The University of St. Thomas has recently developed a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program “to help nonresident aliens file their tax returns.” Student volunteers assist international students enrolled at St. Thomas University with filing their required taxes.
This recently established program provides benefits for both those receiving the assistance and the volunteers. In addition to helping a student in need, volunteers gain technical knowledge on the income tax system in the United States and “develop soft skills by working with real clients from all over the world.” With the establishment of this program, St. Thomas University renews its commitment and support to its international students.
To read more or become involved in VITA visit University of St. Thomas news.
Inspired by their mission, Catholic colleges and universities serve their local communities in many ways, including building partnerships to work for the common good. Since 2010, ACCU member institutions have partnered with community organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) to collaborate on initiatives that help people in their local communities who are living in poverty. These organizations are dedicated to empowering people to create change in their local community through solidarity and education. Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are just a few of the institutions addressing local issues of poverty through these partnerships, providing a concrete way for students to live out the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
At Saint Joseph’s University, students have the opportunity to work with Urban Tree Connection, a non-profit organization funded by CCHD that works with people living in Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods to develop community-based greening and gardening projects. Urban Tree Connection (UTC) empowers members of the local community by training people in farming and other agricultural skills and making fresh produce more widely available. Their projects are created on vacant land to create safe and functional spaces that promote positive human interactions. Saint Joseph’s University’s Sustainability Committee and Institute for Environmental Stewardship work with UTC to provide access to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at UTC to faculty, staff, administrators, and students at the university. Subscribers to the CSA receive vegetables from UTC’s urban farms, supporting their efforts to transform abandoned lots into community gardens.
In addition to promoting the CSA program, students at SJU are also encouraged to work with UTC in their community gardens through the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program and the Magis Program. The Philadelphia Service Immersion Program is an optional early move-in experience for first-year students. This four-day program introduces incoming freshmen to the Jesuit values of social justice, service to those on the margin, moral discernment, and intellectual inquiry through community service learning. This past fall, six students volunteered with UTC through the program. Each evening, the students reflected on what they learned and experienced that day in a small group discussion led by incoming sophomores. Another opportunity available to connect students to UTC is the Magis Program, a semester-long service and social justice program for first-year students. Students meet weekly in small groups for community service, social justice education, and reflection. UTC is one of the sites where students can serve for the semester as part of the Magis Program.
Like St. Joseph’s, other Catholic campuses are finding that partnerships with CCHD-funded groups provide mutual benefits for all the partners. For example, the University of Dallas partnered with the local diocesan CCHD staff to educate students about the reality of poverty in the United States. Working with students and staff, together they created the Journey to Justice Retreat (J2J) to teach students about the issue of poverty in the local area and throughout the country. Using resources from CCHD such as Poverty USA, participants learned about the effects of poverty on people all over the country.
The J2J Retreat featured a focus on the CCHD-funded group Texas Tenant Union (TTU). TTU is a community organizing group dedicated to securing more and higher quality low-income housing by advocating for legislation, providing free legal counsel for low-income tenants, and offering rights education and counseling for tenants. Former diocesan CCHD intern Colleen McInerney, an alumna of the University of Dallas, says the retreat showed students the importance of CCHD in that TTU “wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much without the CCHD resources” available to it, which inspired many students to get involved with anti-poverty organizations. The retreat was well-received and students hope that the university will be able to host the retreat again in the future.
In addition to hosting service opportunities and working together on educational programming, Catholic colleges and universities can partner with CCHD-funded organizations to learn more about advocacy within the nation’s political system. Marquette University offers students a way to become involved in advocacy through courses that incorporate service learning and through an internship. Project Return assists men and women who have experienced incarceration in making a positive reentry to the community. Each academic year, students work at Project Return for ten hours a week , helping clients find jobs and housing, work through personal issues, and celebrate accomplishments. They learn about the process of reentry by visiting a prison, meeting parole officers, and witnessing a reentry court run by a federal judge. In addition to learning more about the issue, students most recently advocated with community leaders, canvassed neighborhoods on issues surrounding criminal justice reform, and organized a community mental health day.
