camaraderie, support, and listening, which happens around the table—that is the magical heart and soul of Building Bridges, and to those who have yet to join, promises an untold fulfillment.