Student Trips and Transformations service trip to South Chicago
Student Trips and Transformations (STAT)
Service Trip Jan. 2-7, 2017 to South Chicago
Br. David Darst Center for Justice and Peace: Spirituality and Education
On January 2nd, four Bellin College nursing students and one faculty member set out for Chicago for an urban immersion service experience at the Darst Center. The Center is a social justice education center located in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. The Center is unique in providing opportunities for young people to see more clearly the faces pushed to the margins of our society. Bellin College was fortunate to be joined by a group of college students from the University of Detroit Mercy who were also in the health professions, and their group added to the diversity of the student’s experience. The Darst immersion program focuses on the issues surrounding homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, incarceration, immigration, and education. In addition to participating in programs and services, time was set aside each day for the group to debrief and reflect on what they experienced, how perceptions and interpretations affect these issues, and how they were both personally and professionally affected by these experiences.
One evening the group was able to interact with men at the Cornerstone Homeless Shelter. They heard stories of tragedy, hopefulness, and the fine line between having a home and being homeless. Two additional locations gave insight into this issue. The Port Ministries organization offers a free clinic where residents of the Back of the Yards neighborhood can receive primary care for common problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic conditions. It is operated solely with volunteer physicians and nurses. Students were able to utilize their Spanish language skills with many people at the clinic. Another night, the group went out with the Port Ministries Bread Truck. This truck goes out 6 nights a week to common areas where people who are homeless congregate, and our group was able to offer sandwiches, hot cocoa, cookies, and warm hats and gloves to those who came to each of the 5 areas where the truck stops. There were even a few teddy bears left over from holiday donations that many children were excited about!
Another day the group put together supplemental food packages for elders in the Chicagoland area. Catholic Charities operates out of a huge warehouse and runs the only food program for elders in the state of Illinois, with over 1300 food packs distributed monthly. The program is income based, and while each monthly package contains foods from each major food group, it was a sobering lesson about access to food for older adults who live in poverty.
After driving around the large compound of the Cook County courthouse and jail (a large full city block compound), the group visited St. Leonard’s Ministries which operates halfway houses for men and women getting out of prison. We had lunch at the men’s residence where a group of men in their culinary arts program prepared and served us a delicious meal. After the meal, the group heard two men share their personal stories. Both had served many terms in the prison system, and they provided accounts which included not only the decisions and situations that affected their lives prior to and between prison terms, but lessons they have learned about themselves, their histories, and now as they are working for programs that offer them deep insight into how they plan to reconnect with positive changes within their own communities. They also specifically spoke to the group about their goals and dreams, and challenged us to remain true to our own goals first so that once we begin our professional roles, we will be free and inspired to respond to the many needs within our communities and the world.
The issue of immigration as a global concern was explored as it affects the Chicagoland area. We visited Taller de Jose (House of Joseph) where they provide assistance to immigrants across a spectrum of needs. This program is unique as instead of just directing people to resources, the staff here “accompany” individuals and families in navigating the often-times complex systems they are required to deal with. We heard stories of situations that challenged both our opinions and preconceptions about individuals and families that immigrate to this country both through legal avenues as well as those seeking refugee status. The most poignant experience we had related to this issue was attending a 7am vigil at the deportation facility for the Chicago area. We saw families saying their good-byes to fathers, and family members who were being deported. No matter what opinions we have and hear, being in this place at that time was meaning-filled and powerful.
The STAT program at Bellin College is alive and well, and while we will continue to take these types of trips to widen our perspectives of vulnerable groups and issues, the Program is committed to bring these experiences to light in our own communities and will be offering all College students opportunities for local service activities.
Contributed by Deb Lidbury, Faculty Facilitator for STAT at Bellin College