The project also enables Marquette student interns to work with a mentor on a variety of tasks and to incorporate their own academic interests into the internship. One student intern during the past year worked to launch a mental health initiative to accommodate clients in need of psychological services. Ed de St. Aubin, Ph.D., the director of the internship program, commented, “The social justice mission of our Jesuit university is completely aligned with the mission of Project Return.” De St. Aubin noticed how the experience opened students up to more growth than a classroom could have afforded, exposing them to numerous human factors connected to criminal justice reform, such as race relations, ethnic disparities, and faith development. Recently, de St. Aubin, as well as interns Max Hughes-Zahner and Alex Krouth, were guests on RiverWest Radio Milwaukee’s show, Expo: Ex-Prisoners Organizing. Hughes-Zahner, a junior at Marquette, noted on the show that this internship “was very important for me to experience it from that side because previous to that I had really only experienced classroom learning about incarceration and prison.”
Saint Joseph’s University, the University of Dallas, and Marquette University are working with local organizations to create community-based solutions to issues of poverty and inequality. Their partnerships with CCHD-funded groups enable them to live the values of Catholic Social Teaching and have a visible effect on the surrounding neighborhoods. Students are able to work alongside those living the issues they are working to resolve, giving them an experience of solidarity. Through a partnership with an organization funded by CCHD, Catholic universities make a difference in their communities and give students experience in what it means to have a faith that does justice.
Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.
The Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, is an annual national gathering for members of the Ignatian family (Jesuit institutions and larger church) to come together in the context of social justice and solidarity to learn, reflect, pray, network, and advocate together. This year’s teach-in will take place November 12-14 in Washington, DC with the theme Mercy in Action.
The conference will include keynotes, networking opportunities, and an advocacy day. Speakers include Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, Norma Pimental, MJ, and Lisa Sharon Harper.
Registration is available on the Ignatian Solidarity Network website.
Felician University‘s campus is going green by adding a solar charging station. The “Coop”, nicknamed by students due to its resemblance to a chicken coop, was the idea of Patrick Dezort, Director of Student Engagement. Dezort, along with several Felician University students, built the solar structure from wood and two solar panels. The solar panel transfers energy to a deep cycle battery, powering an inverter so that students can plug in and charge their devices such as phones and laptops. The “Coop” is one example of how ACCU member institutions promote sustainability and activities to protect the environment–for more examples, see the ACCU website.
Are you a current college or university student who believes in the importance of fair trade? If so, consider entering Fairtrade America’s back-to-school essay contest.
The judges of the contest will be Rick Peyster of Lutheran World Relief, Margarot Conover from Fairtrade America, and Suzi Hiza from Fair Trade Campaigns. Winners’ essays will be published on Fair Trade Blog site, and the grand prize winner will have a chance to interview Rick Peyster for the blog. Don’t delay – essays are due by September 15!
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is partnering with 9/11 Day to plan interfaith events to honor the National Day of Service, Remembrance, and Unity. IFYC has shared several ideas to help campuses plan an event:
Organize a service project
Host a discussion event.
Hold an interfaith vigil or peace walk.
Plan a day of random acts of kindness.
Attend a local community event.
IFYC has been working with 200 universities and colleges to organize discussions and events that promote interfaith cooperation over the past 15 years. For those in the New York City and Washington, D.C. area, IFYC will be hosting service projects. To see more resources for planning events or learn more about the service projects, visit the 9/11 Day Campaign website.
This spring, the student government leaders of all twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities issued a joint statement regarding racial injustice and higher education.
The statement is a page-long declaration of the student body presidents’ support for students of color in higher education, initiatives to address racial inequalities in Jesuit higher education, and for increased dialogue on the subject. The statement notes that it comes at a crucial time in history for higher education, as students of color and their allies have been demonstrating across the nation, “united in calling for an end to racial injustice within institutions of higher education.”
In the statement, the student body presidents showed that advocating for racial justice flows from the Catholic and Jesuit values that are at the foundation of their institutions. They write, “As students of Jesuit institutions, we often hear phrases such as cura personalis (care for the whole person) and ‘men and women for and with others.’ These phrases challenge us to orient our lives and education toward the greater good -a world free from oppression and marginalization.”
How does your college or university address institutional racial injustice? Let us know!