Poverty Education Week

From March 5-9, the St. John’s community observed its 10th annual Poverty Education Week. 

St. John’s annual Poverty Education Week, which takes place during the Lenten season, is one way the St. John’s community expresses its solidarity with the poor. The weeklong program provides opportunities for students, families, faculty and staff to participate in assemblies, classroom presentations, poverty-related lessons in each academic discipline, guest speaker presentations and fundraisers.
On Monday morning, a school-wide assembly set an action-oriented tone for the week’s activities. Faculty, student and guest presenters shared information on the widespread and powerful experience of poverty and how service to the poor affirms our commitment to ending cycles of poverty in our community and the world around us. SJC faculty Selma Solera ’06, Ryan Longton, Jonathan Navas and Karl Danso shared information and personal experiences, such as the importance of the mission drive for our twin school in Kenya and the plight of war refugees in rural Columbia.
Laila Michel ’19 shared her winter break experience in India, where she spent time with children living in poverty, and Kennedy Sanders ’20 spoke about making and distributing care packages to people living in poverty. She encouraged her classmates and community to find ways to help those less fortunate. Guest speaker Dara Yah’ya, camps program director at Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, discussed the issue of stigma, emphasizing “the stigma of poverty perpetuates poverty.” During all lunch periods, students made sandwiches for Martha’s Table, a non-profit organization that reaches thousands of people through their food, education and thrift store programs. Overwhelming student participation ensured the 1,000-sandwich goal was met.
On Tuesday, John Harrison and Kelvin Lassiter from the National Coalition for the Homeless spoke to junior religion classes in De La Salle Chapel. Both men shared information and statistics about the cycle of homelessness; described their personal experiences of homelessness and the events that led to their participation in the NCH, where they change attitudes by putting a human face on homelessness; and answered student questions. They emphasized that people do not choose to be homeless – the experience of homelessness can happen to anyone and as a consequence, makes one invisible to the world. However, through volunteerism, everyone has the opportunity to help those struggling with homelessness and other difficult situations. “When you become homeless, you lose your power to advocate for yourself. What needs to be overcome is the unfavorable association with people experiencing homelessness,” said Harrison.  
On Wednesday, students and faculty who participated in St. John’s summer immersion trips wore themed shirts and inspired the school community by informally sharing their experiences. Click here to read more about immersion trip experiences and opportunities. 

Thursday was a day fasting. All faculty and students participated in an all-day technology fast – abstaining from the use of all technological devices, including iPads, smart phones, computers and audio/visual equipment. In addition, St. John’s Mothers’ Club sponsored a Meal of Solidarity – a modified version of the annual Hunger Banquet. This year, students and faculty demonstrated solidarity with the poor by eating a meager lunch of rice and beans. During each lunch period, the meal began with an explanation of its significance by a member of the Mothers’ Club, which was followed by a guided mediation led by SJC faculty – Steve Sheridan, Peter Walz, David Bristow and Matt Smith, respectively.
On Friday, senior religion classes listened to presentations from three alumni who have continued lives of service beyond St. John’s. Rev. David Street ’04, co-director of Bread for the World, Katherine DeStefano ’06, associate at Nelson Mullins Law Firm, and Mary McCarthy ’12, case manager at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, shared how they serve others through their respective professions.
St. John’s also offered several weeklong initiatives supporting Poverty Education Week. In addition to each day’s programming, all classes incorporated topic-related lessons. For example, in the Foreign Language Department, Sra. Blanca Martinez, grandmother of Department Chair Pablo Martinez, shared her experiences of poverty and civil war in El Salvador with Spanish 2 and AP Spanish classes.  
Further, many of the school’s departments provided supplementary educational initiatives for the school community. Student-artists created exhibits on 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, which raises awareness of hunger in the Washington, DC, area. The Counseling Department shared themed prayers and statistics each morning during homeroom announcements.
This year, Librarian Laura Turowski created an Information Poverty exhibit that highlighted the role libraries play in eliminating this form of poverty. Information poverty exists when people lack access to a strong information infrastructure and/or the ability or education to process and use vital information. A lack of access to information is a serious issue that exacerbates other forms of poverty. Students were able to learn more about this issue and ponder what life is like for people living without access to information. There were posters with various scenarios highlighting actual events. For example, one poster asked students to consider what it would be like to live in a country where mobile networks and internet access were inaccessible for months at a time, a situation that frequently occurs in other countries. Another scenario focused on farmers in isolated, rural areas who lack access to agricultural research and weather alerts to help them grow more successful crops to feed their families.
The St. John’s community also came together to provide tangible support for several 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.