Catholic Colleges and Universities Embody the Spirit of Thanksgiving

The season of Thanksgiving is a time when people gather together in unity to offer gratitude and reflect on the many ways that God has blessed them. Thanksgiving is also a time to offer one’s prayers, time, and energy to serve those living on the margins of society. Giving back to the local or global community is one way that you can show gratitude for the many blessings in your life. During this season of Thanksgiving, we look at how Catholic colleges and universities are living out this call by giving back to their local communities.

Creighton University is engaging the student body and citizens of the local Omaha community by coming together to support and aid people experiencing homelessness. According to the university, “On any given night in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, approximately 1,500 people are experiencing homelessness.” Project Homeless Connect Omaha (PHCO) came about as a reaction to this issue. Creighton is the first college campus to use the Project Homeless Connect model, a unique campus-to-community effort that has seen major success throughout the nation. PHCO is “dedicated to serving individuals experiencing homelessness by providing health screenings and access to community resources in one convenient location,” notes the project’s website. It serves people experiencing homelessness through both immediate and long-term relief in order to help them overcome their homelessness rather than temporarily relieve their situation. Project staffers invite campus and community members to participate in this large-scale event. Students, faculty, staff, and other volunteers help with setting up before the event and cleaning up afterward, act as navigators assisting guests and offering directions, and serve in any other ways needed. PHCO allows for the entire campus community to serve those experiencing homelessness in an empowering and effective way.

The services provided through PHCO fall into two categories: programs and assistance, and health screenings. The programs and assistance offered include veterans programs; state, local, and federal assistance programs; housing programs; and legal, educational, and résumé help. Clients have the opportunity to meet with professionals in their field and schedule follow-up appointments. The health screenings include dental, physical and mental exams, vision assessments, and immunizations, as well as numerous other screenings and evaluations. PHCO gives clients access to necessary services that would otherwise not be available to them and are often times overlooked. For example, according to the PHCO 2017 guest survey results, of the 558 guests that attended PHCO, about 15 percent noted dental services as the most valuable screenings offered because they are normally among the more difficult services to access for those who are homeless. The flood of positive messages found among the survey results is an indication that the Omaha community is extremely grateful for this opportunity offered by Creighton University.

GIVEDay2017_20170916_119Gannon University students serve at the university’s annual Give Day.

Another university that continually emphasizes its commitment to giving back to the local community is Gannon University. The university program Erie-Gannon Alliances to Improve Neighborhood Sustainability (Erie-GAINS) has intensified Gannon’s commitment to the Erie community. Established in 2010, Erie-GAINS “is a long-term, mutually beneficial community initiative designed to expand Gannon’s efforts to support the common good of surrounding neighborhoods [and] aids the university in focusing efforts to maximize impact in a well-defined, contiguous and manageable area,” as noted on the website. The five primary urban development issues Erie-GAINS focuses on are education, health and wellness, business and economy, environmental sustainability, and quality of life. Students participate in Erie-GAINS through a variety of ways, such as by creating a comprehensive, online Human Services Directory, which is a resource to showcase services provided in Erie County; by providing free physicals for residents and neighbors of the Housing Authority of the City of Erie’s John E. Horan Garden Apartments and MidCity Towers; and by creating a county garden to grow produce that is then donated to local food pantries and organizations. Gannon’s annual “Give Day” also allows for students from different majors who participate in Erie-GAINS to come together as a community for one day to give back to the town of Erie. Many other examples of service can be found by viewing the Erie-Gains Viewbook 2016. Gannon University’s dedication to a value-centered education allows for the campus to develop a partnership with the local Erie community as a way to give back in a variety of ways.

Another university actively responding to the call of action during the season of Thanksgiving is Boston College. The Boston College student organization Rallying Against Contemporary Human Trafficking (R.E.A.C.T) seeks to “raise awareness about human trafficking and how it is one of the most egregious social justice problems of our time,” explains the group on its Facebook page. R.E.A.C.T. notes that its “focus in particular is on human trafficking within the city of Boston, so to connect students with direct action within the anti-trafficking movement in Boston.” One way that R.E.A.C.T. lived this mission out was by partnering with local Boston outreach ministry Bags of Hope Ministries. According to founder Jasmine Grace, Bags of Hope was founded “as a way to reach out in a practical way to women living on the streets or in programs serving women affected by trafficking, prostitution, addiction and homelessness.” Boston College partnered with Bags of Hope by collecting necessary items such as socks, toothpaste, and toothbrushes and packing them into bags for the women.  This partnership allowed students to aid those in their local community in a direct and immediate way.

