Donor Spotlight: Dr. Jefferson & Janice Wiggins

New Fairfield, Connecticut

An old man, going a lone highway,
came, at evening, cold and gray,
to a chasm vast and wide and steep,
with waters rolling cold and deep.
The old man paused in the twilight dim.
The sullen waters had no fears for him.
But he paused, when safe on the other side,
and built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting your time with building here;
your journey will end with the ending day;
and you never again shall pass this way.
You’ve crossed the chasm vast and wide.
Why build ye this bridge at eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head.
“Good friend, the way I’ve come,” he said,
“there followeth after me today,
a youth, whose feet must pass this way.
The chasm that was as naught to me
to that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

–Will Allen Dromgoogle

Bridge builders … they have a sense of the future and an understanding of the opportunity they have to create a better path for their fellow travelers. Bridge builders also have a sense of legacy, an understanding that what we do in this life can and should have an impact, both on the present and on a future we will never see.

The Bridge Builder was my husband’s favorite poem. He recited it often and took its message to heart … a message that he very much wanted to be a part of his legacy. He hoped that the priority he placed on building bridges of opportunity would have an impact on the actions of those who continued life’s journey into a future he would not live to see.

When my husband passed earlier this year, a number of very dear friends expressed interest in supporting a project that would be a living expression of his legacy. The work of CRUDEM came quickly to mind.

Dr. Jefferson Wiggins: The late Dr. Jefferson Wiggins was a well-known author, educator, lecturer and community leader. The son of Alabama sharecroppers, he joined the US Army as a teenager. He served in both World War II and Korea. While in Europe, he received a battlefield commission, becoming one of the few black officers of that era. In 2001, Dr. Wiggins was named CT Multicultural Educator of the Year and was the recipient of numerous awards for his inspiring work with children at risk.

Jeff truly believed that one person can make a difference in this world … even if that difference takes the form of having a positive impact on the life of just one other person. He also believed that we have an obligation to give back to life much more than we receive. As he wrote in a letter to our great grandson, Malcolm, “You did not enter a perfect world, but you can help to make it more perfect … look for unfulfilled promises and make them a reality.”

As I thought about ways to honor Jeff’s life, these messages were ever present. There are many organizations and projects that make a difference. But making a difference didn’t seem to be enough on its own. In order to be an appropriate way to honor Jeff’s life, a project would also have to embody elements that were close to his heart. It would have to:
• build bridges (between cultures, between those who
   have and those who have not)
• help children, especially children in need within communities of need
• provide opportunities for others to have a dream
   and a path for that dream to be realized
• have a direct impact on changing a life.

During Jeff’s life, we were blessed to learn about CRUDEM and the impact it has had and continues to have on the lives of so many whose journeys are filled with challenges. CRUDEM’s work in Haiti has built so many bridges, primarily in the area of healthcare, but also in terms of creating economic and educational opportunity for those who are striving for a better future. CRUDEM addresses unfulfilled promises and works to make them a reality. The work of CRUDEM changes lives.

Photo courtesy of Carol Kaliff, Danbury News-Times.

Dr. Wiggins and his wife, Janice, founded the Wiggins Institute for Social Integrity to support initiatives that support children and encourage a more open and civil society. Their generous philanthropy has provided at risk children in the US and in Haiti with more hopeful futures.

After Jeff passed, I was humbled by the generosity of treasured friends who joined me in making a donation to CRUDEM in his memory. Each year, as I support CRUDEM, Jeff’s legacy of building bridges will continue to remind me of the opportunity I am fortunate to have … the opportunity to impact another life.

Leaving a legacy is not just for those who inherit or amass great wealth. We all have the opportunity to leave a legacy or to honor the legacy of someone we hold dear. We all have the opportunity to build a bridge for others to travel on a path that we have successfully navigated. We may not do the work ourselves, but we can support those who do.

CRUDEM builds bridges of hope. Our support can ensure that our fellow travelers cross safely to the other side.

Photo Courtesy Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center