ACCU Members Offer a “Hand Up”

Is your campus looking for a way to have a lasting effect on your local community? Partnering with a locally focused agency committed to Catholic values may provide your college or university with the vehicle it’s looking for.

ACCU member colleges and universities have a long history of partnering with community groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). CCHD is the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty program, which works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities. CCHD accomplishes these goals by disseminating grants to various community organizations that reflect the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. The partnerships between ACCU members and CCHD groups create lasting bonds and result in a variety of projects. This year, ACCU member institutions engaged with CCHD groups in new and creative ways.

One example of partnership is Xavier University (OH) faculty, students, and staff with Interfaith Business Builders (IBB), a CCHD-funded group in Cincinnati. IBB recently opened Community Blend, a cooperative coffee shop where employees own an equal share of the business and fully participate in the company’s decision-making processes. Xavier University students and faculty have helped with Community Blend’s business plan in the past, and this year they engaged with the cooperative by creating its communications platform.

In Wendy Maxian’s capstone class for seniors studying public relations, students conducted original research on Community Blend, and then created a strategic communications plan for the new business. Dr. Maxian, a professor of communication arts, said that her students appreciated the chance to create a real communications plan that a business will use, rather than an imaginary one as an assignment. Students enjoyed learning about the cooperative business model from Community Blend employee-owners, who also participated in the class. Dr. Maxian explains, “As a cooperative business, Community Blend’s values very much line up with Xavier’s Catholic and Jesuit values. I think it’s important for students to see those values in a context other than what they’d find on campus.”

Future projects between Xavier University and Community Blend will focus on sustainability initiatives. Kathleen Smythe, a professor of history, has been working with other Xavier faculty members, IBB representatives, and Community Blend employee-owners to create a capstone course for sustainability majors, which will focus on sustainability, democracy, economic and political opportunity, and participation. The class will include readings, discussions, and field trips, specifically working with Community Blend employee-owners to enrich students’ learning outside the classroom. Dr. Smythe noted the value of the real-world experience that the students will gain from the endeavor. “The university has a moral and educational obligation to students to teach them the skills that will enable them to go out into the world,” she explained.

Another example of partnership includes the student group Ambrosians for Peace and Justice (APJ) at St. Ambrose University (IA), working with the CCHD-funded group Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI). This relationship has been active for six years, and students from APJ assist QCI with a variety of initiatives. One student serves on QCI’s health care task force, which advocates for health equity, including access to health care for all members of the community. Another student serves on the immigration task force and spoke with the area’s sheriff about immigration procedures and customs enforcement. Last year, APJ students worked with QCI to try to pass state legislation banning the practice of shackling women prisoners during childbirth. While the bill passed in Iowa’s House of Representatives, it did not pass in the Senate; QCI has plans to re-introduce the legislation next year.

APJ’s vice president Corrigan Goldsmith advised, “It’s very challenging work, but realizing that you can change a person’s life is worth it – you can’t change the entire system in a year, but keep laying the bricks and don’t get discouraged.” Next year, APJ will continue its collaboration with QCI, focusing on topics related to restorative justice.

Partnering with CCHD groups to offer a “hand up” to those in poverty is a way for Catholic universities to educate their students about living out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. These examples from Xavier University and St. Ambrose University showcase how ACCU member institutions encourage their students to put their faith into action while using skills and knowledge from their programs of study to help the community.

Is your campus interested in getting involved with CCHD to alleviate poverty in your community? ACCU can help facilitate partnerships with CCHD groups, which offer the occasion for students to participate in advocacy, volunteering, service learning, and other educational experiences. To learn more about this opportunity, visit our webpage.

Andrea Price is a graduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

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