In Florida, Saint Leo University is acting on its mission to be a “living-learning-serving community” by giving back to people with disabilities in the local community. The university partnered with local Florida non-profit Caps of Love, which uses recycling in order to provide valuable resources for people with disabilities. According to founder Valerie Mathieu, Caps of Love is dedicated to “educating the public on how to identify and recycle correctly in order to provide wheelchairs to the physically challenged under the age of 21.” One day last spring, Saint Leo University collected 12,000 pounds of plastic bottle caps, filling 21 pallets. Students, faculty, staff, and local community members gathered together to sort the caps and then loaded a truck that delivered them to a Tampa recycling center. The proceeds received from the recycling center were then donated to Caps of Love, where the funds ultimately will aid those in the community seeking access to wheelchairs. Senior coordinator for residence life Heidi D’Ambrosio commented, “Saint Leo University participates in this program to promote giving of our time and realizing that together as a community we can make a difference.”

Another university dedicated to giving back is Mount Mercy University. One way that Mount Mercy gives back to the local Cedar Rapids community is through its partnership with Foundation 2 Youth Shelter. According to the goals of Foundation 2 Youth Shelter, it is “designed to restore appropriate parent-child roles; explore solutions to troubling issues and build skills in order to prevent or resolve future conflicts; and focus on preventing runaway behavior, suicide attempts, child abuse, family breakup, school failure, or the placement of a runaway or homeless youth.” Students who volunteer at the shelter give their time each week by spending evenings with youth mentoring, playing games, and getting to know each other. The partnership between Mount Mercy and Foundation 2 Youth Shelter allows those at the shelter to see the possibilities that life offers. It also encourages them to grow in their values, dream, and envision their future.

It is important to reflect on different ways that Catholic colleges and universities are giving back to their local communities because it leads us to reflect on how we are servings the needs of those in our communities. Thanksgiving offers the perfect opportunity to do this, as a season of unity and a time to reflect on our many blessings.

Creighton University Collaborates with Local Organizations to Offer Hospitality to Refugees

As part of the Creighton Global Initiative (CGI), Creighton University has partnered with Lutheran Family Services to provide refugee families with aid in resettlement. Students spend their Friday afternoons shopping for necessities for a family migrating to the Omaha area. Setting up an apartment is the beginning of the resettlement process for refugees. This ministry encourages the students to remember the human face of the refugee crisis. One student, Sarah Huddleston, discovered that this service was different than others in the past because “It’s not just packing up my old clothes in a box and dropping them off and forgetting about it. It’s making a decision with the family in mind and trying to think about what you’d want if you were in a strange place, thousands of miles from your home.”

As René Padilla, executive director of global engagement, describes the program “Refugees are our neighbors…When we think of refugees we often hear the call to ‘welcome the stranger.’ And welcoming the stranger is a good first step. But in this increasingly interconnected world, these strangers are our neighbors and we need each other. Our hope is that this CGI project will help Creighton members to work with their refugee neighbors for justice.”

The Creighton Global Initiative is a program committed to expanding global learning by creating opportunities for heightened relationships, experiences and perspectives embracing Jesuit higher education’s centuries-long tradition for building global networks.  Read more on this partnership to assist refugee families here.

 

Catholic Colleges Featured on Sierra Club’s Cool School’s List

Ten Catholic colleges and universities were featured as 2016 Cool Schools in Sierra Magazine. This list measures colleges in their sustainability efforts in energy, investments, co-curricular, food, innovation, academics, planning, purchasing, transport, waste, and water. Colleges reported their programs and initiatives through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a program of The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Schools included are Loyola University of Chicago (featured in the Top 20 Cool Schools), Aquinas College, Creighton University, Gonzaga University, Loyola Marymount University, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, St. John’s University, and Villanova University.

Congratulations to the colleges on their sustainability initiatives!

