Solidarity with the Poor

From March 9-13, the St. John’s community engaged in its 12th annual Poverty Education Week (PEW).
St. John Baptist de La Salle’s vocation to identify with and serve children living in economic poverty is a calling to practice solidarity with those in need. One way the SJC community expresses its solidarity with the poor is through this Lenten program, which focuses on education, service and prayer. Throughout the week, students, families, faculty and staff explored this topic through guest speaker presentations, department presentations, poverty-related lessons in each academic discipline, artwork throughout the campus and mission-related fundraisers. 
 
On Monday, the senior class heard from three alumni who have continued lives of service beyond St. John’s. Suzie Kowalewski ’05 spoke about returning to St. John’s to lead the new Entrepreneurial Center for Innovation and Social Impact, Noah Patton ’09 shared his experience advocating for disaster housing recovery reform on Capitol Hill and David Street ’04 emphasized the importance of living up to one’s potential to effect positive change in educational and local communities. Click here to read more about their lives of service. 
 
After school on Monday, SJC Lasallian Youth members tutored middle school students at San Miguel School. The goal of this work between San Miguel and St. John’s is to build bridges and live in community and by association as companions in human and Christian education. Student and faculty summer service immersion trip participants also observed the first day of PEW by wearing their themed shirts and inspiring the school community by informally sharing their experiences. Click here to read more about SJC’s summer service immersion trip experiences and opportunities.
 
On Tuesday, Dana Woolfolk and Monroe Poston from the National Coalition for the Homeless spoke to junior religion classes about their experiences with homelessness and advocacy in De La Salle Chapel. They shared their personal stories of falling into and rising out of homelessness, as well as factors that contribute to homelessness and poverty, including the lack of affordable housing and healthcare, the lack of job opportunities, the decline in available public assistance, mental illness and addiction. “When you see a homeless person, he’s a human being – given the right support, he can regain his humanity,” Woolfolk said. “No matter what vocation you take up, you can use your position to help somebody who is less fortunate than you – help one person at a time.”
 
In addition to the daily programming, each academic discipline incorporated topic-related lessons on one of the designated days. For example, on Wednesday, Spanish teacher Daniel Pier invited SJC parent Fred Baechli to speak with the department’s Spanish classes about his work at the World Bank, where he is the senior country officer of the Caribbean Country Management Unit for the Latin America and Caribbean Region. The World Bank Group is one of the largest sources of global funding and knowledge for developing countries, and its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity and promoting sustainable development. 
 
Baechli explained the organization’s three-pillar strategy to address global poverty includes promoting inclusive growth (jobs), building resilience to disasters and investing in human capital (access to education and healthcare). This includes encouraging better governance and economic integration and leveraging the private finance necessary to address the region’s pressing development needs. “Mr. Baechli’s stories brought to life the struggle for inclusive, sustainable development throughout the Americas. Students learned the importance of international cooperation in the fight against poverty and how language learning plays an important role,” said Pier. 
 
On Thursday, faculty and students participated in an all-day technology fast – abstaining from the use of technological devices such as iPads, smart phones, computers and audio/visual equipment. In addition, St. John’s Mothers’ Club sponsored a Meal of Solidarity in which the students and faculty demonstrated solidarity with the poor by sitting on the floor of Frana Auditorium and eating a small bowl of oatmeal for lunch. 
 
St. John’s also offered several weeklong initiatives supporting Poverty Education Week. Many of the school’s departments provided supplementary educational initiatives for the school community. The Counseling Department shared themed prayers and statistics each morning during homeroom announcements, and the Fitzpatrick Library built a display around the Newbery Medal-winning book The Last Stop on Market Street, a story about hope and service to others. Before reading the book, students were asked to consider questions relating to poverty, service and how we can bring hope to those who are suffering. Student-artists created exhibits and murals depicting the plight of the poor that were displayed around campus. They also made bowls for the So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) Empty Bowl Project, a fundraiser to help feed the homeless in DC. 
 
“Poverty Education Week 2020 was another dynamic learning experience spearheaded by the Poverty Education Committee and several student leaders. This year, we were able to add a cross-curricular advocacy letter writing campaign for our juniors, who communicated to lawmakers their concern for the economically disenfranchised. As a timely lesson, we added an emphasis on the economic impact of the public health crisis by talking about and praying for hourly-wage workers whose livelihoods are being immediately impacted by the changes in society,” said Tom Sipowicz, director of mission integration.
 
The St. John’s community also came together to provide tangible support for partner organizations, raising funds to benefit the Child Discovery Centre, St. John’s twin school in Kenya, and the De La Salle Blackfeet School in Browning, MT. 
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