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Saints Volunteer in Chicago

Meredith Berry-Toon

During the Thanksgiving break, seven enthusiastic Canterbury student volunteers -- Conor Cassidy, Nicholas Pizzano, Nick Toth, Kasey Celniker, Nikki DeCola, Kayla Jendras, and Jack Cassidy -- joined Theology Department faculty members Amy Omana '86 and Tracy Garcia-LaVigne on a five-day social justice immersion retreat facilitated by the Brother David Darst Center For Justice and Peace in Chicago.

The program exposed students to several critical issues of justice facing our current urban populations: homelessness, food insecurity and urban food deserts, juvenile incarceration, restorative justice, and immigration. With the help of the Darst Center staff, Canterbury volunteers prepared and shared an evening meal with the women at Sara's Circle, a shelter for homeless and at-risk women. The students spent a day with the staff at the St. James Food Bank and Community Outreach Center learning about issues surrounding food insecurity and access to healthy food. A more profound and personal connection perhaps for the Canterbury volunteers was the day spent with Sr. Donna, at Precious Blood Ministries and Hilary Buzaid '10 at Taller de Jose. Sr. Donna introduced the group to rehabilitative and restorative justice programs and challenged them to consider them as viable alternatives to our punitive incarceration system. Both Sr. Donna and Hillary shared their personal stories and walked us through the communities they serve and for which they advocate.

Students left Chicago transformed, educated in key themes of social justice and action, hopeful for a world grounded in justice, appreciative of their own privilege and abundant opportunity, and extremely grateful for the countless men and women like Sr. Donna and Hillary, who dedicate their lives to making sure that the vulnerable and marginalized in our society receive the same dignity and opportunity.

Here's what a few of our students had to say about their Urban Plunge experience.

"Going on the trip opened my eyes to the plight many people face in our major cities. It made me appreciate my privilege and the lucky hand I've been dealt in life. Going on this trip really brought out the best in me. The Urban Plunge helped me reevaluate my life with a new set of eyes." –Jack Cassidy '20

"If I had to describe this trip with just one word, I would choose the word breathtaking because I've never felt something like this before. I would certainly recommend this experience to all my friends." –Nikki DeCola '19

"The Urban Plunge experience taught me how people suffer and what is really going on in our own communities. While we did some physical work, unloading trucks, serving meals, etc., this trip was really about opening our eyes to the injustices around us and increasing our understanding of how better to serve other human beings." –Kayla Jendras '20

To view photos, click here.