Call for Submissions to ‘Voices from the Margins’ Film Contest

Last year, America Media and Ignatian Solidarity Network received more than 70 entries from over 50 colleges and universities to their annual college social justice film contest Voices from the Margins. Creighton University student Nico Sandi won both First Prize and the Audience Choice award for his short film “Stones,” a documentary on the death penalty in Nebraska, which was shown at the annual Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice (IFTJ) Filmfest in November 2015.

The call for submissions for Voices from the Margins ’16 is now open! All college and university students and recent graduates are invited to submit short social justice films. Submissions are due by September 30, 2016 for the chance to win production equipment from Blackmagic Design and a free trip to Washington, D.C. to screen the film at IFTJ 2016.

Read more about Voices from the Margins ’16 here!

Laudato Si’ Makes an Impact in Jesuit Higher Education

The upcoming one-year anniversary of the release of Laudato Si’ has inspired reflection on the impacts it has had on Catholics around the world, especially institutions of Catholic higher education. In the April 2016 issue of Connections, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities’ (AJCU) monthly  newsletter, several institutions were featured as having responded to the encyclical with fervor:

  • Laudato Si’ was a “Game-Changer” for Creighton University, where professors of theology, biology, environmental science, cultural and social studies, and communication studies, and sustainability studies have experienced renewed interest and and energy in their studies and coursework.
  • Gonzaga University has taken a “Multidisciplinary Approach” to responding to the encyclical with “deep academic engagement around Catholic social teaching,” encyclical reading groups, inter-departmental panel discussions, lectures, documentary film screenings, and a renewed commitment to sustainability on campus.
  • Food justice and social justice have been major themes for Loyola University Chicago‘s response to Laudato Si’, as well as “eco-education” through conferences focused on poverty and climate justice, lectures, and assisting in the development of a new free online environmental textbook.
  • Marquette University has made a renewed commitment to “Going Green” through participating in research at the Global Water Center in Milwaukee, the hiring of the University’s first sustainability coordinator, assisting in the development of the above-mentioned textbook, the LEED certification of two campus buildings, and the focusing of Mission Week on care for creation and sustainability.
  • A reflection on the call to promote and fight for environmental justice, as inspired by Laudato Si’, written by Clint J. Springer,  associate professor of biology at St. Joseph’s University.
  • Santa Clara University has taken the encyclical as a “Charter Document” for its “commitment to climate justice,” as evidenced by the visit of Peter Cardinal Turkson for a conference on climate change, reading groups, the visit of Carolyn Woo of Catholic Relief Services, academic integration of the encyclical, Ignatian reflection, and more.

These institutions of Jesuit higher education are just a few examples of the Catholic response to Laudato Si’.   How has your college or university responded to Laudato Si’? Let us know! 

Catholic Colleges Make List of US Eco-friendly Schools

Wondering how your campus measures up in sustainability and energy conservation? Perhaps your school was one of the eleven Catholic colleges and universities featured in a recent Sierra Club ranking of the top ‘cool schools’!

To determine the rankings, the Sierra Club administered a survey to a wide range of higher education institutions in the U.S. The responding schools were then ranked according to a long list of criteria, including co-curricular activities, energy, investments, innovation, academics, and more:

Depending on their responses to the questionnaire, schools were then given a score in a 1000 point system and ranked accordingly. The eleven Catholic colleges ranked included:

  1. Santa Clara University (no. 50)
  2. University of San Diego (no. 69)
  3. Loyola Marymount University (no. 81)
  4. Aquinas College (no. 95)
  5. St. Louis University ( no. 100)
  6. St. John’s University (NY) (no. 102)
  7. Gonzaga University (no. 109)
  8. Villanova University  (no. 110)
  9. University of Dayton (no. 127)
  10. Creighton University (no. 138)
  11. Saint John’s University (MN) (no. 146)

Based on the criteria for the rankings, these eleven schools are officially ‘cool schools’! The Sierra Club reminds us that it is both important to celebrate success but remember that there is more work to be done:

“Our results  suggest that while many universities are making admirable progress, no school has yet attained complete sustainability. In 2015, the top-rated university scored 859.75 out of a possible 1,000 points, indicating much work completed but also room for improvement.”

Want to learn more?  A recent National Catholic Reporter article featured some such progress at the Catholic colleges and universities on the list.

What is your campus doing to promote sustainability and environmental justice? Let us know!