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.

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Reflecting on World Oceans Day

Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day, founded in 2002 to celebrate, honor, help protect and conserve the oceans. Events in honor of World Oceans Day will occur across the globe.  For some, this holiday prompts reflection on the issues related to oceans, such as sustainability and human trafficking practices in the seafood industry.

Over the past two years, the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking has coordinated advocacy efforts to encourage seafood companies to eradicate human trafficking practices.  In 2016, the Coalition sponsored a postcard campaign, while in 2017 they focused on encouraging seafood companies who are cleaning up their supply chains to label their products.  Read more about this year’s project on their website.

In honor of World Oceans Day, Fair Trade USA has launched a campaign encouraging consumers to purchase seafood that is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.  Launched in 2014, their certification of seafood products allows consumers to make purchases that have been shown to meet rigorous standards for workers in the fishing industry.  Learn more about their work on their website.

How will your campus celebrate and reflect on World Oceans Day?  Let us know!

 

Labeling for Lent Campaign to Prevent Human Trafficking Extended Through April

Labeling for Lent

The United States imports 80-90% of its seafood, and tens of thousands of people are exploited at every link in the seafood harvesting and production chain. The Labeling for Lent campaign is an effort to demonstrate that consumers would like to have the information needed, through appropriate product labeling, to purchase slave-free seafood. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking  (CCOAHT) is collecting data on this through a nationwide survey to the Catholic community- now extended through the end of April!

The Labeling for Lent campaign builds on the coalition’s success last year with its national postcard campaign against trafficking in the international fishing industry. During that campaign, participants sent signed postcards to StarKist and Costco, requesting that they do all in their power to maintain supply chains that are free of forced labor.

Please consider filling out the survey to have your voice heard on ending human trafficking in the seafood industry.

Benedictine College Launches Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign

Benedictine College has launched a human trafficking awareness campaign for the spring semester, beginning with a showing of the film End It. The campaign is being hosted by the Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors at Benedictine College. After the film showing, students were given an opportunity to write to their congressman as a call to action. The campaign will continue throughout the rest of the semester, hosting events such as a solidarity vigil and a lecture given by trafficking abolitionist Dr. Shalina Stilley.

President of the CRS Benedictine chapter, Hannah Voss, noted that “The campaign’s motto is ‘I am the cause, I am the solution.’ It ties in our solidarity as individuals and our roles.”

Read more in Benedictine’s student newspaper, The Circuit.

International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking

Today is the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking and feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave. Catholic Relief Services provides more information and ideas on how to raise awareness to the issue.

A Prayer for an End to Human Trafficking (from Catholic Relief Services)

Oh God, we didn’t see them.

But you did—

The hundreds and thousands of human beings

Trafficked each year to join the millions who are trapped in

modern-day slavery

Under terrible conditions, they work in factories, plough fields,

harvest crops, work quarries, fill brothels, clean homes, and

haul water.

Many are children with tiny fingers for weaving rugs

and small shoulders for bearing rifles.

Their labor is forced, their bodies beaten, their faces hidden

from those who don’t really want to see them.

But you see them all, God of the poor.

You hear their cry and you answer by

Opening our eyes, and breaking our hearts

And loosening our tongues to insist:

No mas. No more.

Amen.

National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea and Maritime Human Trafficking Information

In conjunction with the secular holiday National Maritime Day on May 23, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that the U.S. Church will observe the annual National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea. All are encouraged to pray for and remember all those “who are seafarers, fisherman, and those whose occupations require them to spend most of the year away from their families, in the high seas, and sometimes facing dangerous situations,” remarked Bishop J. Kevin Boland.

As 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea and the waterways, it is important to remember the 1.2. million seafarers worldwide that make this possible. In addition to praying for and remembering them, we must also be aware of the harsh conditions and danger that they sometimes face.

According to the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT):

modern slavery at sea […] occurs at all stages  of the seafood supply chain, from catching the fish to processing and shipping it for export. The virtually unregulated fishing industry in many countries, coupled with the global demand for cheap seafood, create the lawless condition under which trafficking at sea flourishes.

CCOAHT reports that trafficked workers are subject to extremely long work-days, hazardous conditions, starvation, disregard for medical needs and injuries, beatings, torture, and even killings. Workers can be lured into modern slavery “by false promises of living-wage and incur crippling debts that then become their trafficking situation,” and migrants are especially vulnerable.

The National Day of Prayer and Remembrance will include special Masses on Friday, May 20 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. at 12:00 p.m. and on Saturday, May 21 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. at 12:10 p.m.. In addition, on Sunday, May 22, pastors are encouraged to use the text for the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea.

Below are three ways to get involved:

  1. Learn practical ways of becoming an ethical consumer of seafood.
  2. Learn about and join USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services’ anti-trafficking efforts.
  3. Donate or take action with Apostleship of the Sea, an Catholic charity that seeks to “provide practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, regardless of nationality, belief or race.”
  4. Pray with us:

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Mother of God and our Mother, you know all the dangers of soul and body that threaten mariners. Protect your sons and daughters who work and travel on the waters of the world, and protect also their families that await their return. Star of the Sea, Mother of the Church, give light and strength to those chaplains and lay ministers who bring the love of your Divine Son among mariners. Fill their hearts with a supernatural and life-giving zeal for the apostolate. Star of the Sea, light shining in the darkness, be a guide to those who sail amid the storms and dangers of life. Enlighten the hearts of ardent disciples and bring us all to the safety of heaven’s port. Amen. – Apostleship of the Sea

How does your college or university engage with anti-maritime trafficking efforts? Let us know!